Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

What does a parrot have to do with Whangarei’s name?
Read on for the wonderful and whacky world or Maori nomenclature.

“Where you going to in New Zealand?” queried Greg, a Kiwi ex-pat running Neiafu Tonga’s Tropicana Café.

“Opua, the rest of the Bay of Islands, then Whangarei [pronounced Wang Guh Ray].”
“Oh, Whangarei [pronounced Fang Uh Ray].”
Puzzled, I simply acquiesced.
Later, I learned that Maori words, like Whangarei, in New Zealand using the “WH” letter combo, are pronounced as an “F” sound.  For example, if there were a Maori word spelled “Whuck,” it would sound like an obscenity to an English-speaking, non-Maori hip listener.
Perhaps this is due to the Maori alphabet. The Maori alphabet, like similar Polynesian-based language alphabets,  is missing several letters present in the English alphabet, specifically
B, D, F, J, Q, S, V, X, Y, Z, giving the Maori alphabet of 16 letters, versus English’s 26.
With less letters, to my untrained ears, too many Maori place names sound too much alike.  To wit
  • Whangarei
  • Whangaroa
  • Whangamumu
  • Whangaruru

Of course, maybe instead of focusing on the “Fang Uh” I can make my auditory life easier by just remembering the differentiation points… “Ray” vs “Row Ah” vs “Mu Mu” vs “Ru Ru.”
Here’s a few more Maori names of islands all within a few miles of each other.
  • Motuarohia
  • Moturua
  • Motukawanui

 After all that, names like Kawakawa and Urupukapuka get a little jumbled in my brain.  Small alphabet names to result in the lingual equivalent of using a base 2 numbering system instead of a base 10 — with so fewer digits to work with it all seems more like code – 1s and zeros – instead of numbers and words.

Ahhh, but then in looking at some Maori words translated, turns out 

Tiki Maori/Polynesian symbol, image pilfered from
I contend its confused expression relates to trying to
get a grip on Maori-isms!

Wow!  Now these names begin to provide a literal sense of place, though some inspire me to find out more, for example, why Kawakawa (bitter-bitter)?

Just when I’m believe I’ve got this “whucking” Maori logic and pronunciation down, I notice, when I listen closely, that like in French Polynesia, where locals are just as likely to pronounce Ua Po as either “Wha Poh” or “Oooh Ah Poh, “Kiwis are likely to say “Wang Guh Ray” as “Fang Uh Ray.”

Makes me want to burst into a refrain of Ella Fitgerald’s Let’s call the whole thing off” 
You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto.
Let’s call the whole thing off!

But then, what’s the point of traveling, if not to expand beyond our comfort zone?  

And if you’ve made it this far, and are a curious clicker of links, you might now smile when in coming across the name Whangarei, you’ll recall it’s named for the Maori legend of a directionally impaired parrot’s unintentional role as Cupid, whilst another prince settles sadly for only one of two sisters.

Journey at her new home for now, Whangarei, on a “pile mooring.”

Location Location

Written in Tutukaka (“tutu” = a native tree, “kaka” = parrot) marina (S35.36.622 E174.14.668), published in Whangarei (waiting for Reipae) (S35.43.573 E174.19.793).  Whangarei will be our home for a while; even when we travel over land our boat will stay in Whangarei.

Cruising by the Numbers
In 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Jacksonville Florida to Opua, New Zealand (and a whole lot of places in between).  Since arriving in New Zealand November 21, 2015, we’ve scarcely put on more than 150 miles, and expect that will mostly be the case until we leave New Zealand once cyclone season ends.