N.Z. Islands to Be Officially Named 170 Years After Settlement

More than 170 years after New Zealand was settled by Europeans, the nation’s two largest islands are set to be officially named.

Until now, the two islands have been referred to simply as North and South. The New Zealand Geographic Board today recommended that in addition to those names, the islands be given their Maori titles of Te Ika-a-Maui and Te Waipounamu.

The first means “the fish of Maui,” who in Maori legend fished up the North Island from his canoe. The second means “the waters of greenstone,” referring to the green jade found mainly on the South Island.

The Maori names appeared in early maps and documents, including charts prepared by Captain James Cook after his circumnavigation of New Zealand in 1769, the Geographic Board said. In the 1840s, when the first European settlers were arriving, maps referred to the two islands as New Ulster and New Munster alongside the Maori names.

The board in 2009 found that the North Island and South Island titles commonly used on modern maps and in documents weren’t formalized under any legislation. Early this year, it began a process to make the existing names official and to consider Maori alternatives.

The overwhelming majority of public submissions supported giving recognition to both the English and Maori names, the board said. Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson needs to sign off on the recommendation before the names become official.