History of the Board

Learn about how the New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa came into existence.

 Official place naming in New Zealand has changed to match our growing interests and place in the world.

The names and stories of Māori

Many of the names throughout New Zealand reflect that Māori, New Zealand’s first settlers, have lived here for many centuries. New Zealand’s connections with the Pacific can be traced through the many names that originated in Polynesia. These names and their stories have been traced to the Cook Islands, Tahiti and Hawai'i.

European settlement and place naming

European place names appeared in increasing numbers with the organised settlement of New Zealand by the British in the 1840s.

Place naming authority

Legal provisions for place naming in New Zealand began under the Royal Geographic Society of London until the Designations of Districts Acts 1894 and 1908. These laws gave the Governor-General of New Zealand authority to make names official.

Designation of Districts Act 1908
Designation of Districts Act 1894

The establishment of a place naming authority was required to avoid confusion. As key services such as post offices and railway stations were established, place names needed to be consistent and supported by an authoritative source.

1924: Minister of Lands established the Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand to consider and make recommendations on place and feature names. However, the Honorary Geographic Board did not have any legal power to enforce its decisions.

1946: the New Zealand Geographic Board was established under the New Zealand Geographic Board Act 1946. Place naming powers in the 1946 Act included collecting original Māori place names and a 1998 amendment encouraged their use on official maps and charts.

New Zealand Geographic Board Act 1946

1950s: New Zealand became involved in the administration of the Ross Dependency of Antarctica for place naming, surveying, mapping and charting activities.

1956: a Cabinet Directive gave us the ability to name features within New Zealand’s area of interest in Antarctica.

1988: on 20 December, the Minister of Lands, Hon. Peter Tapsell, approved our Māori name Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa. This describes place names metaphorically as ‘memorial markers of the landscape’.

2008: on 1 November, the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008 came into force.

The 2008 Act extended our responsibilities to include naming undersea features to the limits of New Zealand’s continental shelf, naming Department of Conservation reserves, and formalised place naming in Antarctica. It also recognised the Crown’s responsibility to take appropriate account of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008