Tuia - Encounters 250: Cook's place names around New Zealand - Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay

Photo of Turanganui-a-kiwa / Pverty Bay
Photo Credit: itravelNZ® - CC BY 2.0

Kiwa was an early ancestor who arrived on the Horouta waka and named the area ‘Tūranganui-a-Kiwa' – the great standing or waiting place of Kiwa.

There are different reasons provided as to why he used that name. Some say he was waiting for the remaining people from the Horouta waka who were coming overland. Others say that he stood waiting for a long time for a son who was lost at sea. Another version says Kiwa did not want to be outdone by Ruamatua who had named the north-eastern side of the bay after himself.

Kiwa is an important tupuna for the peoples of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, along with others from the Tākitimu, Horouta and Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru waka. These people were living in the Tūranganui-a-Kiwa area in 1769 when a strange vessel sailed into the bay. Local tradition recounts that people thought the large ship was an island or a bird.

It was the HMB Endeavour on an expedition from Britain led by Lieutenant James Cook. A series of cultural misunderstandings followed, resulting in the deaths of about nine local Māori. Cook also held three young Māori men onboard his ship, hoping to win them over with kindness. After six days, the Endeavour left, unable to secure the supplies of fresh water and wood that they needed after the long sea voyage from Tahiti. Cook named the area Poverty Bay, as ‘it afforded us no one thing we wanted’.

Poverty Bay was used on maps and charts following Cook’s visit. When Europeans settled in the area, they also used the name, although there were often attempts to change it, as some thought it was a bad advertisement for their fertile region. Tūranganui and Tūranga were also used.

In 2013, students at Kāiti School in Gisborne were shocked to learn that Cook had renamed something that already had a name. They collected a petition of more than 2500 signatures calling for the restoration of ‘Tūranganui-a-Kiwa’, held a march and met with local government councillors.

The Gisborne District Council consulted with the local people and applied to the New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB) in 2018 to alter the name from Poverty Bay to a dual name Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay. The NZGB accepted the proposal and notified the public. A little over 600 submissions were received from people who supported:

  • the dual name, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay
  • just Tūranganui-a-Kiwa
  • just Poverty Bay

A number of other submissions were ambiguous, neutral, or proposed entirely different names.

When the NZGB disagrees with objections, the Minister of Land Information makes the final decision on a place name. On 12 January 2019 the Minister made the final decision opting for the dual name, Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay.


Last Updated: 7 February 2019