375 years since Abel Tasman made contact with Māori

It's 375 years since Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first made contact with Māori at the top of the South Island.

Four days of celebrations are underway at the place named after Mr Tasman himself.

There was a warm and cordial welcome for Dutch representatives, in stark contrast to the first time one of their countrymen arrived in New Zealand.

"The first encounter between Abel Tasman and Māori was a misunderstanding - a disaster," says Rob Zaagman, the Dutch Ambassador to New Zealand.

This weekend marks the anniversary since Mr Tasman first sighted New Zealand at what is now known as Abel Tasman National Park.

Back in 1642, misunderstandings and poor communication are said to have led to a violent confrontation with local iwi, led by Ngāti Tumatakokiri.

"From the point of view of the Māori here, any large group of strangers arriving had to be seen as a potential threat," says Neil Atikinson, chief historian at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

Just two days after arriving in the bay a small boat passing between the explorer's two ships was rammed by a waka, and four of Mr Tasman's sailors were killed.

"They always knew about getting the first hit in," says Ngāti Tumatakokiri descendant Doug Huria. "That was always the ultimate in warfare."

Mr Tasman tried to leave and was followed by several waka, which his men fired on. Mr Tasman later named the area Murderers Bay.

But Mr Huria says time has healed the fractured relationship.

"We've progressed a long way," he says.

Mr Tasman's discovery of this bay was the first the Western world knew of Aotearoa, leading James Cook to chart his own historic voyage 127 years later.