Kahurangi National Park was a home to early Maori iwi (tribes) that lived near the Golden Bay and travelled on self-made paths towards the west coast of the South Island searching for pounamu (greenstone). Archeological findings date back to the 13th and 14th century and indicate the presence of early Maori near Heaphy River. Since many different materials from around Polynesia were found in New Zealand, theories suggest that early arrivals explored the South Island quicker than experts thought they had.

First Europeans that came to Kahurangi were whalers and sealers following Cook's sightings. In fact, these early sealers scared Kahurangi's seal colonies away. Some 20 years later, the industrial focus shifted towards coal, timber, flax and gold, as the New Zealand Company settled in Nelson in 1841. Gold mining was a major industrial factor for over half a decade until the early 20th century when the last mines were closed. Aorere in Kahurangi was the first gazetted goldfield in New Zealand.

The name 'Kahurangi' translates to 'treasured possession', 'honorable' or 'jewel'. Due to harsh weather conditions in the Southern Alps, alpine plants slowly escaped towards Kahurangi and created a high biodiversity by shifting half of country's plant species northwards. These rich forests were later protected by the Northwest Nelson State Forest Park in 1970, which turned into Kahurangi in 1996. Back in 1846, Charles Heaphy, Thomas Brunner and Maori guide Kehu were the first to seek for the tracks across Kahurangi establishing the Heaphy Track. Today, tourism is the region's driving economical factor.
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