When Maui fished up the North Island of New Zealand – Te Ika a Maui – it was from his canoe which, as the legend says, became the South Island. The South Island continued to be the provider of food for the Maori people, with its many estuaries, sandy beaches and rocky shores home to fish, birds and shellfish. Southern Maori moved with the seasons and exploited the rich reserves of the land.
Explorer Captain James Cook sailed past on his circumnavigation of the country in the late 18th Century and the names he called several of the landmarks he could see from the southern ocean remain today. His reports of a bountiful coastline led to, just 20 years later, sealers and whalers camping on the shores and capturing the plentiful mammals for their oil. Some took Maori wives and were invited to live as members of the Maori communities.
Next to arrive were farming families from England and Scotland who had tried to settle in Australia but had found the climate too humid. The cooler, wet weather of costal Otago was more to their liking and reminded them of home. They brought with them sheep and seed for crops and the first milking cows.
The John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing sailed from London and Glasgow in 1847 with the first immigrants for a settlement at the head of Otago harbour – Dunedin. On-board were carpenters and bricklayers ready to build a city and a province for themselves. They found fertile soils, wooded hills and an abundance of wild life especially birds and wild pigs.
By the 1850s, 12,000 immigrants had arrived and Dunedin was a bustling town. In the early 1860s, gold was discovered and the rush was on – making Dunedin the richest and most populace province in the country and bringing people from China and around the world to share in the wealth of the area.