The history of New Zealand dates back at least 700 years to when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians, who developed a distinct Māori culture centred on kinship links and land. The first European explorer to sight New Zealand was Dutch navigator Abel Tasman on 13 December 1642. The Dutch were also the first non-natives to explore and chart New Zealand’s coastline. Captain James Cook, who reached New Zealand in October 1769 on the first of his three voyages, was the first European explorer to circumnavigate and map New Zealand. From the late 18th century, the country was regularly visited by explorers and other sailors, missionaries, traders and adventurers. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and various Māori chiefs, bringing New Zealand into the British Empire and giving Māori „equal rights“ with British citizens. There was extensive British settlement throughout the rest of the century and into the early part of the next century. War and the imposition of a European economic and legal system led to most of New Zealand’s land passing from Māori to Pākehā (European) ownership, and most Māori subsequently became impoverished.
From the 1890s the New Zealand Parliament enacted a number of progressive initiatives, including women’s suffrage and old age pensions. The country remained an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, and 110,000 men fought in World War I (see New Zealand Expeditionary Force). After the war New Zealand signed the Treaty of Versailles (1919), joined the League of Nations, and pursued an independent foreign policy, while its defence was still controlled by Britain.
When World War II broke out in 1939, New Zealanders contributed to the defence of the British Empire; the country contributed some 120,000 troops. From the 1930s the economy was highly regulated and an extensive welfare state was developed. Meanwhile, Māori culture underwent a renaissance, and from the 1950s Māori began moving to the cities in large numbers. This led to the development of a Māori protest movement which in turn led to greater recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in the late 20th century.
The country’s economy suffered in the aftermath of the 1973 global energy crisis, the loss of New Zealand’s biggest export market upon Britain’s entry to the European Economic Community, and rampant inflation. In the 1980s the economy was largely deregulated and a number of socially liberal policies, such as decriminalisation of homosexuality, were put in place. Foreign policy involved support for Britain in the world wars, and close relations after 1940 with the United States and Australia. Foreign policy after 1980 became more independent especially in pushing for a nuclear-free region. Subsequent governments have generally maintained these policies, although tempering the free market ethos somewhat. In 1984, the Fourth Labour government was elected amid a constitutional and economic crisis. The economic reforms were led by finance minister Roger Douglas (finance minister (1984–1988), who enacted fundamental, radically neo-liberal and unexpectedly pro-free market reforms known as Rogernomics.