Tangata whenua place names

Tangata whenua place names of Aotearoa New Zealand pre European settlement.

Māori place names

“In pre-literate Māori culture there was a huge dependence on memory and the careful transmission of history from generation to generation. The names in the landscape were like survey pegs of memory, marking the events that happened in a particular place, recording some aspect or feature of the traditions and history of a tribe. If the name was remembered it could release whole parcels of history to a tribal narrator and those listening. The daily use of such place names meant that the history was always present, always available. In this sense the living and travelling reinforced the histories of the people.

Some of these groups of names, as well as individual names, were of such significance that when a tribe migrated elsewhere it ‘replanted’ its history in its new home by naming its new landscape with the names of the place of origin. Because of the role of place names as a device for recording and remembering tribal history the historical events themselves sometimes became relocated in the new setting. This is one of the reasons why some Māori and Polynesian histories appear so similar and repetitious. They may be the same story repeated in fresh settings. This does not make the traditions associated with a particular place name, or group of names, any less authentic. It is a perfectly valid process within an oral tradition. It derives from the character of oral tradition. It uses place names in different ways from the way literate societies use them.”

from Ngā Tohu Pūmahara, The Survey Pegs of the Past, Understanding Māori Place Names, published by Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board 1990

Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board

The Board is a statutory body responsible to the Minister for Land Information. Formal processes are followed, including consultation, to make place names official within Aotearoa New Zealand. The Board has functions in legislation to collect and encourage the use of original Māori place names for recording on official maps and charts. This includes applying standardised orthography for correct spelling, including macrons and hyphens.

Present day official maps and charts contain many Māori place names but not all are spelled correctly. As the national naming authority, Ngā Pou Taunaha Aotearoa is working towards restoring original Māori names and reviewing their orthography.

For more information see New Zealand Geographic Board

Maps of Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui

The second edition 2023

The second edition maps improved on the first edition with corrections, original names restored as cultural redress through Treaty of Waitangi settlements, and names resulting from direct consultation with iwi and hapū. For Te Waipounamu, names were comprehensively reassessed after Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu’s decades of additional research on its cultural heritage, published in its online cultural heritage atlas Kā Huru Manu.

Kā Huru Manu

For the most part the correct standardised orthography for place names is used, as confirmed with a licensed translator, Te Haumihiata Mason. However, for some names this was not possible where the kōrero of the name was not known. Treaty settlement place names are shown as legislated. Kōrero in the index was gathered from tangata whenua, authoritative resources, or carried down from the first edition.

The maps are digital products built from layers of geographic information. The landscape is mostly derived from Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand’s topographic maps.

Starting with modern accurate data, the clock was wound back on some of the more notable changes in the landscape over the past two centuries. These include land reclamations, river diversions, the construction of numerous hydro-electrical dams, or natural events such as the uplift of Te Whanganui-a-Orotū in the 1931 Napier earthquake. Some of the place names are for features and places that no longer exist.

Roger Smith at Geographx Ltd showed the vegetation coverage based on work for The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa on pre-1840 maps, and this was supplemented by other sources. The changes are approximate at 1:1 million scale, and are not complete but are representative.

Artwork for the map and the overall design is by Ariki Creative.


Preview image of the map of Te Ika-a-Māui
Map showing the place names given by tangata whenua throughout Te Ika-a-Māui, before European settlement

The first edition 1995

Read the history behind the maps and download copies

Purchasing the maps

Map retailers and other outlets may hold these maps to sell.


Despite our best efforts, the Board acknowledges that there may be errors on the new editions of the maps. If you do notice something that needs fixing, please let us know and we’ll keep a list. At some stage in the future we’ll update the digital maps and indexes and also the next print revision of the maps.

We’ve already noticed one error on the front of Te Ika-a-Māui (it’s correct in the index on the back): Ngaruroro Moko-tū-a-raro ki Rangitira should be Ngaruroro Moko-tū-ā-raro ki Rangatira – we’ve fixed the digital map already, but not the printed map.

We are interested in continuing to improve information on tangata whenua place names. If you have more names to include then please contact us for criteria around what names can be shown.

The kōrero on the indexes on the backs of the printed maps is brief due to limited space. Sometimes the story is more detailed in the New Zealand Gazetteer, but if there is more to the history, origin or meaning, we’d love to hear from you to improve the maps and the Gazetteer.

New Zealand Gazetteer

Contact us

For any enquiries, comments and feedback please contact

The Secretary/Hēkeretari
Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board
C/- Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand
PO Box 5501
Wellington 6145
New Zealand


Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand

For more than a century Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand and its predecessor departments, Survey and Land Information and Lands and Survey, have been the official national mapping agencies of Aotearoa New Zealand.

They have provided support to the Board since the Honorary Geographic Board was established in 1924. Toitū Te Whenua plays an important role in the collection, research, consultation and publication of Aotearoa New Zealand place names.


4 July 2023: Hundreds of original tangata whenua place names added to new Aotearoa maps