Out of the islands we now call Indonesia, at some unknown period in the remote past, the Polynesian peoples came to the mid-Pacific. Indefatigable voyagers and explorers, they penetrated the far reaches of the greatest of oceans but do not appear to have found New Zealand until the tenth century of the Christian era. The Polynesians who settled New Zealand, and are known today as the Maori, have a well-established tradition that the first discovery of their islands was made by the famous Polynesian navigator, Kupe. Although other scouting expeditions followed, it was not until the fourteenth century, only six hundred years ago, that a carefully planned colonizing expedition, the "Fleet" of Maori tradition, set out from central Polynesia for New Zealand. The reason generally given for this mass emigration is overpopulation and the resulting social discontent in the home islands (probably the Society group). For some reason yet inadequately explained, all contact of the Maori with other Polynesian groups Feems to have ceased until after the arrival in 1769 of the earliest European visitor, Captain Cook, although Cook's Tahitian interpreter was able to speak easily with the Maori.
There is no satisfactory estimate of the size of the fourteenthcentury migration and, indeed, rather wide disagreement as to the numbers present in both islands at the time of Cook's arrival. An estimate of fifty thousand in all, with less than ten thousand of these in South Island, would seem to accord best with the known facts. The Maori in South Island were not only few in number but were also unevenly distributed. The limited archaeological work in location of settlement sites is not too helpful because of the roving nature of the Maori. Most permanent camps are believed to have been on or near the coasts, and from onethird to one-half of the island's population is thought to have been concentrated on the shores of Cook Strait, particularly in the Marlborough Sound area. Scattered camps (rather than settlements) were to be found along the eastern and southern coasts as far as Fiordland. The Maori frequently did move inland on hunting and gathering expeditions, and sometimes large parties reached Westland in search of the prized greenstone ( New Zealand jade, a variety of nephrite). The cross-island trails and camp sites so far determined, however, yield no evidence of even semipermanent occupation of the interior or the west coast. The largest permanent settlement in the eighteenth century, although it may have had a very short history, was at Kaiapoi just north of Banks Peninsula.
In pre-European times the Maori lived in much the same manner as did the neolithic folk of Britain, in communities, the size of which was controlled by the food Supply." Although we may postulate other "controls" on the size of the community, Maori culture is well termed "neolithic," lacking metals; also absent, however, were the wheel, pottery, and true weaving. In South Island the reasonably broad base of domesticated plants and animals of Polynesia had been narrowed by climatic exigencies and transport limitations to one plant, the sweet potato (Maori "kumara," Ipomea batatas). Other imported plants, including taro and paper mulberry, found their climatic limits not far south of the North Auckland peninsula of North Island. The domesticated dog and rat, both used for food, survived the canoe journey to New Zealand (as pigs and fowl apparently did not), but there is no evidence that they contributed much to the staple diet. Birds and fish supplied the major foods. There was but one general utility fiber, derived from the leaves of Phormium tenax, and from it most clothing and nets were made. Stone tools were simple, the basic implement being a stone adze which was morphologically a hoe but functionally an axe.