Year 8 - Lesson 3

Curriculum level:
Programme focus:
Why a Treaty?
Length of lesson:
45 – 90 minutes

Focus learning areas

  • Abel Tasman’s voyage.
  • Captain James Cook.

Achievement objectives

Students will gain knowledge, skills, and experience to:

  • Understand how exploration and innovation create opportunities and challenges for people, places, and environments.
  • Understand that events have causes and effects.

Learning outcomes

This programme will provide students with opportunities to:

  • Conduct research about a historical figure and share their information with peers.

Suggested activities


Review information from the previous lesson about the migration of Māori and the make-up of their communities.

Who arrived in New Zealand next?

Abel Tasman and Captain James Cook

Students should work in pairs. Provide each pair with an information sheet, either about Abel Tasman or James Cook. After 10 minutes, ask the pairs to work with another pair researching the other person and to share information.

Then ask the groups to report back and complete a class brainstorm about both Abel Tasman and James Cook, focusing on:

  • Who was first to arrive?
  • What year did they arrive?
  • Who gave the name New Zealand?
  • Whowas the first to complete a full map of New Zealand?
  • Where they were from?
  • Why Abel Tasman did not set foot on New Zealand?

Abel Tasman – 1642

The Dutchman Abel Tasman was the first European to discover and name New Zealand.

He sighted Mount Cook, off the coast of Hokitika, and sailed north, mapping the west coast of both the South and North Islands.

There was an incident in Golden Bay (near Nelson) when local iwi blew the pūtātara (conch shell*) to signal to the ship, and to determine, based on the ships response, whether it was friend or foe. Because this was Tasman’s first encounter with the Māori culture, his code of conduct informed him that he should copy the natives, which in this case meant he blew the ship’s horn in response. Unbeknown to Tasman, this signalled to the local Māori that the crew were going to attack them.

In response the iwi (tribes) onshore sent out a waka taua (war canoe). Mistakenly, Tasman thought it was a welcoming group, and sent some of his crew overboard in a row boat to meet the local iwi. These men were killed, and Tasman realised the mistake he’d made, as a result of miscommunication.

He then sailed north, to Tonga, without stepping foot onto New Zealand shores.

*It may be of importance to help the students to understand how strange and possibly scary it must have been for the local iwi, who had no knowledge of the outside world, to see these huge ships with large billowing sails, or people with white skin and strange clothing on board.

By explaining this, students may gain an understanding of why the incident occurred.

You could compare the incident with encountering aliens from another planet.

Captain James Cook – first voyage 1769

Explain to the students that although Abel Tasman was the first European to have discovered and named New Zealand, it was the British Captain James Cook who first charted and explored New Zealand.

His first visit was in 1769, after he’d left Tahiti, where he’d been to witness the passage, or transit, of the planet Venus over the face of the sun.

Fortunately Tupaea, a native from Tahiti, was on board Cook’s ship, and was able to translate between English and Māori (Māori being very similar to his native Tahitian language. Because of this, Cook was welcomed by many Māori, and this made it much easier for him to explore New Zealand than Tasman. (See Panel 1, Section 1 – ‘A Māori World’.)

Supporting information

A copy of the map Captain James Cook made can be found at:

An article about Abel Tasman’s discovery of New Zealand and his experience can be found at:

Information about the European discovery of New Zealand can be found at:

Information about Captain James Cook can be found at: