First recorded European sighting of New Zealand

13 December 1642

Sketch of Cape Foulwind in 1642 (Alexander Turnbull Library (PUBL-0086-019)

Towards noon the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted ‘a large land, uplifted high’. His vessel was probably off Punakaiki, so this may have been the peaks of the Paparoa Range.

Tasman sailed from Batavia (today’s Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in August 1642. His expedition had two aims: to establish whether there was a southern sea route to Chile which could be used to prey on Spanish ships, and to exploit the resources of the ‘great southern continent’ which many believed existed between Australia and Cape Horn. The Dutch had already charted Australia’s northern and western coasts, and part of its southern coast. But how far this land extended to the east was still unknown.

Tasman commanded 110 men on two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen. He sighted Tasmania (as it would later be called) on 24 November, naming it Van Diemen’s Land after the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies. He then continued east across the sea which now bears his name.

Also on the expedition was Isaac Gilsemans, who would be credited with drawing the first European images of New Zealand. These sketches refer to Staten Landt, the name Tasman gave to the country. Tasman’s ships turned north and sailed around Farewell Spit into what is now called Golden Bay, where they anchored on 18 December. It was here that the Dutch had a violent encounter with local Māori.

Image: detail of image showing coastline and ranges in the vicinity of Cape Foulwind