I write historical fiction and non-fiction, authoring books which have have been recognised as comprehensive contributions to their respective genres of New Zealand and global historical literature. I also write articles and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines on a range of environmental and historical topics. My books include:

  • A Flame Flickers in the Darkness (2012) – a New Zealand historical fiction novel based during the New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s (it has since been split into ebooks Greenstone Trail and Flames Flicker, both which are available on Amazon Kindle).
  • Conquistador Puzzle Trail (2015)  – a revision of Australian and New Zealand history that concludes that the Portuguese most likely and on the balance of probabilities, discovered Australia and New Zealand in circa 1520-1524, and the Spanish may also have voyaged to New Zealand between 1576-1578.
  • Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole (2017) – a Spanish translation of Conquistador Puzzle Trail completed with the support and collaboration of the Embassy of Spain to New Zealand and Spanish foreign office, AECID.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail by Winston Cowie

Praised by both the Portuguese and Spanish Embassies to New Zealand, Conquistador Puzzle Trail is a comprehensive assessment of potential pre-Tasman Portuguese and Spanish discovery voyages to Australia and New Zealand. Conquistador Puzzle Trail is the new and current ‘go to’ international text on the subject that the Portuguese and / or Spanish may have discovered Australia and New Zealand. It also presents details of New Zealand’s ‘oldest’ shipwreck, a likely Dutch vessel.

Everybody has heard little tidbits about the Conquistador Puzzle whether it be about alleged caravels wrecked on Dargaville’s coast; ‘Spanish’ helmets being found and reburied on the Pouto Peninsula; oral tradition of sailors coming ashore and being massacred by Maori or Aborigines; pohutukawas on the far side of the world; or the Napier Broome Bay cannon or Mahogany ship in Australia, to name a few.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail takes the reader through each puzzle piece, puts the arguments for and against its antiquity to the reader, and encourages the reader to decide what part of the Conquistador Puzzle that piece forms.

In the past we’ve had authors claiming Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese voyages to New Zealand and Australia pre-Tasman and each use the same puzzle pieces to support their theory. I haven’t done that in Conquistador Puzzle Trail – each puzzle piece is presented to you on its own merit; I explain how I came across it, what or who is the source of the puzzle piece, and let you decide where it fits into the theoretical framework. If a puzzle piece doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit; I have not tried to twist a puzzle piece to fit with the theory. Each puzzle piece is what it is and means what it means.

All the pieces of this perplexing puzzle, however, should at the very least lead to the reader agreeing that a different theory does exist to that of the traditional discovery paradigm of New Zealand and Australia; that being that the Spanish and / or Portuguese may have been the first Europeans to discover New Zealand. And in my view, the Portuguese, most likely and on the balance of probabilities, discovered New Zealand and Australia between 1520 and 1524. And the Spanish may have also beat Abel Tasman between 1576-1578.

In saying that, it’s not what I think that is important, its what you, the public thinks about the theory that is important. I’ve merely had a go at putting together the puzzle based on best available information. Have a read and form a view!

Keep an eye out for it in New Zealand in Paper Plus stores and good independents.

Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole

The Spanish translation of Conquistador Puzzle Trail completed with the support and collaboration of the Embassy of Spain to New Zealand and Spanish foreign office, AECID. Launched in 2017 at a lovely event in La Coruna, Galicia, Spain, the book enables the Spanish public and historians to review the New Zealand parts of the Conquistador Puzzle.

With the support of the Embassy of Spain to New Zealand, in 2017 we sent 350 copies of Conquistador Puzzle Trail to schools and universities in New Zealand and in addition, 80 Spanish copies to Spanish educational proviers. This was in recognition of both the adding of Conquistador Puzzle Trail to the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand as a source on this period of history, and the change in public perception that the Spanish and Portuguese may have been the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand. 

It is available in Spain at the Libreria Arenas Bookstore, La Coruna. You can order a copy here by contacting the owner Manuel Arenas.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail

Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico by Winston Cowie.

Former Ambassador of Spain to New Zealand the honourable Manuel Viturro De La Torre; author Winston Cowie; and Dr Juan Pineiro. at the launch of the Spanish version of Cowie’s book in La Coruna Spain.

New Zealand Land Wars Historical fiction by Winston Cowie

My first novel, A Flame Flickers in the Darkness (2012), is of epic proportions and spans the key events and characters of the New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s. Also known as the New Zealand Wars and Maori Wars, between 1860 and 1868 the indigenous New Zealand Maori and colonising British were fighting what was the war for New Zealand. Spanning magical Fiordland, the South Seas, Auckland, the First Taranaki War, Invasion of Waikato, the Chatham Islands, East Cape, the mystical Ureweras, and the Second Taranaki War, the period is brought to life on the pages in front of you by an Irish Whaler and Maori warrior. A Flame Flickers in the Darkness also brings to life some of the fascinating people, Maori and British, that shaped New Zealand during this time.

