Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Rotowhenua Road

What's in a name? Well I've long wondered about Rotowhenua Road because I thought it would make an interesting Blog entry. I was most disappointed not to find any reference to it in Ian Mill's excellent book "What's in a Name: The Streets about Napier" which is a mine of information on all sorts of things connected with the streets of Napier and the surrounding townships of Clive and Bayview.

As many Maori place names possess either historical or mythological significance, it is usually misleading to guess at their meanings merely by translating the component parts. Notwithstanding this limitation, Maori place names fall into seven broad groupings: (a) names bestowed by the early Polynesian voyagers to New Zealand or commemorating incidents in their visits; (b) traditional names deriving from Hawaiki – the legendary Maori homeland – or commemorating mythical personages; (c) names commemorating places or incidents during the migration or historical incidents since; (d) names that are descriptive of the places or features they represent; (e) names that are Maori versions of European names or words; (f) names bestowed, officially or unofficially, in European times to commemorate some Maori chief or an incident in the locality; and (g) careless European contractions of original Maori names. In this connection it may be noted that the Maoris themselves often contracted their place names.

So where does Rotowhenua come in all this?

It might have helped the considerations if I'd been able to find out much about the local hitory but so far I've had little success at the Library or in the many books I've researched.

In Maori 'roto' means inland or lake. In all the books on place names that I've been able to find 'Roto' has meant lake as in Rotorua, Rotoaira, Rotokawa and many more. However, whilst there is some standing water in the immediate area which may be described as very large ponds they hardly qualify as lakes. 'Whenua' means ground, country or afterbirth or placenta. If one discounts the last two meanings of whenua as being unlikely contenders for a place name then one is left with the alternatives of Rotowhenua meaning Lake Country or Inland Country/Ground.

All that for a rather uninteresting conclusion - and no photos to relieve the boredom!


  1. The question needs to be asked - where there any lakes in the area a couple of hundred years ago that have subsequently disappeared through alterations in drainage or farming use?

  2. Several hundred years ago there was no road and probably no Maori settlement either. I wouldn't have thought that the topography would suggest a lake had been here but anything could have happened over the last few hundred years. I shall follow up those leads.

  3. Another possibility of course is the standard English one - you call some modern housing estate Meadowdene Farm even if there was never a meadow, a dene (and the architects probably didn't even know that a dene was a steep-sided wooded valley through which a burn runs), or a farm - just a bit of scrubby heathland!