Humans arrived in Northland roughly a thousand years ago, when the Maori explorer Kupe landed at Hokianga. Kupe is still celebrated today -- many contemporary Maori iwi, or tribes, trace their origins back to him.
In the 18th century, following the expedition of Captain James Cook, European settlers began to arrive. Some were pursuing the whale and seal trades. Some wanted to harvest kauri trees and gum. Others had higher aims -- they were missionaries. All of them brought guns and disease -- major threats to Maori society.
Several major waves of immigration came to Northland in the 19th century -- from Nova Scotia, Ireland, Wales, the Dalmatian coast and Britain. You can still pick out Scottish and Croatian names among the Maori and English place names around the country.
The arrival of so many different groups created conflict, as it has in similar situations around the world. The Bay of Islands was once called the "hellhole of the Pacific" [source: 100% Pure New Zealand].
In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi marked a turning point: a formal arrangement between the Maori and the British Crown. It came to serve as the founding document of the New Zealand government, and the place where it was signed remains a historic park.
For a few decades, however, the treaty had the opposite of its intended effect: It led the Maori to recognize the colonists as a grave threat to Maori culture and land. (Many Maori believe that, in lieu of ownership, each generation holds the land in trust for the next.) In response to the threat, some chieftains began conducting raids and other guerrilla attacks against British settlements, touching off the Maori Wars. Fighting lasted until 1872.
Twentieth-century urbanization integrated the two cultures with relative thoroughness. Although some problems of inequality persist, they are less pronounced than in many other former colonial areas. Active movements to preserve Maori culture and language have resulted in a strong contemporary Maori identity.
Today Northland's population numbers in the hundreds of thousands. But some areas still belong to nature. There are no high-rise buildings or traffic lights -- anywhere -- north of Whangarai. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this area also contains most of Northland's vineyards. For a look at their growing methods, read on.