The islands of New Zealand are considered to be the last remnants of a vast continent, the remainder of which can still be traced beneath the surface of the Pacific. Elsewhere in the world civilisations had risen and decayed before human eyes ever rested on this isolated land.
Since the Maoris, like all other Polynesian people except the Easter Islanders, never developed the art of writing, we do not know exactly when their ancestors first arrived in New Zealand. Nevertheless, Te Rangi Hiroa (Dr. Peter Buck), a great Maori anthropologist, and some of his European colleagues, have thrown much light on the problem. After comparing old Maori legends with the evidence of language changes and archaeology, most students agree that the first man to see Ao-Te-Aroa, "The Long White Cloud", may have been the great Polynesian explorer, Kupe.
According to Maori legend, a Tahitian chief named Poi led the first band of immigrants about two hundred years after Kupe's visit. These colonists found Ao-Te-Aroa already occupied by Morioris ("inferior people"), who may have been Polynesians like themselves, or may have been Melanesians from the islands to the north. Those who were not killed were gradually absorbed by the Maoris. Then, about 1350, the main expedition left Tahiti. "Though coming from approximately the same area," writes Dr. Peter Buck, "It is probable that the canoes brought little differences with them." Ever since, Maori life has been organised on a tribal basis, each tribe believing ifself to be descended from the voyagers in one of these great canoes.
The canoe of the Tainui tribe was kept for centuries as a sacred memorial of the migration. Of course, it has rotted away to dust long ago now, but before it did so, large stones were set in the ground at its bow and stern. They still stand today and they seventy feet apart. Such canoes were usually fitted with out-riggers, but, on long voyages, a pair of them were often lashed together with a deck covering the space between them. A fire for cooking was built on a patch of sand on the deck, and such a double canoe could carry up to thirty men, women and children, with enough provisions to last many weeks. The colonists carried with them also live roots of the kumara and the taro, for planting in the new land, together with dogs, fowls and pigs. The plants, such as the sweet potato and taro, however were tropical plants which were very hard to grow in New Zealand, except in the most favoured parts of the North Island; and the colder climate demanded much warmer clothing than the immigrants had been used to in their own land. Thus the easy-going Polynesians were toughened and changed by the colder climate of their new home. The Maoris still have a proverb which runs, "I will hie me back to Hawaiki, where food is produced in abundance without the touch of human kind".
The Maoris became, perforce, extremely expert hunters and fishermen, but there were no furred animals whose skins might be made into clothes. So they learnt how to soak, scrape and pound the leaves of the native flax plant, whose fibres were then woven into strong garments that were both warm and waterproof. The flimsy, open-sided houses of the Society Islands gave way to much more solid structures with walls of earth or strong thatch.
Partly because of their strong tribal loyalties the Maoris also became much more warlike then their ancestors in "Hawaiki" had been. With nothing but stone tools, they built strong and elaborately decoraded war-canoes. Their fortified hill-villages, called pahs, were so sturdily built and well-planned that during the Maori Wars they often held for long periods against determined Pakeha (foreigner) attacks. But, though the Maori warrior might tattoo himself, and cook and eat the body of a fallen enemy, he was extremely chivalrous. Tribal wars were in some ways more like football matches between rival teams than warfare between civilised nations. Wars were fought only in the summer, between sowing and harvest time, and were governed by a code of honour at least as elaborate as that which governed duelling between European gentlemen. Today Maori and Pakeha live together in generally good terms, and the one has every bit as much cause to be proud of the deeds of his ancestors as the other.
Reference - The Story of the Pacific. The Sanitarium Children's Library, Vol. 7, pg 6.