It’s all in a name – Whariwharangi


While beautiful Whariwharangi in the north of the park is officially known as Whariwharangi it is also spelt with the prefixes Whare and Whara and there are a number of possibilites as to where the name comes from.

Whare means ‘a home of place of habitation’ so Wharewharangi may be the place where wharangi lives. Wharangi is the name of a small aromatic coastal tree, Melicope ternata but this tree is very rare west of Nelson. It does however grow on Tonga Island and also on the northern of the two Tata Islands. In times past the tree wharangi may have ocurred there and been lost when the original vegetation was destroyed but Philip Simpson, who wrote Down the Bay, the book we have taken this exerpt from, doesn’t think so. “It is my belief that if wharangi was here, it would be elsewhere along the northern and eastern coast. So I do not think it has ever been there,” he says.

So, perhaps there are other reasons for the name. Based on his travels in 1856 during which he interviewed tribal leaders and recorded oral traditions, W. H. Sherwood Roberts writes that ‘the tribe of Māoris who attacked Tasman’s boat’s crew was named Ngai Tumata Kokiri. The kaika (village) was Warewarengi, or, more likely Whare-Warenga (Warenga’s house). Therefore, Whariwharangi might have originally been the place where Warenga lived.

Historians Hilary and John Mitchell use the spelling Wharawharangi and Whara or Warra was recorded on the earliest maps of the area. The whara is the mouth of the pūkāea (war trumpet). It is also a verb meaning ‘to defeat, overcome or conquer’ as well as ‘to be struck or injured’. These three meanings are all relevant to the events occurring during the first encounter between Europeans and Māori near Whariwharangi nearly four centuries ago where lives were lost on both sides.

Events were used to name places and this unprecedented event experienced by Ngāti Tumatakokiri suggests the possibility that the place was renamed from that day on, with ‘Whara” used to record multiple aspects of meaning.

The significance of this day is shown by the fact that two centuries later, descendants of the people there, recalled the event and told the story to Europeans. Native Agent James Mackay visited several surviving Tumatakokiri living in the Eastern Tasman Bay. He asked them if they had ever heard of or seen white men in former days and they replied that their ancestors had, a very long time ago, and that they had killed some of them that came in a ship. Those people called the place Whanawhana or Wanawana – ‘fearsome and awe-inspiring’ – and it is possible that this name, passed down through eight generations, was transformed into Whariwharangi.



Down the Bay – A Natural and Cultural history of Abel Tasman National Park is available from all good booksellers and also online 

Photos courtesy Ruth Bollongino and Craig Widdon

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