The first inhabitants, the Maoris, came from Polynesia in the 1300s. They landed in the Gisborne area, and called the region Tairawhiti, which means "the coast upon which the sun shines across the water." [source: Gisborne Winegrowers].
Gisborne also was the place where the first Europeans came. First spotted by a Dutch sea captain in 1642, the area was named for the Dutch Province of Zeeland. The first European to land on New Zealand was British navigator Captain James Cook. Some people say that his 1769 encounter with the Maoris resulted in the moniker Poverty Bay [source: New Book of Knowledge].
By the late 18th century, whaling and sealing stations operated along the coast, while inland, settlers raised sheep and cattle. Colonists settled in Wellington, the country's present-day capital, between 1796 and 1862. Trading began in timber and fibers. Missionaries arrived on the scene in 1814.
In 1840, New Zealand was claimed as a British colony, and a treaty was concluded that guaranteed Maori ownership of their lands. The British Parliament made New Zealand a self-governing colony in 1853.
The discovery of gold brought new immigrants to New Zealand in the mid-1800s, and the advent of refrigerated cargo shipping enabled the export of meat and dairy products. In 1907, New Zealand became a dominion in the British Empire. It is now a self-governing democracy and a member state in the Commonwealth of Nations [source: New Book of Knowledge].
About 45 percent of the Gisborne district's population is of Maori descent, the largest anywhere in New Zealand. While most of the Maori population now live in towns or cities, traditional Maori villages still dot the coast in Eastland. It's not uncommon to hear the Maori language spoken in Gisborne. Historic Maori meetinghouses and distinctive wooden figurines are scattered throughout Eastland [source: Statistics New Zealand].
Read on to find out more about agriculture and viticulture in the Gisborne wine region.