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Names of New Zealand’s main islands never legal

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Experts searching for alternative Maori names for New Zealand’s two main islands were startled to find that their commonly used English names – North Island and South Island – were never made legal, officials said Tuesday.

To repair the 200-year-old oversight, the country’s Geographic Board, which assigns and approves names for all New Zealand places, said it would take steps to legally name the two South Pacific islands that make up more than 95 percent of the country’s land mass.

“We therefore want to formalize alternative Maori names and, at the same time, make the naming of . . . North and South Islands official,” board chairman Don Grant said.

On early official maps and documents, North and South islands are marked with Maori names. North Island is labeled “Te Ika a Maui,” meaning the fish of Maui, the Maori god of the sea. South Island was called “Te Wai Pounamu,” jade stone waters, for South Island – appeared on early official maps and documents.

The board’s research also shows Maori names for the islands appeared on the very earliest maps and charts, including those of English explorer Captain James Cook, who first visited in 1769.

South Island, the larger of the pair, is also known locally as “the Mainland,” while North Island, where three-quarters of the population lives, is also called “Pig Island,” partly for the wild pigs that Cook brought during a visit and that still roam in the wilderness.


On the Web

Watch the New Zealand Allblacks perform a Maori haka (fight dance)


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