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Speak like a Kiwi

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Speak like a Kiwi

100 words in te reo Māori

nzhistoryPowered by New Zealand History Online. (for more Maori translations and info about New Zealand’s history click here)

In the last 200 years the history of the Maori language (te reo Maori) has been one of ups and downs. At the beginning of the 19th century it was the predominant language spoken in Aotearoa/New Zealand. As more English speakers arrived in New Zealand, the Maori language was increasingly confined to Maori communities. By the mid-20th century there were concerns that the language was dying out. Major initiatives launched from the 1980s have brought about a revival of te reo. In the early 21st century, over 130,000 people of Maori ethnicity could speak and understand te reo, one of the three official languages of New Zealand (the others are English and New Zealand Sign Language).


Days, months and seasons


  • Taone-nui – city
  • Huarahi – roadway, highway
  • Waitangi – a national celebration of the Treaty of Waitangi; weeping waters
  • Rohe – boundary, a territory (either geographical or spiritual) of an iwi or hapū
  • Tūrangawaewae – a place to stand, a place to belong to, a seat or location of identity
  • Whenua – land, homeland, country; also afterbirth, placenta
  • Te Reinga – northern tip of New Zealand
  • Kaitaia – far north town with Dalmatian settlers
  • Paihia – idyllic tourist place in far north, next to Waitangi
  • Hokianga – early Māori explorers used harbour as returning place
  • Whāngārei – city in far north near oil refinery
  • Akarana – Auckland, also known as Tamaki Makaurau
  • Waikato – river and district south of Auckland
  • Tainui – tribal confederation of Waikato people
  • Rangiriri – historic redoubt in Waikato
  • Ngāruawāhia – home of the Tainui King Tuheitia
  • Kirikiriroa – Hamilton
  • Ahuriri – Napier
  • Hauraki – tribe to the east of Waikato
  • Tauranga – Bay of Plenty city, home of Ngati Ranginui and Ngai te Rangi
  • Rotorua – tourist city with natural hot pools and Maori cultural activities
  • Taupō – situated north of large central lake of same name. Often incorrectly pronounced
  • Tūrangi – town at south end of Lake Taupo. Home of Ngati Tuwharetoa.
  • Kāwhia – west coast settlement where Tainui waka landed
  • Tūranga – Gisborne
  • Heretaunga – Hastings
  • Whakatāne – town in the eastern Bay of Plenty
  • Whanganui – town and river
  • Taranaki – mountain to the west
  • Tongariro – mountain of central North Island
  • Ruapehu – mountain of central North Island
  • Papa-i-oea – Palmerston North
  • Paraparaumu – often incorrectly pronounced
  • Te Awa Kairangi – Hutt Valley
  • Te Whanganui a Tara – Wellington
  • Te Moana o Raukawa – Cook Strait
  • Whakatū – Nelson. To stand and make a speech
  • Waiharakeke – Blenheim. Place where flax grows
  • Kaikōura – aptly named because of the abundance of crayfish
  • Ōtautahi – Christchurch. Name for the river Avon
  • Ōtepoti – Dunedin. Place situated at a corner
  • Aoraki – Mt Cook. Sky piercer
  • Te Waipounamu – South Island
  • Rakiura – Stewart Island
  • Te Ara a Kiwa – Foveaux Strait
  • Te Tai Poutini – West Coast (of the South Island)
  • Wharekauri – Chatham Islands, also known as Rēkohu
  • Manapōuri – lake and hydro dam in the South Island
  • Wānaka – lake in the South Island
  • Wakatipu – place to rebuild tribal strength
  • Ruapuke – two hills; two prominent features on an island
  • Kaiapoi – to swing food
  • Arahura – path of discovery
  • Waitaki – weeping waters
  • Moeraki – a place for sleep by day
  • Ōamaru – place of the god Maru
  • Timaru – cabbage-tree shelter
  • Motueka – woodhens in a grove of trees
  • Temuka – a fierce (hot) oven
  • Ōmarama – place of light
  • Hokitika – return directly
  • ō or o – means ‘of’ (so does a, ā); many names begin with ō, meaning the place of so-and-so, e.g., ōkahukura, ōkiwi, ōhau, etc.

Natural world

Some other useful words and phrases

Components of place names

Ordinary geographical features such as hills, rivers, cliffs, streams, mountains, the coast and adjectives describing them, such as small, big, little and long, are to be found in many place names. Here is a list so you can recognise them:

  • Au current
  • Awa river
  • Iti small, little
  • Kai one of the meanings of kai is food; in a place name it signifies a place where a particular food source was plentiful, e.g., Kaikōura, the place where crayfish (kōura) abounded and were eaten
  • Mānia plain
  • Manga stream
  • Maunga mountain
  • Moana sea, or large inland ‘sea’, e.g., Taupō
  • Motu island
  • Nui large, big
  • ō or o means ‘of’ (so does a, ā); many names begin with ō, meaning the place of so-and-so, e.g., ōkahukura, ōkiwi, ōhau, etc.
  • One sand, earth
  • Pae ridge, range
  • Papa flat
  • Poto short
  • Puke hill
  • Roa long
  • Roto lake; inside
  • Tai coast, tide
  • Wai water
  • Whanga harbour, bay

A note on pronunciation

Thlish equivalents are a rough guide to pronouncing vowels in Māori:

  • a as in far
  • e as in desk and the first ‘e’ in where; it should be short and sharp
  • i as in fee, me, see
  • o as in awe (not ‘oh!’)
  • u as in sue, boot

There are fewer consonants, and only a few are different from English:

  • r should not be rolled. It is pronounced quite close to the sound of ‘l’ in English. The tongue is near the front of the mouth.
  • t is pronounced more like ‘d’ than ‘t’, with the tip of the tongue slightly further back from the teeth
  • wh counts as a consonant; the standard modern pronunciation is close to the ‘f’ sound; in some districts it is more like an ‘h’; in others more like a ‘w’ without the ‘h’; in others again more like the old aspirated English pronunciation of ‘wh’ (huence for whence)
  • ng counts as one consonant and is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in the word ‘singer’. It is not pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘finger’, i.e., Whāngārei is pronounced Far-n(g)ah-ray (not Fong-gah-ray); Tauranga is pronounced Tow- (to rhyme with sew) rah-n(g)ah (not Tow-rang-gah).