Kōrero: Marlborough places

Whārangi 1. Western Sounds

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Rangitoto ki te Tonga (D’Urville Island)

Large island in the north-west of the Marlborough Sounds. At 163 sq km, it is just over half the size of New Zealand’s largest offshore island, Great Barrier (Aotea). The highest point is Attempt Hill (726 m), also known as Wetekia. Port Hardy and Greville Harbour are large bays, both open to the west.

The name ‘Rangitoto’ refers to a red sky, either sunsets or a major fire. ‘Tonga’ (south) distinguishes it from the much smaller island of the same name in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour.

Several names on the Cook Strait side of the island recall the legendary navigator Kupe. Adzes made from Rangitoto argillite have been found at sites throughout the North and South islands.

In the 1820s Ngāti Kuia, under the chief Tūtepourangi, were displaced by Ngāti Koata, led by Te Putu. A patu (club) of Tūtepourangi’s, in Ngāti Koata possession, is a link between the two groups.

The island’s Pākehā name commemorates French explorer Dumont d’Urville, who sailed through Te Aumiti (French Pass) in 1827. Port Hardy has names related to British naval hero Horatio Nelson (Hardy was his fellow officer). Missionary Henry Williams gained 13 signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi on the island on 11 May 1840.

European settlers farmed from the 1850s and intermarried with Māori. Roads were built from the early 1960s. In the 2000s the island is part farmland, part regenerating native bush. Water taxis take visitors from French Pass (Anaru) settlement to the island to hike, cycle, kayak, dive and fish.

Stephens Island (Takapourewa)

Island off Cape Stephens, the northern point of Rangitoto ki te Tonga. Named by James Cook, the island’s highest point is 283 m above sea level. Its lighthouse first operated in 1894, and was New Zealand’s most powerful at the time, with 50-km visibility. The island has been a nature reserve with restricted access since 1994. It is one of the few places (all isolated islands) where the tuatara (a lizard-like endemic reptile) survived. In the 2010s it had a tuatara population of around 30,000. The native Hamilton’s frog is endemic to the island.

Vot’s in a name?


A plaque at the summit of French Pass road commemorates the contribution Harold Leov made to the road. Harold was a descendant of Charles Augustus Leopold Leo von Fitzow, whose German family name was compressed to Leov in his new homeland.


Te Aumiti (French Pass)

Stretch of water, 100 m at its narrowest, which separates Rangitoto ki te Tonga from the South Island mainland. The former ridgeline that joined the island and mainland is barely submerged, and the channel is known for its strong currents, with tidal flows reaching 8 knots. The full Māori name was Te Aumiti a te Kawau-a-Toru – the turbulent currents that drowned Te Kawau (the shag), whose master, Toru, was an associate of the navigator Kupe.

In January 1827, after waiting four days in what is now known as Current Basin, French explorer Dumont d’Urville took his vessel Astrolabe through the dangerous pass which his chart labelled ‘Passe des Français’.

The name French Pass also applies to the surrounding district. Arthur Elmslie took up land in 1859–60 and developed a farm, run for many years in partnership with the Webber family, descendants of whom still farm at the Pass. A school opened in 1882, and closed around 2004.

A dolphin known as Pelorus Jack escorted ships both out from Admiralty Bay and through it to the entrance to French Pass between 1888 and 1912. This was the route for the daily Nelson–Wellington steam ferry service for many years.

The settlement of French Pass (Anaru) faces onto Admiralty Bay at the end of a dramatic 37-km road from Ōkiwi Bay, completed in 1958. Side roads reach Elaine Bay, Bulwer and Port Ligar.

Ōkiwi Bay

Settlement 23 km north of Rai Valley by road over the Ronga saddle, facing Croisilles Harbour and beyond that, Tasman Bay. A holiday place favoured by Nelson residents, with beach houses, campground and plantation-forested hillsides. The harbour takes its name from d’Urville’s mother’s family. Early Māori worked argillite in quarries near Ōkiwi Bay.

Tennyson Inlet

The most westerly part of Pelorus Sound, named after the 19th-century British poet Alfred Tennyson. The settlement of Duncan Bay, in Tennyson Inlet, is 32 km by road from Rai Valley, and 54 km by boat from Havelock. Penzance is a short distance further on. Tennyson Inlet scenic reserve takes in a large tract of land on the east side of the inlet, and is popular with local holidaymakers in summer. The two main islands in the inlet are Tarakaipa and Tawhitinui.

Maud Island (Te Hoiere)

Island in Pelorus Sound, part of which is the Tom Shand flora and fauna reserve, established in 1971. The rest is a bird sanctuary, including the rare takahē. The sanctuary was once part of the strategy to save kākāpō. Maud Island is also the only home of the frog Leiopelma pakeka, with an estimated population of 20,000.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Marlborough places - Western Sounds', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/marlborough-places/page-1 (accessed 15 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Malcolm McKinnon, i tāngia i te 12 May 2012, updated 18 Jun 2015