Vega sailing from Manzanillo on her 3rd voyage to the French nuclear test site. Pacific.

Greenpeace New Zealand was the second Greenpeace office established in 1974. It has a proud tradition of leading, and winning environmental campaigns.

Greenpeace NZ played a key role in stopping driftnet fishing on the high seas, in protecting Antarctica as a World Park and in ending French nuclear testing in the Pacific. When the Rainbow Warrior was bombed in Auckland Harbour in 1985, it didn’t just happen to Greenpeace, it happened to all of us.

Greenpeace New Zealand was officially founded in April 1974, but the story really began in 1972.

First protest voyage against Pacific nuclear testing

After the successful 1971 voyage to stop nuclear testing in Alaska, the newly formed Greenpeace in Canada contacted the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in New Zealand.

The new Greenpeace Canada group was convinced that more non-violent direct action against nuclear testing would make a difference.

In New Zealand CND had been campaigning against nuclear testing since 1962 and was keen to progress the campaign. When they were contacted by Greenpeace Canada they placed an appeal for a yacht on the front page of The New Zealand Herald.

At this time David McTaggart, by coincidence a Canadian, had recently sailed into Auckland and saw the notice. He had no prior involvement with politics, campaigning or the peace movement, but took up the challenge and agreed to take his boat and a volunteer crew to the nuclear test zone.

The voyage was announced through the media and the group was inundated with public support for the voyage.

They were hindered by some National Government bureaucracy, but on 27 April 1972 Vega set sail. Renamed Greenpeace III for the voyage, this was the first protest voyage from New Zealand against nuclear weapons testing.

Six weeks later they were in the test zone and their presence successfully delayed (but did not stop) the French nuclear testing.

McTaggart and crew thought that they had not achieved anything for the campaign, but on their return to New Zealand they learnt that their voyage had reached the media and the second fleet of protest boats was on the way to the test zone.

The flotilla of three yachts heading for French Polynesia was assembled by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and Peace Media. Greenpeace New Zealand was born from these existing groups and people involved with the anti-nuclear campaign.

McTaggart sailed into the test zone again in 1973. He was beaten-up by the French Navy, but this time managed to get the photos out to the world. McTaggart went on to become the founder and Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

Tackling international issues

Even before Greenpeace New Zealand was officially founded, New Zealanders were actively campaigning on international issues.

It was a New Zealander, Paul Spong, who in 1973 convinced Greenpeace Vancouver to campaign against the slaughter of whales.

Paul Spong set in motion a process that would transform Greenpeace from a single-issue protest group into a broader peace and environmental organisation.

In November 1979 members of Greenpeace New Zealand attended the first Greenpeace international council meeting. David McTaggart, a powerful advocate for New Zealand pushed for nuclear testing and other Pacific issues and the possibility of an Antarctica campaign.

Campaigns opposing nuclear testing and whaling dominated Greenpeace New Zealand’s work throughout the 1970s.

The organisation and its supporter base expanded rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s to include successful campaigns and education on Antarctica, Forestry, Oceans, Fisheries, Climate, and Toxics alongside its core Nuclear, Whaling, and Pacific work.