…or “Welcome to Oamaru” in Maori. Today marks the end of New Zealand’s annual Te Reo Maori week, celebrating the Maori language, and this year the Waitaki District was one of six districts around the country to showcase the Maori language as part of the celebration. This year’s theme is Maori names, so it seems fitting to use the opportunity to help spread the word about this very interesting facet of life in New Zealand.
Any visitor to New Zealand will have come upon a huge number of place names that seem impossibly long, or that seem impossible to pronounce. But if you know a bit about the Maori language, it becomes far easier to make out these names, and if you know what some of the typical geographical terms are in Maori, you can actually learn a bit about the places you’re visiting.
One of the most common components of Maori place names is “wai”, which you see in Oamaru’s district’s name, “Waitaki”. “Wai” means “water”, so of course in an island nation you would expect a lot of place names to include this element, such as “Waimate”, “Waiwera”, “Waitakere” etc. Other common elements include “Awa”, meaning “river”, “nui”, meaning “big” and “manga” for “stream”.
When it comes to the word “Oamaru” things become controversial. For one thing, people in Oamaru pronounce it “oh-ma-roo”, while people on the North Island (and on television and radio) tend to pronounce it “oh-ah-ma-roo”. In fact, the full name of the town is Te Oha-a-Maru” which may be taken to mean “beneficent shelter”.
If you are interested in learning more about Maori place names, there’s a wonderful site where you can see the Maori and English names for several places around New Zealand, and hear their pronunciations, too. Click here to access it, and when you come to Oamaru, you’ll be able to pronounce our town’s name with the best of them!