The lateness and prominence of Polynesian colonisation of New Zealand make it an ideal place to investigate the Anthropocene. We review the Anthropocene as a process and the information needed to understand the consequences of ongoing human-environmental interaction. Elsewhere in the world, a lengthy history complicates the ability to differentiate between the impact of people on the environment and the consequences of engagement. In New Zealand, engagement is not only of short duration but the landmass has a long coastline, with numerous offshore islands. These characteristics provide the scope to study the impact of engagement where it is particularly discernible. We introduce one such island, Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island). Upon arrival, Polynesian colonists found a temperate, geologically complex land covered in forest, populated by a diverse endemic flora and fauna. They knew how to produce crops and exploit wild food sources but had to rapidly adapt to new conditions marginal to production and new technological possibilities. The New Zealand case study allows consideration of whether the processes involved in creating the phenomena described by the Anthropocene are global, directional and inevitable, or are due to local, small-scale changes related to particular forms of production by Maori, and their capacity to construct environmental change.