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Te tapa whenua: naming the land

Travel online to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, an area that bears names of great significance to Ngāi Tahu.

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Background reading, images, narrations, keywords and quizzes.

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Te tapa whenua field trip videos.

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Take the Google Earth for Web tour to Aoraki >
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About this trip

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'.

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, ancestors, explorers, and notable events, as well as describe landscape features and identify resources.

Travel online with LEARNZ 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.


This online field trip supports a STEM-based, cross curricular approach to teaching and learning. Participation encourages curiosity, citizen-science and student inquiry. Access the glossary.



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.