A Flame Flickers in the Darkness by Winston Cowie

A Flame Flickers in the Darkness by Winston Cowie

Only 500 copies of A Flame Flickers in the Darkness were ever printed. For New Zealanders, there still might be some hard copies available online at Fishpond, or at Whitcoulls stores. For international sales, please contact me direct. Grab one of the originals today; you might get lucky.

Given the epic proportions of A Flame Flickers in the Darkness, it has since been split into two novels, which are now both available as ebooks on Amazon Kindle.

Greenstone Trail by Winston Cowie

Greenstone Trail, which spans  Fiordland, the South Seas, Auckland, and the First Taranaki War, was released as an ebook in 2013. You can purchase your ebook copy on Amazon Kindle, by clicking here. You can read it on your ipad or iphone by downloading the Kindle reader app for free.

Greenstone Trail by Winston Cowie

Flames Flicker by Winston Cowie

Flames Flicker, which spans the Invasion of Waikato, the Chatham Islands, East Cape, mystical Ureweras, and Second Taranaki War, was released as an ebook in 2016. You can purchase your copy on Amazon Kindle by clicking here. Get to know these ghosts of the past…..

Flames Flicker by Winston Cowie

Hard copies of Greenstone Trail and Flames Flicker may be available in time! This depends on if you demand them! Please tell me what you thought of these novels once you have read them!

Please, read about the New Zealand Land Wars, written in an interesting historical fiction format. They are such a fascinating part of New Zealand history yet they are not well known about because they are not comprehensively taught about  in New Zealand schools, despite being an important part of our heritage. Be one of the informed members of our population. Interesting events; fascinating people; our ancestors and whakapapa.

A Flame Flickers in the Darkness – The Writing Odyssey

The writing of my New Zealand Land Wars historical fiction novel ‘A Flame flickers in the Darkness’ (now two novels entitled ‘Greenstone Trail’ and ‘Flames Flicker’) spans a six year odyssey.

During this time I lived, worked and visited a number of countries that had an impact on the direction of the novel. These were all during the course of what we Kiwis call our “OE” or Overseas Experience. Every novel, however, begins with a base level of knowledge. This is what an author knows about the world, people, environment, a subject matter and how they interact at that time. In my situation, my base of knowledge was as a 23-year-old New Zealand bloke. New Zealand is where I learned about the world and is my grounding. Since then I have had the privilege of adding the experience of visiting 40 countries each of which has enriched the way I think about the world.

New Zealand: The beginning

I was born in Dargaville, New Zealand on Northland’s rugged North West Coast. My parents were both teachers at the local High School and I was No.2 of 3. We lived there until I was five and my early memories are of fossicking in the sandhills and gathering Tuatuas at the wind and wave-swept and shipwreck-ridden Baylys Beach, where we lived.

We then moved to a rural seaside settlement on Tawharanui Peninsula, about an hour north of Auckland. One side of the peninsula is exposed to the north east, where the region receives frequent weather systems and tropical cyclones in La Nina conditions. The other side of the peninsula faces Kawau Island, where Governor Grey, the Governor of New Zealand lived on and off between 1862 and 1888, in what is now known as “Mansion House”. The ocean side is good for surfing and the calm side for sailing, diving, boating and fishing. This is how I spent my youth, boating and fishing around Kawau Island and surfing on the exposed side of Tawharanui. It is where I learned to love the ocean and is the reason that I work as an environmental changemaker today.

Winston Cowie. As a little fella

Baylys Beach. An inspiring beach to grow up on.

Learning to surf. Mahurangi’s East Coast.

Winston Cowie Spearfishing New Zealand Kingfish

Learning to spearfish. Kawau Island. Tawharanui

Rugby is also an important part of many young kiwi blokes’ psyche. The same was true for me. I played my first game when I was five years old for the local Omaha club and then for the Mahurangi Rugby Club when Omaha amalgamated with the Warkworth and Kaipara Flats Clubs. Through rugby, I learned to enjoy physical challenge, to lead and be a member of a team, to train, to be fit, to be disciplined, to have heart, to have fun; the values of courage, sportsmanship and humility. I loved it and through rugby  had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people and the opportunity of travelling to some exotic places, from the sheep-shot strewn Mahurangi Club’s field, to Westlake Boys High School’s citadel, to Otago University’s Logan Park, to the wind-swept Harbour Club’s Port Chalmer’s field, to Pretoria in South Africa, to Iffley Road at Oxford University, to Twickenham, to Japan, to Portugal, the United States, Orkney Islands in Scotland, the “Mighty Men’s” fortress in Doha, Qatar, to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, to Oman, Bahrain, the sand and rock-strewn Kuwait field and Lebanon’s Beirut. Great people, exotic places. What a game we Kiwis grow up with; the pleasure of testing ourselves physically from a young age against some of the best rugby players on the planet. And then the opportunity to travel around the world through it.

