The first European to sight New Zealand was the explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman.
Abel Tasman was a Dutchman and was in command of two vessels that belonged to the Dutch East India Company. The Company dispatched Tasman to look for the fabled Southern Continent in August 1642. Eventually, he sailed across the sea which now bears his name and arrived off the coast of New Zealand on 13 December 1642. On 18 December, Abel Tasman and his crew anchored in what is now known as Golden Bay, a short distance from the Maori pa at Taupo Point.
An unfortunate incident with local Maori led to four of his men being killed and one local person being injured. As a result, Tasman and his crew never went ashore. Instead, they fled the area and continued their journey north, up the west coast of New Zealand. The ships anchored again near the Poor Knights Islands in early January 1643 before finally leaving New Zealand waters. Abel Tasman never actually set foot on land.
Abel Tasman National Park was gazetted in 1942 on the 300th anniversary of Tasman’s arrival off the coast of New Zealand. Covering 22,530 hectares, it is the smallest of New Zealand’s 14 National Parks but enjoys one of the largest number of annual visitors.
Maori have had a long association with the Abel Tasman National Park dating back more than 600 years. Archeological evidence shows most occupation was seasonal, with iwi living along the coast, gathering kaimoana (food from the sea) and growing kumara on suitable sites.
The first known iwi (tribe) to live in the vicinity were the Ngaitara who came from the Wellington area. Around 1600A.D they were followed by the Ngati Tumatakokiri who came from the Marlborough Sounds and gradually spread as far as Karamea. The people of Te Ati Awa and Ngati Rarua also recognise the ancient people of Waitaha who tribal traditions say came to the area from their ancient homeland Hawaiki.
Ngati Tumatakokiri can lay claim to being the first Maori to make contact with Europeans as it is thought warriors from a pa site at Taupo Point were involved in the death of four of Abel Tasman’s men in a skirmish when the Dutch explorer anchored in Golden Bay in 1642. Maori also suffered casualties and Tasman never landed in the area.
The regions abundant food and proximity to the West Coast’s pounamu (greenstone) made it attractive to invading iwi and around 1800 Ngati Tumatakokiri were conquered by Ngati Apa from the North, Ngati Kuia in the east, and Ngai Tahu from the South.
According to John and Hilary Mitchell in Te Tau Ihu o te Waka (Volume 1), when French explorer Dumont D'Urville anchored in Tasman Bay in 1827, the Maori in the area were possibly Ngati Kuia and/or Ngati Apa, along with Ngati Tumatakokiri.
A chart from D’Urville’s visit shows six huts at Torrent Bay and he, and others like early surveyor John Wallis Barnicoat, recorded Maori in small settlements at Taupo Point, Mutton Cove, Mosquito Bay, Boundary Bay, Torrent Bay, Te Pukatea Bay, Whariwharangi, Awaroa, Marahau and Adele and Fishermans Islands.
In 1828 the Taranaki and Tainui tribes that were part of Te Rauparaha’s confederation swept through the region. The local tribes were almost completely destroyed with the area then settled by Te Ati Awa, Ngati Rarua and Ngati Tama.
Archaeologists have re-discovered artefacts, middens, pits, terraces, and pa sites. These indicate a mobile lifestyle based on seasonal fishing, gathering and horticulture.
More Explorers Arrive from Europe
128 years after Abel Tasman and his crew anchored off of the coast of New Zealand, Captain James Cook visited the area. He sailed past the entrance to what is now Tasman Bay on the 29th of March 1770 and again in May 1773. Due to unfavourable winds Captain Cook never risked closer inspection.
Renewed European interest in the area came 54 years later, and was the result of a visit by the French explorer Dumont D’Urville. His ship, the Astrolabe, anchored off the coast of the Park on the 16th of January 1827 and remained there for a period of one week. D’Urville named this sheltered part of the coastline south of Separation Point the "Astrolabe Roadstead". He also named the nearby island “Adele” after his wife. During his time in the area D’Urville and his crew explored many of the bays and headlands around the Roadstead.
European settlement of the northern part of the South Island was the result of work done by The New Zealand Company. It was in the business of selling passage to New Zealand, as well as land to the new settlers. The New Zealand Company needed at least 200,000 acres of cultivable land for their venture and had already decided to name their settlement Nelson before they left England. However, they had not yet determined where this town would be located.
The rules of the game had changed in February 1840 with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of New Zealand as a British colony. As a consequence, the New Zealand Company was no longer able to make its own deals with Maori for land. So while Wakefield had his eye on Canterbury or Lyttelton as the preferred site for the town of Nelson, those areas were no longer available. Instead, the new colonial Government offered land at Mahurangi and near the Waipa River north of Auckland. The Company declined their offer.
F G Moore, a pilot who had visited and mapped part of the area in 1840, persuaded the expedition leader, Arthur Wakefield, that the land around what is now Nelson would be suitable. Their first small fleet of ships, loaded with immigrants, anchored in the Astrolabe Roadstead on 9 October 1841.
Once they had anchored, the immigrants were keen to disembark the ships after their four-month voyage from Portsmouth, London. This put Wakefield under pressure to confirm the site of the new settlement, which was still being debated. Some of the settlers did, in fact, set up home near Motueka and in the surrounding flat land. In the end, the relatively safe waters of the Nelson inlet persuaded Wakefield to choose that location for the Company’s new town.
Settlement proceeded quickly over the following 8 years. The fledgling town of Nelson grew to a population of 4047 by 1850 and was the second largest town in the Colony. However, it was apparent very early on that there was a problem. In reality, there was insufficient good land around Nelson to meet the promises the Company had made to the settlers.
An intensive period of exploration and land surveying followed. This led to much of the land now within the National Park boundaries to be subdivided and sold to settler families during the 1850’s and 60’s. However, this was not good farming land. The area was difficult to access, had poor soils and the terrain was mostly challenging.
From Reserves and State Forest to National Park Status
During the period between 1895 to the mid 1930’s, various parts of the area that are now within the Park were designated as reserves. In 1920/21 a large area of the land was designated as provisional State Forest pending further investigation. But it was the rumour of a proposal to establish a sawmill at Totaranui in 1937 that prompted environmental campaigner and Nelson resident, Perrine Moncrieff, to start pushing for the area to be designated a National Park. That same year, there was discussion of building a coastal highway. This highway would provide easy access to the area and gave Moncrieff and others further impetus to pressure the Government to set the land aside for scenic and other reserves. In 1939 the Government decided to put off designating additional reserves until after the coastal road was constructed. As a result, the petition for National Park status was put on hold. A fire on land at Torrent Bay in 1941 spurred Moncrieff into action once again. She linked her proposal to declare the area a National Park to the upcoming 300th anniversary of Abel Tasman’s discovery of New Zealand. In March 1942, the Acting Minister of Lands, the Honourable J G Barclay, advised the Member for Nelson, Harry Atmore, that the petition had been granted. Success at last!
Prime Minister Peter Fraser announced the Government decision to set aside nearly 38,000 acres for the Abel Tasman National Park (ATNP) in November 1942. The area comprised 21,000 acres of provisional State forest, 14,354 acres of Crown land and 1,368 acres of scenic and other reserves.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands agreed to be patroness of the Park and sent a delegation to attend the official opening on 19 December 1942. This opening was meant to take place at Torrent Bay, but rough seas forced them to hold the ceremony in Kaiteriteri instead. After speeches by government and local representatives, the Governor General, Sir Cyril Newall, declared the Abel Tasman National Park open.
In 1987 the Department of Conservation (DOC) took over responsibility for the management of the Park. This is now administered by the Nelson Conservancy Office through field offices located in Motueka and Takaka.