Maori Language Week: The Story of New Zealand’s Longest Name

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Te Pariomahu, also known as Blackhead Beach, Hawkes Bay. Photo / Kirsten Simcox

“It will take half a day to get there on foot in its heat,” warns tourist guide Ahuriri Houkamau. “We’ll go in my 4×4 instead.” There are four of us around the hotel bar waiting for Ahuriri while he grabs the keys.

It’s cool and dark inside the 140-year-old Duke Hotel in Pōrangahau. On the mantelpiece is a black and white photo of Ahuriri’s parents and longtime locals Flo and Baby Houkamau, cigarettes in hand. Outdoors, Hawke’s Bay’s unruffled sun has turned the rolling farmlands from green to gold. A brown and white pony wanders the streets tearing blades of grass by the side of the road. Two young girls are playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. Next to the dairy, Ahuriri’s nephew Orlando sells espresso coffee and bagged plums from a converted horse cart. Te Paerahi beach, where you can camp for free, is about 7 km from our position.

Pōrangahau, southern Hawke Bay

I had driven north to Pōrangahau, in southern Hawke’s Bay, from Wellington a few days before to stay in a bach with friends. On the drive from Whangaehu Beach to the Orlando Coffee Cart, we noticed a sign outside the pub that read: “Pōrangahau tours”.

For $ 50 per person, we sign up for a two-hour tour that will take us to the main points of this historic village and explain the history of New Zealand’s longest place name. To begin with, Ahuriri, whose Ngāti Kere ancestors have lived here for generations, “over 1000 years”, leads us to Taumata Hill, the highest point in Pōrangahau.

We reach the grassy peak through the land of Scott whānau. Driving down the steep, rutted path, Ahuriri rolls down the window and yells at farmers Rossie and Polly Scott that we’ll stop on the way back soon. They smile, nod and push us.

A lesson in whakapapa and whenua

“When I bring people here, I tell them that this tour is about understanding the people and the land – whakapapa and whenua,” says Ahuriri, professor of Maori studies at the Eastern Institute of Technology for 23 years.

Today, he welcomes a group of Kiwis: me, Fleur, Richard, Kelly and the pub dog, Lego. Next week, it will be 15 Te Reo Maori students and their teachers. Before Covid-19, these were typically American cruise ship tourists on an off-boat adventure.

New Zealand’s longest place name

We reach the top after 10 minutes and jump into the long, yellow grass, heading towards an engraved wooden sign with 85 letters. ” You want to try ? Ahuriri encourages. “My advice is to divide it into several parts.”

The sign reads: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronuku pokaiwhenuakitanatahu. It’s a lot to get people talking about him. I stumble over it. In contrast, it slips lyrically out of Ahuriri’s tongue. Translated, he says, this means: “the summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, conqueror of mountains, swallower of land, traveler on land and sea, played his Maori nasal flute, or kōauau, at his beloved.

Tamatea Pokai Whenua, he explains, was a famous chieftain and warrior. Descendant of the legendary Māui and father of Kahungunu, founder of Ngāti Kahungunu iwi, Tamatea came from Hawaiki in New Zealand to Tākitimu waka.

“This site is part of an ancient story of battle, heartbreak and love,” Ahuriri explains. “To me, this maunga is my ancestor. It is a place that connects all of the descendants of our common eponymous ancestor – from the people of Gisborne to Cape Palliser to the Pacific.”

New Zealand's longest place name tells the story of a Maori chieftain and warrior.  Photo / Hawkes Bay
New Zealand’s longest place name tells the story of a Maori chieftain and warrior. Photo / Hawkes Bay

Other landmarks on the tour

Ahuriri then shows Te Awaputahi in the distance, the ancestral spiritual mountain of his hapū, Ngāti Kere. Then he gestures towards the distinctive shape of Cook’s tooth or Tokatea, which refers to European explorer James Cook’s journey along the coast in 1769.

Further east is Te Pariomahu or Blackhead Beach, as Cook disgustedly named it after seeing crowds of Maori gather to watch the curious Endeavor pass by. Next, we focus inland at the original pā site of Pōrangahau, Waipuna, now a reserve and urupa in the valley. Finally, Ahuriri points out Rongomaraeroa Marae, our last stop on the tour.

As we turn to the ute and head back down the hill, Ahuriri says, “For me, that this place has the longest name in New Zealand is not the point. The main thing is the history it represents. won’t get that story by leaving the freeway and standing next to the official traffic sign – although it’s a bit of fun. You will have it by visiting Taumata with someone like me, a living descendant of Tamatea, whose history is rooted in the land of this small but historic town. “

How to get there

· The original site on Taumata Hill is 6 km from Pōrangahau village on private farmland.

· Access the site on a tour of Pōrangahau village with local guides. Meet at the Duke Hotel on Abercromby St, Pōrangahau, to register.

· You can also see the longer sign (10m long) for the longest place name on Wimbledon Rd before heading to the village of Pōrangahau.


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