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Epic and engrossing, Ocean is a dynamic portrait of New Zealand and the sea.

Lying in the middle of a vast ocean, Aotearoa New Zealand was the last habitable land mass in the world to be settled by humans. Our history represents the powerful coming-together of two great seafaring traditions, Polynesian and European.

Ocean tells the stories of pioneers and trail-blazers, from the big names who left their mark on our history to everyday folk whose fates were dictated by time and tide. There are chancers and entrepreneurs, exploiters and environmentalists, war-makers and lifesavers. From myth and migration to exploitation and industry; from the word of God and the pursuit of money to summer carnivals and the oldest sporting trophy in the world, these stories of ships, sailors and seekers show how our relationship with the sea has been pivotal throughout our history, while the contemporary stories of those whose lives are deeply connected to the ocean bring our maritime past into the now.

Magnificently illustrated with diverse imagery, Ocean is a spirited collection of historical tales, a landmark book about how the ocean has shaped New Zealand and its people.

Published with the assistance of Manatu Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage


[A] beautifully presented, richly illustrated volume.

Australian Women's Weekly

Ell leaves few pebbles unturned in this fulsomely illustrated voyage. From battleships to beach balls, trade and some of the best racing yachts ever built, Ocean is a highly readable exploration of the sea's enduring role in New Zealand life.

Christopher Moore, New Zealand Listener

That Ocean could be considered a portable maritime museum is a reasonable one. ... [Its] packed with charts, news photographs, reproductions of historic and contemporary paintings and advertisements. ... Ell covers a huge amount of territory and the result is a coffee table collectible for seafarers – and by-the-sea dwellers.

Kim Knight, Weekend Herald

Telling the epic tales of Aotearoa's pioneers and trailblazers, [Sarah Ell] paints a portrait of the maritime past of our little island rolling in the deep of the world's largest ocean, then brings it back to the future with stirring stories of those for whom the sea is life today.


This book will interest the general reader and help most of us understand an aspect of New Zealand history that has been insufficiently celebrated.

Peter Stupples, Otago Daily Times

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Formats & editions

  • Hardback


    December 3, 2018


    288 pages

    RRP $70.00

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He pūkai tō Tū, he pūkai tō Rongo.

A heap of Tū (godof war), a heap of Rongo (god of peace)...

Our 15,000 kilometres of coastline is longer than that of China, and not much smaller than that of the United States. This makes us vulnerable to enemies from without.

However, much of New Zealand’s martial history relates to conflict from within: tribe against tribe before and in the early days of European settlement, then British troops, settler soldiers and kūpapa (collaborating) tribes against other Māori in the 1840s to 1870s. It wasn’t until the very end of the nineteenth century that New Zealanders were engaged against a foreign enemy, being sent to South Africa to fight for the British.

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Read the story being discussed on Jesse Mulligan’s show on Radio New Zealand on 29 November 2018.