The first known European visitor to the coast near Motueka in 1827 was French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville, of the French corvette Astrolabe. He discovered and explained much of the Tasman Bay shore line. Three ships bringing the New Zealand Company's Nelson expedition, led by Captain Arthur Wakefield, fastened at Astrolabe Roads, north of Kaiteriteri Beach (about 16 km due north of Motueka) in October 1841.
Kaiteriteri was chosen as a site for the first settlement but was afterward deserted in favour of Nelson Haven. The outstanding fertility of the soil and the aptness of the surrounding land for small farm agreement were the main concerns for the founding of the second town of the Nelson settlement at Motueka in 1842. Motueka was formed as a borough in 1900.