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Te tapa whenua: naming the land

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Aoraki - Image: LEARNZ.
Credit: LEARNZ

Place names tell us where we are and where we might want to go. On maps they help us find our way around. But place names are also important landmarks of the history, culture and identity of our nation and the communities within it. Before Māori language was written down, tapa whenua helped to record history and define relationships between people and the land. These place names tell stories of creation myths, ancestors, explorers, notable events, as well as describe landscape features and identify resources.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is an area that bears names of great significance to Ngāi Tahu. Aoraki and his brothers brought his waka down from the heavens to visit Papatūānuku. On their attempt to return the canoe fell back into the water and the brothers all turned to stone. They are recognised as some of the dominant mountains in the Southern Alps, Aoraki being the highest. This is why Ngāi Tahu call the South Island 'Te Waka o Aoraki'.

Travel online to ​​Aoraki Mount Cook National Park to:

  • discover the stories and reasons behind Ngāi Tahu place naming throughout this area
  • explore the connection of people to special places and environments
  • inquire into how place names represent the story of settlement by a range of people in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • consider the importance of place names and their stories being handed down, retained and restored
  • inquire into the significance and stories behind place names in your own rohe.


All the field trip material including videos, a Google Earth for Web tour, background material and online quizzes will be available from 23 February 2022.

Enrol in this trip to receive supporting communication and resources from the LEARNZ team and connect with field trip experts in our live web conferences. 

From a previous similar LEARNZ online field trip:

Testimonial from a teacher.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

United Nations SDG 16This trip reflects the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 16: Peace, justice, and strong institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

MOE. Ngai tahu.


LEARNZ online field trips support students and teachers to access the inaccessible, digitally transporting them to remote locations all over Aotearoa, Antarctica and beyond. Our trips are FREE to use!