But I digress, I was telling you about growing up in New Zealand.

I attended Matakana and Warkworth Primary Schools in the Mahurangi region, before attending High School at Westlake Boys High School, the second biggest boys’ high school in the country, located on Auckland’s North Shore. It is a fantastic school  that offers many opportunities and has the right academic, sporting and cultural balance. I thrived at Westlake, worked hard, played rugby and enjoyed many academic and sporting successes in what was an established winning tradition at the school. I learned how to win at Westlake. I then completed  a law degree at Otago University. It is an incredible place – not only are you academically challenged by the best lecturers – it feels like a place where you take the most outgoing students from around New Zealand, which coupled with the giant adventure playground that the South Island is, makes for an incredible experience. I loved it.

Westlake Boys High School 1st XV Rugby 2000. North Harbour Champions. Top 8. New Zealand.

Westlake Boys High School Dragonboating Team. 2000. New Zealand Champions.

Otago University adventures. Some of the best surf breaks in New Zealand.

Tuatara, New Zealand. Where the writing began. 2005.

I was working at Russell McVeagh in Auckland City, the best law firm in the country. It had a culture of excellence and prided itself on being the best. I learned a lot and respected the work Russell Mac did; not only did they pride themselves on giving the best advice, they also did a hell of a lot for the community, legal aid work and contributing to papers and commentaries to try and improve the law.

Life in a big law firm, however, wasn’t for me. Having a conversation with a good friend at the time about what career path I wanted to take, he said:

“Life’s your game, Winnie, no one else’s. If your not happy with your lot and not willing to change it, nothing will happen. It’s up to you to improve your lot. The buck stops with you.”

I took the advice and changed my game. I remained a corporate lawyer – I was young and learning and it was a professional and challenging environment. I mixed it up by living on Tuatara, the family 1946 vintage, 24-foot kauri mullet boat, the boat I had grown up learning to sail on.

I lived on it at Bayswater Marina, kayaked before work, ferried to work, did my work, before ferrying home. It was a different sort of existence, but one I was prepared to live, to save a few bob and mix things up. I enjoyed it. Sometimes at night I would sit on deck and search the stars, others I would be too exhausted from the day’s work and sleep deeply.

It was on Tuatara that I had an epiphany. Everything about what I was doing was formal; the dress, the setting, the writing, the research. There was very little room for creative flair or thinking. When I wasn’t tired, I read a lot and found myself reading the same books that were in the ship’s small library, adventure novels like Wilbur Smith’s “When the Lion Feeds,” and New Zealand history books (courtesy of my Father, who is a history teacher), the likes of Belich’s “New Zealand Wars” and Maxwell’s “Frontier.”

At the time that I had this epiphany, I secretly started writing in the evenings. My aim was to try and do what Wilbur Smith had done for Africa; bring New Zealand history to life through fictional characters interacting with people who lived at the time.

And so it began, some nights I would lie on deck and visualise what I wanted to write about, other nights the words would flow and the morning came around quickly; the candle burned to a stub.

Tuatara. The family 1946 vintage Mullet Boat. Where the writing began.

The venerable Tuatara

Oxford University, United Kingdom: Where Draft 1 continued. 2006-2007.

About the same time that I had the epiphany about writing, I decided I wanted to contribute to society through marine and ocean policy. I loved the ocean, surfing, diving, fishing and sailing and had just been on my first surfing holiday to Nias, Indonesia, and seen that the coastal management in developing countries left a bit to be desired. So I started writing up a proposal on coastal resource management that served as the basis of my application for Oxford University. The candle stub burnt lower and Tuatara’s roof got blacker. I applied and got in. Happy is an understatement – I was over the moon. Six month’s later, I had managed to fund the University fees, through various scholarships including the Auckland Rotary Jubilee Trust Scholarship, the Major Stanley’s Rugby Scholarship, the Ian Tucker Memorial Scholarship at Keble College, and also through the support of the legal community, who really got behind me and another Kiwi who was heading to Oxford at the time, fellow Otago University student and rugby player, Chris Mahony. I’ve got to say, when there’s a fantastic opportunity to do something and you need a hand to get somewhere, to have the support of a community is really humbling. Thank you to all who helped me get to Oxford.

