Lifestyle & Belief

New Zealand: "North Island" and "South Island" may end up with Maori names


Maori warriors welcome the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam, His Majesty Hassanal Bolkiah on March 26, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.


Hagen Hopkins

It seems New Zealand's two main land masses, the "North Island" and "South Island," aren't really called that at all. Not officially, anyway.

The English names were never officially registered, the New Zealand Geographic Board says, leaving the way open for the country to officially adopt Maori — or indigenous — names for them.

The Board, a statutory body charged with naming everything from islands to mountains, according to London's Daily Telegraph, is publicly floating the idea of naming the North Island "Te Ika a Maui" ("the Fish of Maui") and the South Island "Te Waipounamu" ("the Waters of Greenstone").

The names pertain to a Maori legend that the North Island was fished out of the sea by an early explorer named Maui, and the widespread presence of jade in the South Island, the Fairfax media wrote.

New Zealanders themselves have offered some creative suggestions via Twitter, using the hashtag #nzislands.

Among them are:

  • "Big Ted and Little Ted"
  • "Punching" and "Our Weight"
  • "Van and Munter"
  • "Yeah and Nah"
  • "Cribs and Baches"

The Fairfax media wrote that the issue arose after the board was asked to consider a request for the name "South Island" to be replaced by its Maori alternative.

Don Grant, the board's chairman, said: 

"While researching this issue, we noted that North Island and South Island are actually not official names under our legislation, despite their common long-term usage."

Grant added that the original Maori names of the two main islands stopped appearing on official maps only in the 1950s, adding:

"This is a matter of great historical and cultural significance for New Zealand, so we want to consult with the wider New Zealand public. This is part of our country's history of European exploration and the settlement of New Zealand. 

NewsTalkZB quoted the leader of New Zealand's opposition Labour party as saying:

"I've got to say when you stand back and look at North and South Islands it's a little bit unimaginative. As far as Maori names go, if we want to have Maori names I'm all for it."