Leading the way: Signage for DoC's Stanley St visitor centre


Highly-respected Ngai Tahu elder Sir Tipene O’Regan says it’s time Queenstowners put an ‘h’ in ‘Wakatipu’.

‘Whakatipu’ is the undisputed traditional Maori spelling, however ‘Wakatipu’ has been employed since early European days and pops up in everything from Lake Wakatipu, Wakatipu Basin and Wakatipu Rugby Club to Wakatipu High School and Wakatipu Kindergarten.

‘‘It’s just something that needs attending to,’’ O’Regan says.

‘‘I don’t think anyone’s running around getting offended but we would certainly prefer to have a clear public understanding and throw a bit of effort into public awareness.

‘‘We can only take on so many scraps at once, but [correcting the misspellings of] Wakatipu and Tekapo will be, I think, the next two coming up.

‘‘The time is coming when you’re going to see this.’’

O’Regan points out ‘Whakatipu’ isn’t just the correct name for Queenstown’s main lake (Whakatipu Waimaori), but also pops up in the traditional Maori names for other local landmarks like Dart River (Te Awa Whakatipu), Hollyford River and Valley (Whakatipu Katuka) and Harris Saddle (Tarahaka Whakatipu).

‘Whakatipu’ is also used in Ngai Tahu’s cultural mapping project, which O’Regan says is regarded as an authoritative source by the New Zealand Geographic Board.

With the ‘h’ added, he notes there’s also a pronunciation change.

‘‘It’s not pronounced as ‘h’ but as a soft ‘f’’’ — as in ‘philosophy’ or ‘Philip’.

‘‘It’s an aspirated ‘h’. When you say ‘philosophy’ or ‘Philip’, your teeth are back down inside your mouth, when you go to say ‘fish’, they’re right on your lips.’’

‘The time is coming’: ‘Mr Ngai Tahu’ Sir Tipene O’Regan

Publicity about ‘Whakatipu’ first surfaced three years with the naming of the then-new Whakatipu Wildlife Trust.

It was taking a leaf from Department of Conservation, whose Queenstown visitor centre is signposted ‘Whakatipu-wai-Maori’.

At the time, Otago regional councillor Michael Laws, who’d been mayor of Wanganui when NZ Geographic Board added ‘h’ to it, said it was ‘‘madness‘‘ to change the spelling of ‘Wakatipu’.

Fast-forward to this week, and ‘Whakatipu’ has been used for BNZ’s new local Five Mile Partners Centre, which received a Maori blessing on Monday.

Local Ngai Tahu kaumatua Darren Rewi says the bank consulted him.

‘‘I said the proper spelling is with the ‘h’, so if you want to have a relationship with iwi, it’s best to have it there.’’

Another Ngai Tahu Queenstowner, Warren Skerrett, like O’Regan, doesn’t feel offended if people leave out the ‘h’, ‘‘but it is offensive for people to say we shouldn’t have it’’.

‘Should be Whakatipu High’: Queenstowner Warren Skerrett

He’d like to see Wakatipu High, in particular, change its name.

‘‘It’s what we call a ‘wananga’, a ‘place of learning’, so the place of learning should start with the correct spelling.’’

Wakatipu High principal Steve Hall says the issue’s never been raised with him.

‘‘I’m not surprised to see it, and I’m sure it will be a topic at some point.

‘‘It is the kind of thing maybe the school could consider, but it would be at a board level.’’

Ministry of Education would also be involved, he says.

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult believes adding an ‘h’ is ‘‘worthy of a discussion’’.

‘‘Whakatipu is a Maori word, and if that is the way they are spelling it, then we need to have a look at it, and decide whether we want to change.

‘‘Frankly, I would probably think that it will take some time.

‘‘There’ll be those who like it, there’ll be those who don’t like it, but it will be interesting to hear some views.’’

Destination Queenstown acting CEO Ann Lockhart says if there was a move toward honouring the original spelling, DQ would support that.

‘‘DQ would be supportive of the move to recognising the original spelling of Whakatipu if this is endorsed by the tangata whenua.’’