And so I was at Oxford doing an MSc in Environmental Policy; I was still writing, in between meeting new people, going to class, learning different environmental management methods, having a pinky or a perky at the Vincent’s Gentlemens’ Club, rugby tours to Japan and the United States, playing against the Portuguese national side and the big Blues match v Cambridge University at Twickenham. On the rugby, we lost narrowly both years  but what a rugby club and an experience the Oxford University Rugby Club and Varsity Match is. My memories are treasured and friends made even more so. It was a special experience, 22 blokes from all over the world going head to head with Cambridge University at Twickenham in early December.

Life at Oxford University was fantastic, but in some ways a funny consciousness to come to terms with. I had gone from having no time when I was working in Auckland and either playing rugby or surfing or fishing in the weekend, to being in the middle of England; I was a University student again and with the absence of the ocean, threw myself into my University work, rugby and writing. Most evenings I would write; I had a general idea of the story I wanted to tell, it was just a matter of chipping away at it. Many coffees were consumed at the Costa on Cowley Road and a few ales at the Keble College Bar, The Eagle & Child and The Royal Oak pubs (where J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis wrote their epic novels), during the course of it. I was making progress.

Pretending to be Harry Potter. Keble College, Oxford University.

Graduating with an MSc in Environmental Policy. Oxford University.

About to hit a scrum. Varsity Match 2006. Oxford v Cambridge University. Twickenham

It was about this time that I travelled to Tobago to complete research for my MSc. What a magic place with crystal clear water, abundant marine life and laid-back people. My research dissertation was on the co-management arrangement between government and the community in the management of Buccoo Reef Marine Protected Area, a beautiful catchment and lagoon with mangroves, seagrass and fringing coral reef. I researched during the day and either surfed or wrote in the evenings. I was getting close to finishing my first draft. Come January 2008, after nearly 3 solid years, I had finished. A little bit over-confident, I sent the manuscript to a pre-publishing assessment house for feedback. I was going to be an award winning writer. A few months later and the feedback was….’My writing could do with a great deal of improvement.’

Buccoo Reef Marine Protected Area. Masters Research location.

London, United Kingdom: Where Draft 2 began. 2008.

I was in London at the time I received the feedback, living in the Hammersmith / Fulham Area. I was legal contracting to pay the bills and doing a fair bit of travel in the weekend. I mulled on the advice, after a while accepted the challenge, and started again. It was time consuming, every morning a 6am start to get to the coffee shop in High Holborn, a Pret a Manger, to get some writing done before work. A few trips were done during this time, all which influenced the writing in some way, the more notable being trips to Spain for surf (the world class wave of Mundaka heaving at 8 foot + ( I nearly drowned)), cheese rolling in Gloucester, and Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls (what a festival that is!).

London. Where a lot of writing got done.

Surfing Mundaka, Spain. ‘graduation of mindset’ surfing moment,

Did I mention I got electrocuted? Between finishing at Oxford and beginning in London, I went back to New Zealand for a couple of months over summer. I was electric-sanding Tuatara, which was out of the water on a slipway. The extension cord came loose for the 101st time and I grabbed it, to experience the shock of 240 volts zapping me. Anyone who has been electrocuted will know (I don’t think that will be many ;)), you can’t let go once it takes hold. I had about five seconds of it, before falling 5 metres onto the mud, pretty shook up, a couple of solid Harry Potter scars to show for it.

But I digress. I was in London, working, socialising, doing trips and writing. I had been there for six months when I was having an ale with a mate who was leaving London and going back to Australia. He was telling me about the Middle East and how he had a mate there who was looking for a Marine Scientist to employ. I phoned him and two weeks later I had left the UK and was onmy way! I knew it was going to be pretty different. And I still had a lot of writing to do to get the draft up to standard.

Cheese-rolling, Gloucester. Because it’s a really good idea.


Post cheese-rolling, Gloucester. Smiling.

The Middle East: Where Draft 2 continued.

Within a week of arriving I discovered that an old mate from Otago University, Hamish Dobbie, had moved to the region randomly a month before, to work as an Engineer. You wouldn’t read about it! We met for an Arabic coffee and soon after rented a villa together. Two Aussie blokes we met at the rugby club moved in a couple of weeks later. We lived at Number 10 Muslim Bin Bous Jundab Street, a villa in the middle of a sandy and rock-strewn neighbourhood. Stray cats picked at the rubbish bins on the street; we even adopted a stray dog, Zayna. For four blokes far away from home, we made a good go of it.

