The great naturalist did not think much of New Zealand when he dropped by late in 1835 during a world voyage.
On his 10-day tour of Paihia and the Bay of Islands, he found the countryside "impracticable" and unattractive, a place of "filthy hovels", tattooed, savage-looking "natives" and vulgar colonists. He reserved his only warm words for a Christian mission at Waimate North, which reminded him of England.
Safely back on H.M.S Beagle, he wrote in his journal: "I believe we were all glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place. Amongst the natives there is absent that charming simplicity that is found in Tahiti; and the greater part of the English are the very refuse of society."
While in this brutish land he was almost certainly gestating the theory of evolution that he painstakingly laid out in On the Origin of the Species, published 1859.
This year, Darwin and his big idea will be everywhere. Thursday is the 200th anniversary of his birth, and November will be the 150th anniversary of Origin's publication.
Darwin's views of New Zealand may have been off-kilter, but his grasp of evolution revolutionised our understanding of all creatures great and small and their interconnection.
Evolutionary science has since been refined, bastardised, and attacked, but its fundamental principles have been overwhelmingly proven. Whether they're accepted is a different matter.
Behind the scholarly nostalgia and esoteric excitement, this year evolutionists and Darwin-deniers will go head to head.
On the ground, things can get nasty. In 2007, a drunken campsite evolution-versus-creation row between tourists in Australia ended in a fatal stabbing. English backpacker Alexander Christian York, who took the biblical view, lashed out in self-defence with a kitchen knife after biomedical scientist and Darwinist Scotsman Rudi Boa attacked him outside York's tent. The Englishman got five years' jail for manslaughter.
Even avuncular British naturalist Sir David Attenborough receives hate mail over his belief in evolution.
Here and around the western world, disciples of creationism and intelligent design are rallying the troops for a more civil war.
"We have been planning for some time," says Adrian Bates, New Zealand chief executive of Creation Ministries International, a charitable trust that promotes creationism to churches.
Creation Ministries has fundraised for a new documentary, directed and written by New Zealanders, that its website promises will challenge Darwinism. Director Steve Murray says the documentary interviews experts and treats Darwin with respect.
It suggests Darwin may have developed his theory partly to "let God off the hook" for all the suffering and evil he saw on his voyages.
Bates, a former lawyer, will spend the year jollying church-goers at meetings around the country to believe literally in the Bible; to Hell with what science says.
That means Earth and all things on it were created in six days, not over billions of years; and the world is about 6000 years old, not 13-14 billion.
"Dinosaurs are not a problem for Christians," insists Bates.
"Dinosaurs were created on the sixth day and they went on to the ark, they came off the ark. What happened to them? They died out."
To Earth creationists like Bates, evolutionary science is an intolerable attack on Christianity.
"If Genesis is not the truth, where does the truth start? If Genesis is not the truth, the whole thing starts to collapse... We're not science nerds, but if it's necessary to defend the inspired word of God, we will."
THIS YEAR'S battle is the latest in a long war. Creationism's more intellectually presentable ally is intelligent design, which rejects species evolution and claims science reveals an "intelligent designer" who exists outside the laws of nature (proponents avoid the "G" word).
Investigate magazine editor Ian Wishart has written a book defending intelligent design.
He believes evolutionary science - with social movements such as feminism and socialism - has been society's undoing.
"Some of what you're seeing in modern society - the social breakdown, the violence - comes from the view it's dog-eat-dog, it's an animal world, survival of the fittest. It all gets unpacked subconsciously by the kids."
Wishart has helped lead a drive to get intelligent design taught in science classes in school. Several faith-based schools already do so, and Christian body Focus on the Family has sent teaching materials to 500 schools.
There are signs the war's set to intensify. Massey historian Peter Lineham says the past 50 years have seen a "striking growth" in anti-science, anti-expert sentiment.
See it in people's appetite for Dan Brown-esque conspiracy and the rise of non-religious spirituality.
A Listener/TNS survey of 1000 New Zealanders in 2006 found a third believed divine intervention lay behind the natural world, (23 per cent believed the world was created in six days) and 60 per cent believed it was evolution. Yet, just over half said the divine intervention version should be taught in schools.
In the United States, about two-thirds of people believe the world is less than 10,000 years old, surveys show, and 16 per cent of biology teachers are creationists.
A new British survey, called Rescuing Darwin, out last week, found a staggering half of British adults do not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. Almost a quarter ticked either creationism or intelligent design.
Auckland University cancer researcher Dr Graeme Finlay is a Christian and biological evolutionist. He wants Christians and Darwinists at either extreme to take a deep breath.
"I'm feeling a little down about it because I think both extremes are getting more vehement," he says.
Finlay sees a basic confusion at the heart of the evolution war. Evolution, and science in general, is about how the natural world works, not its deeper purpose or whether it has a reason for being. Creation is not an alternative to science, but embraces it. Finlay, who will run a weekend course on resolving the evolution controversy in May, is just as bothered by atheist champion and Oxford professor Richard Dawkins as he is by creationists.
Dawkins, who will headline the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival this May, argued in his bestseller The God Delusion that science has all but disproven God and that those who cling to faith in a supernatural creator are dangerously deluded.
Finlay says Dawkins has helped the creationist cause with some of his more extreme comments. Science can't confirm or deny God, he argues - that is beyond its scope.
Naturally, Creationist Bates is scathing of Christians who accept evolution. In a recent posting on his website, he warns of "much spin and confusion ... now oozing from some Christian sources".
Bates argues that Darwinism has grown in strength as people looked for an excuse to skip Bible class. "Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. That's not my statement: it's Jesus, he's a pretty feet-on-the-ground person."