Tuia – Encounters 250: Cook’s place names around New Zealand - Cape Palliser or Matakitakiakupe

Photo of Cape Palliser
Photo Credit: Thomas Jundt – CC BY-NC 2.0

The southernmost point of the North Island [Te Ika-a-Māui] has a long association with the great Pacific navigator Kupe. As with many Kupe stories, there are many versions and this is just one, as featured in the New Zealand Geographic Board’s Māori Oral History Atlas

  • While they were at Rangiwhakaoma (Castle Point), Kupe had a fight with a giant octopus. Although the traditions speak of a wheke it may, in fact, have been a giant squid or wheketere. These fight with the whales off the southern coasts of Aotearoa. In any case the great creature escaped only to meet Kupe again later in our story. Kupe and his people stayed for a time living along the coast of Wairarapa and at Kawakawa (Cape Palliser), named from a mourning wreath fashioned by his daughter. Kupe was standing on rocks looking for signs of fish when he lifted his eyes and saw the mountain Tapuae ō Uenuku on the other side of Raukawa Moana. He named the rocks Mātakitaki from his gazing out.

In February 1770, James Cook approached the cape from the west side and instead of gazing out, gazed upon it. Cook named the cape after Sir Hugh Palliser, an admiral in the British navy and Cook’s ‘worthy friend’.

Cook had a long association with Palliser. He had served under Palliser’s command on the HMS Eagle in 1755-56. Later, Palliser was governor and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland while Cook was carrying out a survey there. In 1770, Palliser was appointed Comptroller of the Navy and was in charge of all navy spending. He would later have a large impact on Cook’s second voyage and may have been one of the reasons the naturalist Joseph Banks withdrew from the second voyage.

Today the Gazetteer lists both ‘Cape Palliser’ and ‘Matakitakiakupe’ as official alternative names for the promontory. ‘Palliser’ has also been applied to the wide bay to the west.


Last Updated: 15 February 2019