While I was based there, my writing was influenced in some way shape or form by the following adventures:

Desert; building a city from scratch; oil; gas and opulence; living and abiding by the rules of a culture so very different to my own; learning from a multi-cultural expat society with the vast majority of the population living away from home; SCUBA diving for work; admiring sea snakes; playing rugby for the rugby club – home away from home; spear-fishing 100km offshore in the Arabian Gulf; seeing schooling sharks; work experience in extreme temperatures; fasting during Ramadan; being exposed to interesting policy and marine science work; learning about different cultures and their interactions and motivations; falling in love and becoming a father; dealing with a serious rugby injury; experiencing the kindness of a community (rugby community) when the chips were down; making a lot of friends; United Arab Emirates (now home;visionary leadership; fantastic community; magnificent marine life; love it!); Bahrain (a good rugby and golf club; a history of expat living); Kuwait (a rock and sand rugby pitch, recent interesting history and strong home brew); Oman (amazing marine life, whale sharks, turtles; the Mussandam and wadis); Lebanon (a melting pot where Arabia meets Europe; ancient settlements; entrenched values; love and hate; living for today); Saudi Arabia (oil and desert; diving with sea-snakes), South Africa (a good friend’s Stellenbosch wedding, Professional Diving Course in Durban; surfing at Scottburgh and Umzombi; the Garden route; Cape Town; Table Mountain; what a place and magnificent melting pot of people);  Maldives (island subsistence living and the tourism challenge); Mozambique (sailing a dhow in the Qurimbus archipelago); Indonesia (surfing in the Menatwais); Ukraine (a good friend’s wedding with only vodka and cognac served); Canada (beautiful and wild place with good salt of the earth people and where I got engaged).

Yes, I met a good woman and we had our first daughter. I also finished the second draft of the book, very different from the first, mostly written at No.10 Muslim Bin Bous Jundab Street, the local Starbucks, the Souk and later at the Ain Khaled Gated Community.

Middle East: The end of Draft 2 and the beginning of Draft 3.

Two years after the first draft, I had finished the second. I felt pretty good about it but thought it needed more work. I sent it to another pre-publishing assessment service. The feedback was good – they enjoyed the story but there were some other parts of the story I needed to work on. I received the feedback well. To say that they enjoyed reading it was vindication that the hours of chipping away had been worth it. I put my head down and went for it, making the changes and reading it again and again, trying to improve it. I finished Draft 2 in January 2011. When I wasn’t diving for work, I would arrive at the local Costa at 6am, write till 7:30am, then do a full day of work. By now I knew I was close and was pretty motivated to finish.

It was time to have a crack and send the manuscript to publishers. Lots of phone calls and submissions; I sent it to seven New Zealand based publishers. Some replied, others didn’t. The feedback I got was that the New Zealand book market was very depressed and no publisher was willing to take a risk on a new author. This process took six months. Not to be discouraged (the people I had asked to read it told me they enjoyed it), after talking with friends in the book industry, I decided to self publish the book. I engaged a pre-publishing assessment service in the Taranaki, a great couple, Gordon and Kath Brown, to complete a proofread and make comments. They did a great job and when this process was over, it was ready to be designed to look like a book.

I engaged PublishMe in the Taranaki to do the book design and a really talented illustrator and fisherman, Shane Dunlop, also of the Taranaki, to do the maps and illustrations. What a great job they did and they have added a hell of a lot to the finished product, in my humble opinion.

And so I had finished. I received the first copy on 12 March 2012 and have since set up this website to tell the story and hopefully convince you to buy a copy. I hope you do.  

Or at least I thought I had finished! Fast-forward one year to 2013 and most of the copies of A Flame flickers in the Darkness are sold. I have received lots of correspondence from people who have read it and enjoyed it; some saying that it does for New Zealand what Wilbur Smith does for Africa – bring its history to life! Taking a great deal of confidence from these kind words,  I again took advice from those within the book industry who felt as one book, it was too long. “Split the novel into two novels and re-release them,” was the advice I received. And so I have, in ebook form, until the market demands hard copies! That’s you!

What started as the notes of a 23-year old living on a mullet boat in Auckland Harbour, finished as a book that a 29-year old (who has learned a lot more of the world), is proud of.

I have dedicated the book to the following people who have influenced me and the way the book is written:


For Mum, Dad and my whanau.

For Lucy, Isobelle and Evie, my loves.

For our ancestors, all of those courageous men and women, both Maori and Pakeha, who helped shape New Zealand in the 1860s.

And for all those wonderful people from all over the world that I have had the pleasure of meeting and calling friends, you have inspired me.