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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 4 (July 1, 1936)

The Wisdom of the Maori — New Zealand Place Names: Their Poetry And History

page 23

The Wisdom of the Maori
New Zealand Place Names: Their Poetry And History.

Much has been recorded on this page in previous numbers of the Magazine concerning the beauty and the rich store of legend, history and poetry, and Maori customs contained in the place nomenclature of our country. A vast amount more could be written; I have the makings of a large volume in the notes I have collected from original sources, and there is much still to be gathered.

I give a few additional examples taken at random from the place-lore of these islands.


The place of fires—O=of, ka=to burn. This is the olden name of Shelly Beach, and the vicinity, on the shore of Ponsonby, Auckland Harbour. Tauranga-mango, the landing-place of sharks, is another name for these shores. The names referred to the olden fishing customs of the Maoris who lived on the coast of the beautiful Waitemata. Great catches of shark, schnapper and other fish were made, and throughout the summer season the people camped on the beaches and kept their cooking fires going, and long lines of split and smoked fish were hung up to cure in the sun.


Cockleshell Island. This is the islet called The Watchman, off Ponsonby. It is disappearing through gradual erosion.

Te To:

The hauling up place. This is the original name of Freeman's Bay, Auckland—a bay no longer, for it has been reclaimed and there is an amusement park where the Maoris formerly drew their canoes ashore.


The Long Rock. This is the long volcanic lava flow which extends out into the upper part of the Waitemata Harbour from the southern side in the direction of Kauri Point. In the folk lore of the Ngati-Whatua tribe it is the unfinished bridge which the fairy people built at night in order to reach the north side of the Waitemata, but which was interrupted by the coming of daylight.


The long reed stalks (of the toe-toe or pampas grass). This is the olden name of the shore of Rangitoto Island facing the west, at Rangitoto Reef and beacon.


Hihii=the rare stitch-bird, now only existing on one or two offshore sanctuary islands; rau=many. This once secluded and sylvan place is now Karangahape Road, one of the business parts of Auckland City.


The Sounding Sands. This is the name of the beautiful beach of firm, white sand on the northern shore of Waiheke Island, facing the Hauraki Gulf. One can appreciate the fitness of such a musical name on a day of fresh north-east weather, when—

“The sound of the trampling surf On the rocks and hard sea-sand,” can be heard at the other side of the island.


Rocks upon Rocks. The appropriate name of the conspicuous lava crag, going up to a pointed summit, on the eastern side of the Northern Wairoa River, above the township of that name. There was a Maori fortified post on a projecting rocky spur called Te Puru, a celebrated look-out place of the Ngati-Whatua tribe.


Great Cliff of the Sun. An East Coast name, transplanted from Tahiti by the crew of the Takitimu canoe, applied to the bright sunshine on a white precipice, reminding the new arrivals of their Polynesian home scenes.


Foam of the Sea. A village on the beach, on the East Coast north of Gisborne.


This term (a Waikato place name) is applied to the warm winds of summer blowing from the north and north-east. (The poetical term of hau-mihi-kainga is also applied to these winds— “home-greeting breezes.” In this term may there not be an allusion to the old Hawaiikian home of the Maoris far away to the north-east in the islands of the Pacific?)


This was the name of a village about a mile north of the present site of the Lower Hutt, Wellington. It is an expression applied to the burning of the New Zealand forests in ancient times, by the original tribes of these islands, or possibly by volcanic fires. The phrase means “The Flames of Manono,” and is of great antiquity. It originated in the Maori Hawaiiki, and its, first use was the description of the legendary burning of a great house, the hall of the Ati-Hapai tribe on the Island of Manono, in the Samoa Group.


Footsteps of the Rainbow God. “Nuku” here is a contraction of Uenuku, the rainbow, which was the visible sign of an ancient God of the Maoris. This is the name of the highest peak of the Kaikoura mountains.


Plain of the Shining Tussock. The original name of the Hanmer Plains.


In the Midst of the Swamp. The low-lying marshy land that is now the City of Christchurch was so named long ago. Re (pronounced “ray”) is short for repo=swamp.

This was a semi-facetious term applied by the outer tribes, at Kaiapoi and elsewhere, to the people who lived on the islands along the Otakaro and the Otautahi—now the Avon stream—and fed on eels and duck.

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