Aotearoa – Origin Of The Maori Name For New Zealand

The Maori name of New Zealand is Aotearoa, often translated as “The land of the long white cloud”. But it has some other variations…

Sunrise over the Pacific at one of Northland’s stunning bays.

Aotearoa Fact

Funnily, no word here stands for “land”. It was probably added to make it more “down to earth” referring to a physical place. Other translations can be “Long bright world”, “Long daylight”, or “Big glaring light”.
There are several ideas where this name originally derived from:

  • One of the canoes of Kupe, the Polynesian discoverer of New Zealand, was called Aotea.
  • A galaxy close to the Milky Way, the Large Magellanic Cloud, which can be seen in the night sky of the southern hemisphere.
  • It could also be the name of a bird or even some kind of food.

Each of the short words in Aotearoa has several meanings:

  • “ao” means cloud, dawn, daytime, or even world;
  • “tea” means white, bright, or clear;
  • “roa” means long (space or time) or tall.

From these word particles one can come up with a good number of translation versions. You can also check the Maori Dictionary for more details, but don’t be surprised if you get even more confused.
I guess Maori is a rather “poetic” language…

Aotearoa Inspiration

Aotearoa, volcano
Mt Ruapehu at dawn
Whatever the real meaning is, it is absolutely true that light, water, sky, and earth are mixed in this country in such a unique way that the traveller, once seen this beauty, can never forget it.
To make it more mystic, I believe Aotearoa is a country where all four elements of fire, water, earth, and air are perfectly balanced.
Fire. New Zealand has a good number of active and dormant volcanoes, which are all located in or by the shores of the North Island. The South Island features extinct or heavily eroded volcanoes, particularly on the eastern coast that once rose high above the waters of the Pacific.
Water. Simply put: water is everywhere in and around. The Pacific Ocean cradles these islands in her lap as her own children. There is no lack in clean inland fresh waters, thanks to the clouds that bring rain from the west.
Earth.  An amazing variety is present if we take a look at hills, mountains, plains, dunes, or rocks. We can walk on all kinds of different soils, rocks, sediments, or stones.
Air. No matter which corner of the country you are in, even in Auckland, the air is always clear. So sunlight has an “elevated” quality here: amazingly bright, unspoiled, and crisp. True, winds can be harsh sometimes, especially around the Cook Strait, but generally speaking, they can very rarely be called “problematic”.
Aotearoa, origin of the Maori name
Text and photographs © Daniel Kerek
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