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In Maori legend, Kaikoura Peninsula (Taumanu o te Waka o Maui) was the seat where the demigod Maui sat when he fished the North Island up from the depths of the sea. The area was heavily settled before Europeans arrived – at least 14 Maori pa sites have been identified, and excavations show that the area was a moa-hunter settlement about 800 to 1000 years ago. The largest moa egg ever found (240mm long, 178mm in diameter) was unearthed in 1857 at a burial site near the present-day Fyffe House.

In 1828 Kaikoura’s beachfront was the scene of a tremendous battle. A Ngati Toa war party, led by chief Te Rauparaha, bore down on Kaikoura, killing or capturing several hundred of the Ngai Tahu tribe.

James Cook sailed past the peninsula in 1770, but didn’t land. His journal states that 57 Maori in four double-hulled canoes came towards the Endeavour, but ‘would not be prevail’d upon to put along side’. Europeans established a whaling station here in 1842, and the town remained a whaling centre until 1922. Sheep farming and agriculture also flourished. After whaling ended, the sea and fertile farmland continued to sustain the community.