Taranaki History

Imagine Taranaki at the coming of ancient Maori…ironsand shores, thick bush with steamy peat floors, a desolate coastline teeming with fish, rich sandy volcanic soil ideal for vegetable crops, easy-to-catch giant moa inhabiting forests surrounding a mystical lonely mountain.

Before long, villages and fortified pa dotted the coast and river valleys, birds were hunted in surrounding forests, and history was recorded by oral tradition.
However, the idyllic conditions did not prevail. 

Whilst a few may have glimpsed Captain James Cook’s Endeavour sailing along the Taranaki coast in January 1770, most Taranaki Maori were driven from their land by invading Waikato tribespeople in the early 19th century. 

When local Te Atiawa people returned decades later, they found the first English settlers – the consequence of Captain Cook’s ‘discovery’ - had purchased their land from the few remaining Maori, sparking the turbulent decade-long Taranaki Land Wars of the 1860s.

Parihaka Pa, at Pungarehu on Surf Highway 45, remains today an important symbol of colonial government aggression toward peaceful Maori residents.  In 1881, British confiscation of 1.3 million acres of prime Taranaki land resulted in a civil disobedience movement encouraged by chief Te Whiti O Rongomai, which saw hundreds of followers arrested and widespread damage to people, buildings and crops.

By 1828, New Plymouth’s Ngamotu area had a trading and whaling station established, and Plymouth Company ships filled with British immigrants anchored off the New Plymouth coast from 1841. A decade later, the settlement was thriving with thousands of immigrant settlers, who established farms and dairy factories around the mountain, unwittingly paving the way for the region’s largest and most enduring industry…’white gold’ (milk)

The first of more than 50 oil wells was sunk at Moturoa in 1865, kickstarting a $2 billion ‘black gold’ industry boasting Kapuni, the Motunui synthetic petrol plant, Waitara Valley methanol plant, Pohokura and the recently announced Kupe field.
Other major or sunrise industries include agriculture, engineering, hospitality and tourism, niche manufacturing and a developing creative/arts sector.
Taranaki may have changed in the past 200 years, but some things have stayed the same. Despite its presence within highly technical cutting-edge industries, the region retains its understated charm, and a gentle laid-back character that has seen it recently emerge as one of New Zealand’s untapped tourism destinations.