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3 May 2007

Hātea River Walk

page 1

Whangarei boasts one of the best inner city walks I have ever come across, starting at the Town Basin and heading north along the Hatea River, with access part way along from Mair Park. We started at the Whareora Rd end and headed into town, with the intention of detouring via some other tracks on the way back, but it began to pour with rain and we headed for the car in a hurry.

Well, dogs are OK, but that seems to be about all.

First, some politics.

The names, Parihaka and the Hātea River have been the subject of a certain amount of stirring in recent years.

For as long there have been European settlers in Whangarei, the big hill has been known as Parahaki, presumably because that's what the locals were calling it right back then, but perhaps not. It is arguably the best of a number of possible etymologies.

Hatea is also at least as old as Whangarei, but is alleged to lack any obvious Maori meaning. It is thought to be a corruption of Hoteo.

At the behest of the local Council, the New Zealand Geographic Board was asked to change the names to Parihaka and Hoteo as new, more correct, names.

The Board has confirmed Parihaka and redefined Hatea as Hātea. (Polling quoted on suggests 94% of the local population was opposed to any change. That poll, however, was drawn only from those with cause to visit the website, and is subject to the sampling distortion one might normally expect.)


A post carries a stylised picture of a pedestrian and a wiggly line which I at first take as a symbol for the track. A closer look, however,

suggests that one might as easily encounter eels in the near future as pedestrians, and bloody big ones if the symbols are at all proportionate.

Politics in Whangarei do not begin and end in name-calling.

The recent 100 year floods have left a trail of damage.

Here we are at last on the track proper.

Up above the track, in one of the darkest spots along the path is a picnic table

covered in what the ads refer to as moss, mould and gunge. On a hot summer day it might find patrons, if the clammy dampness of the wood has dried enough to avoid staining clothes.

The edge of the track is rich in seedling shrubs and trees. here is a young kawakawa

a towhai, and

a small puriri, all within a short distance. Just beginning its trip up a punga trunk is a small rata, and front right is a young mingimingi.

It's lovely walking. Here and there you can see odd spots of damage following the flood, but on the whole the track is in remarkably fine shape. Extensive sections of boardwalk maintain a relatively level track surface where the river bank slopes away steeply.

Looking at the relatively tranquil passage today it's hard to conceive of the forces that must have been loosed on this section of river when it was up to 6m deeper in the wake of the downpour.

We are walking through some magnificent trees.


From Frank Newman's page

...The suggested name change has come from the Whangarei District Council Parks Division. It is they who promoted the idea of a name change because they were of the understanding that local iwi had traditionally used the names Parihaka and Hoteo. (It is also of interest to see that the “Whangarei Walks” brochure, produced by the Parks department, is referring to the Parahaki Scenic Reserve as “Parihaka Scenic Reserve”, even though the name change has not been formally adopted, and may never be formerly adopted.

The formal reason for requesting the name changes is said to be due to spelling errors, although iwi in their submission to Council made no reference to misspelling; they said the name Parahaki was a “misnomer”, in other words, it was mis-named.

While it is true that place names are miss-spelt from time to time, Parahaki and Hatea are not misspellings. Here are two examples of misspellings currently being corrected by the NZ Geographic Board: changing Allsops Bay to Alsops Bay and changing McKenzie Creek to Mackenzie Creek.

Survey maps dated 1858 and 1868 show Mt Parahaki as Mt Parahaki and the Hatea River as the Hatea River. It is true that there was a spelling error on the 1858 map but it was corrected by 1868. That error was a misspelling of Whangarei, as “Wangarie”. Clearly, spelling errors for this particular area of our region had been changed by 1868. It is sheer fantasy to think that spelling errors had endured a further 137 years!

The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Place Names makes the following comment about Mt Parahaki (page 386):

“Parahaki: Northland, a locality and hill at Whangarei. A corruption of Parahaka, which in turn is a contraction of parawhau and haka (dance). The Parawhau iwi occupied a large pa on the summit of the mountain. After an invasion it was defeated, the conquerors dancing a haka before calling on the survivors to surrender. In another version, it was Para, the beleaguered chief, who danced a haka in anger, instead of the invaders who were about to celebrate their victory. A further explanation is that the hilltop was commandeered by an old chieftainess who ruled her people with an iron hand. Owing to the inaccessibility of the pa, those who came and went had to be raised and lowered by means of a rope. The old woman always insisted that the young men dance a haka before being lowered into the cultivations and be counted before leaving. If this were the case the name would have been Parihaka – pari: cliff; haka: dance. It seems curious that such a double change should be made. It might even be suspected that the story is an invention to fit the name, a possibility that Professor Bruce Biggs warned against.”

What this highlights is that there is a large degree of mythology around the history of the name, and any one of a number of names (Parahaki, Parakaka, and Parihaka) could be justified on the basic of myth. Of the possibilities the least likely is the name change proposed, Parikaha.

If one were to argue it is a misspelling then it would surely be for a change to Parahaka, not Parihaka, but conversely one could quite legitimately argue that Parahaki is the legitimate meaning, being Para for a contraction of the Parawhau iwi and haki which has three possible meanings according to the Williams Maori dictionary: expressing disgust, meek, or cast away.

Put simply, there is huge historical debate about the reason for the wording, and for some to justify the change on the basis of a spelling mistake is self-serving and quite inaccurate. The truth is that local Maori want the change to reflect their own mythology, and the Council’s Parks department are promoting the change. The previous council was happy to go along with the change without asking the people of Whangarei. That was naive.

94% of people in the Whangarei district do not want the name changes. It would be appropriate for the new council to respect the wishes of all people in the Whangarei district, not just a 6% minority. 


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