Nau Mai Town - Rotorua

From Nau Mai Town, 5:00 am on 6 October 2022

Such was the respect that Māori explorer Ihenga had for his uncle and father-in-law Kahumatamomoe, he named two lakes in his honour. 

That's just part of the story behind the name Rotorua.

Rangitihi Pene

Rangitihi works as a cultural advisor at the Rotorua Library, he is also part of a contingent working towards of the carvings from the whare 'Hinemihi' at Englands Clendon Park. Photo: Justine Murray

The first is Lake Rotoiti - an abbreviation of Te Rotoiti i kite ai a Ihenga i ariki ai a Kahumatamomoe or The small lake discovered by Ihenga in honour of Kahumatamoemoe.

The second lake he named Te Rotorua Nui a Kahumatemomoe, or The great second lake in honour of Kahumatamomoe” - abbreviated as 'Rotorua'.

Rangitihi Pene (Nō Tuhourangi, Ngati Tarāwhai) works in iwi engagement at Rotorua Library and is an orator well-versed in the history of his hometown.

“Kahumatamomoe initially lived on the coast of Maketu … he’s one of the sons of the captain of the Te Arawa waka, Tamatekapua. He is more or less our main ancestor in Rotorua ... Ihenga conquered Rotorua by re-naming it,” he says.

According to Pene, before Ihenga founded and named Rotorua, it had already been given the name Nga Wai karekare o Maru Punga Nui or “the great rippling waters of Maru Punga Nui”, (Maru Punga Nui was an ancestor who had been on the Te Arawa waka. )

There was deception on Ihenga’s part, Pene says.

“Ihenga tricked him into believing that he had been there longer by antiquating an alter or a tuahu. He burnt it to make it look like it was older to prove that he had been there longer."

Maru Punga Nui couldn’t disprove Ihenga’s story so he left and shifted his people to Mokoia Island, which, perhaps ironically, Ihenga bestowed with the name Te Motutapu a Tinirau.

Kingi Biddle

Kingi Biddle is a former broadcaster, TV host and toastmaster. Photo: Justine Murray

According to the 2018 Census, Rotorua has a population of just over 71,000 people, it’s known for tourism, geothermal activity and as the hub of Māori arts, crafts and whakairo.

Marty and Jo Anstiss live in Denmark, Western Australia and travelled around New Zealand for five months.

While Marty knew about the geothermal activity that makes Rotorua an interesting place, he had no idea it was an abbreviated name.

Rotorua is home to former radio and TV host Kingi Biddle who agrees that the stories of place names are important. She is disappointed by the use of nicknames such as ‘Rotos’ and ‘Rotovegas’.

“I hate that 'Rotovegas' … I did an interview once and somebody said to me 'how’s Vegas?' and I said to that person 'I’ve only been there once but if you want to know how Rotorua is – yeah it’s awesome'.".

While Rotorua has been marred by the recent emergency housing issues on Fenton Street, Kingi Biddle says there’s lots to enjoy.

“Go for a swim in the lake, go for a mineral pool and head over to what’s known as Tokorangi the Redwoods… We’re more than just 'plastic piupiu' people … there’s depth. Our koroua Don Stafford said once the last 1,000 years of Aotearoa history is my history too so let’s tell those stories so people know.”

Marty and Jo Anstiss

Marty and Jo Anstiss visited the country for five weeks from Denmark, Western Australia. Photo: Justine Murray