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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Otakou means “the place where the red earth, or red ochre, abounds”. Because of dialectical variations in Maori speech, the Ngai Tahu “k” (that is, southern Maori) approximates to the English hard “g” while the “ou” is commonly pronounced as a long “o”. Thus Otago was the Ngai Tahu pronunciation of the standard (northern) Maori Otakou and in this form was adopted by the early whalers and, later, by the Scottish settlers in the south. Originally the name was applied in pre-European times to the kaika (village) near Taiaroa Head, Otago Harbour, but later it was extended to the province itself. It should be noted that the name Otakou appeared on the early maps, showing that the surveyors followed the northern mode of spelling. But, on 26 December 1848, Sir George Grey, in the New Munster Gazette, ruled that “In compliance with the wish of the Scotch Association for colonising the southern portion of the middle island of New Zealand … the site of their present settlement will, in future, … be designated Otago instead of Otakou”.


McLintock, Alexander Hare