How Ōtautahi got its name
Ōtautahi was originally the name of a specific site in central Christchurch, a kāika situated on present day Kilmore Street near the fire station. It means
the place of Tautahi and was adopted as the general name for Christchurch in the 1930s. Prior to this, Ngāi Tahu generally referred to the Christchurch area as Karaitiana.
Te Potiki Tautahi was one of the original Ngāi Tahu people to settle in the Canterbury region. His settlement was at Koukourarata (Port Levy) on Horomaka (Banks Peninsula). At that time, the swampy flatlands of the present day site of Christchurch city were abundant with food such as ducks, weka, eels and small fish.
Tautahi and his people made frequent forays from Koukourarata around the Peninsula and then up the Ōtākaro (Avon River) to gather kai. They camped on the river banks as they caught eels and snared birds in the harakeke. Tautahi died during one of these visits and is buried in the urupā on the site of what was St Luke’s Church vicarage on the corner of Kilmore and Manchester Streets.
The area now defined as Christchurch city was named as Tautahi’s special territory. The full name is Te Whenua o Te Potiki-Tautahi, this was later shortened to Ō Te Potiki Tautahi and then shortened further to Ōtautahi.
Christchurch was the name given to the area by the Canterbury Association. It was agreed on at the first meeting of the association on 27 March 1848. Many of the founders of the Canterbury Association, including John Robert Godley, had attended Christ Church College, Oxford.
Old Māori place names round Akaroa Harbour
In the early 20th century Louis J. Vangioni questioned the older generation of local Māori people about original place names. This was published as a small book in 1967. It includes information, a hand-drawn map, and additional comments by D.J.C. Pringle.
We have Old Maori place names around Akaroa Harbour in our digital collection.
The Maori pa at Port Levy, Banks Peninsula 
Ōtākaro – Avon River
the place of a game, is so named after the children who played on the river’s banks as the food gathering work was being done.
It was highly regarded as a mahinga kai by Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu. Pātiki (flounder) were speared, eels (tuna), ducks, whitebait (inaka) and native trout were also caught.
In Tautahi’s time few Māori would have lived in the Ōtākaro area itself. Those that did were known to Māori living outside the region as Ō Roto Repo (swamp dwellers). Most people were seasonal visitors to Ōtākaro. Fish and birds were preserved for use over the winter months when fresh kai was in short supply.
The Avon River was named after the Avon River in Ayrshire, the home of pioneer settlers and farmers the Deans brothers.
Women rowing on the Avon River, Christchurch [191-?]
Te Whata Raki
Mā te kimi ka kite, mā te kite ka mōhio, mā te mōhio ka mārama!
Seek and discover, discover and know, know and become enlightened!
Come and discover the new world inside Te Whata Raki. You can explore our online world with your guide, Whetu Marama. Learn some traditional stories, told through waiata, pictures and other web resources before trying out the quiz.
Ōpāwaho – Heathcote River
The area known today as Opawa derives its name from the pā once located where the present-day Judges Street and Vincent Place intersect.
It was known as Ōpāwaho, which refers to its function as a waho (outpost). It was a resting place for Ngāi Tahu travelling between Kaiapoi and Horomaka (Banks Peninsula). The land in this area was once marshy and covered in grasses, raupō and tussock.
This area was an important mahinga kai, a source of plentiful food, especially tuere (blind eel) and kanakana (lamprey).
The Heathcote River was named after Sir William Heathcote, secretary of the Canterbury Association.
Heathcote Valley in flood
Our Māori library names
Christchurch City Libraries all have Māori names, and there is a story behind each.
For example, South Library is Te Kete Wānanga o Wai Mōkihi. The swamps draining into the Ōpāwaho River were called Te Kuru and the upper reaches of the river at Spreydon bore the name Wai Mōkihi after a smaller pā located there called Ōmōkihi meaning
place of the flax staff raft. These craft were used by Māori to cross the river before a bridge was built. They are temporary watercraft constructed by binding together reed shafts and forming a very able means of travel over short distances.
Northcote Kapahaka performing outside Redwood Library to an enthusiastic audience including children from Redwood Kidsfirst kindergarten. Wednesday 25 July 2012.
The mystery of place names
Exploring why places and landmarks got their names is full of stories and surprises - and mysteries. There isn’t always one simple answer but a myriad of possibilities.
Is Onawe (the peninsula at the head of Akaroa Harbour, between Barry’s Bay and Duvauchelle) named for its literal meaning covered with sores or scars - or because there were many fights there, or because of the great boulders on the northern part of the peninsula? Or was Nawe a local chief?
The journey of exploring place names is as interesting as the places themselves.
Maori place names of Banks Peninsula. 1894
Map of Banks Peninsula showing principal surviving European and Maori place-names. 1927