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Southland Museum

It’s the Middle Ages. Genghis Khan presides over the largest contiguous empire the world has ever seen. Mansa Musa gives away enough gold on his trip to Mecca to cause an economic crisis in the Near East. Dante writes The Divine Comedy. The English and French kick off the Hundred Years’ War.

And Polynesian explorers sail to all corners of the Pacific. At least one waka lands on Enderby Island, at Sandy Bay, and stays there. The explorers live on sea lions, seals, albatrosses, petrels, fish and mussels. They cook in hangi, stoking fires with rātā, and their dogs gnaw the bones.

Archaeologist Atholl Anderson investigated these earth ovens in 2003, dating their remnants to either the 13th or 14th century—about the same time that New Zealand was settled. Traces remain of visits to the subantarctic Snares Islands, as well as settlements in the Kermadecs, far to the north of mainland New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands to the east.

On Enderby, part of the Auckland Islands group, Polynesians stayed for at least one summer, perhaps more, then departed, leaving behind tools, fish hooks, scrapers and bones—including this fish hook, which was recovered from Sandy Bay and is now held at the Southland Museum.

After they left, the Auckland Islands remained uninhabited for at least 400 years. There are no signs of human presence between these remains and the islands’ rediscovery by Abraham Bristow in 1806.

While the earlier explorers may have paid only a summer’s visit, Enderby Island marks the southernmost Polynesian colony yet to have been identified.

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