Putauaki or Mount Edgecumbe

Tuia - Encounters 250: Cook's place names around New Zealand - Putauaki or Mount Edgecumbe

Photo of Putauaki or Mount Edgecumbe
Photo Credit: Kahuroa

The volcanic peak Putauaki rises up alone from the plains of the Bay of Plenty. Important to local iwi and hapū, Putauaki has many stories associated with it.

One story, with many variations, is that Pūtauaki originally resided with the other mountains in the middle of Te Ika-a-Māui [the North Island]. After a dispute over the beautiful Pihanga, Pūtauaki fled to the west. In another story (which may take place after the first), Pūtauaki was married to Tarawera, but was enticed away by the beautiful Moutohorā or possibly Whakaari [Whakaari/White Island]. Pūtauaki left one night, but was unaware that his child followed him. Held back either physically or by the child’s cries, Pūtauaki did not reach the coast before sunrise and was stuck on the plains.

When the HMB Endeavour sailed up the Bay of Plenty coastline, Cook labelled the peak, spelling the name in three different ways: Edgcomb, Edgecombe, and Edgcumbe. He did not state his reason for this name – it may have been the sergeant of marines on board, John Edgecumbe; the peak next to the port of Plymouth that the Endeavour departed from, Mount Edgcumbe; or the naval officer George Edgcumbe.

In 1934, the Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand decided that the name should be ‘Putauaki (Mt Edgecumbe)’, to reflect the importance of Putauaki to Māori in the local and wider area. Due to objections by the Whakatane County Council – who wanted to keep one of the few Cook place names in their district – the decision was reviewed by the New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB) in 1946 and 1948 resulting in both names being gazetted as separate alternative official names. For use on maps, the NZGB stuck with its original decision, again emphasising the importance of the name to Māori and that ‘Edgecumbe’ would remain in brackets. The NZGB also reasoned that if Cook had known the mountain already had a name, he would have used it.

Despite the NZGB’s decision, the mountain was identified only as Mt Edgecumbe on maps for a further 40 years. A NZGB member with a special interest in the mountain enquired about restoring Putauaki to the feature, only to discover that it already was the official alternative name – it just wasn’t used on maps. The Chief Cartographer was instructed that when maps came up for revision or review in the future, Putauaki (Mt Edgecumbe) should be used.

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Last Updated: 15 February 2019