The Bay of Plenty (Māori: Te Moana-a-Toi) is a large bight in the northern coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It stretches from the Coromandel Peninsula in the west to Cape Runaway in the east, a wide stretch of some 259 km of open coastline. The Bay of Plenty Region is situated around this body of water, also incorporating several large islands in the bay. The bay was named by James Cook after he noticed the abundant food supplies at several Māori villages there, in stark contrast to the earlier observations he had made in Poverty Bay.
According to local Māori traditions, the Bay of Plenty was the landing point of several migration canoes that brought Māori settlers to New Zealand. These include the Mataatua, Nukutere, Tākitimu, Arawa and Tainui canoes. Many of the descendent iwi maintain their traditional homelands (rohe) in the region, including Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tai, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau, Te Arawa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Pūkenga. Early Māori settlement gave rise to many of the town and city names used today.
The first recorded European contact came when James Cook sailed through the Bay of Plenty in 1769. Cook noted the abundance of food supplies, in comparison to Poverty Bay further back along the eastern coast of the North Island. Further reports of European contact are scarce prior to the arrival of missionary Samuel Marsden to the Tauranga area in 1820. During the 1820s and 1830s, northern iwi including Ngā Puhi invaded the Bay of Plenty during their campaign throughout the North Island, fighting local Māori tribes in what became known as the Musket Wars. However, the 1830s and 1840s saw increased contact between Bay of Plenty Māori and Europeans through trade, although few Europeans settled in the region. Missionary activity in the region also increased during this time. In 1853, New Zealand was subdivided into provinces, with the Bay of Plenty incorporated into Auckland Province.
Conflict returned to the Bay of Plenty during the 1860s with the New Zealand Land Wars. Initially this stemmed from Tauranga iwi supporting the Waikato iwi in their conflict with the government. In retaliation, British Crown and government-allied Māori forces attacked the Tauranga iwi, including at the famous Battle of Gate Pā in 1864. Further conflict with the government arose in 1865 when German missionary Carl Völkner and interpreter James Fulloon were killed by local Māori at Opotiki and Whakatane, respectively. The ensuing conflict resulted in the confiscation of considerable land from several Bay of Plenty iwi by the government.
Confiscation of Māori land deprived local iwi of economic resources (among other things), and also provided land for expanding European settlement. The government established fortified positions, including at Tauranga, Whakatane and Opotiki. European settlers arrived throughout the latter half of the 19th century, establishing settlements in Katikati, Te Puke and the Rangitaiki area. In 1876, settlements were incorporated into counties following the nationwide dissolution of the provincial system. Initial settlements in the region struggled: the climate was ill-suited to sheep farming and the geography was inaccessible, further hindered by a lack of infrastructure. By the end of the century the population had started to dwindle. But after experimenting with different crops, settlers found success with dairy production. Dairy factories sprang up across the Bay of Plenty in the 1900s, with butter and cheese feeding economic prosperity throughout the early 20th century; local Māori continued to live on the fringe of this prosperity. Timber also became a major export in the 1950s, as kiwifruit did later.
The present Bay of Plenty region was formed in 1989 after a nationwide review and shakeup of top-level local government in New Zealand. The new region incorporated the former counties of Tauranga, Rotorua, Whakatane and Opotiki.
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