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11 Commonly Mispronounced Places in New Zealand

What a jaw-breaker!
What a jaw-breaker! | ©Archives New Zealand
With the blending of Maori and European cultures in New Zealand has come the mixing of two languages. You’d think Maori place names would be the most frequent ones to trip up unsuspecting tourists – and this is very much the case. Yet there are some European ones that can still be problematic. Here is our guide to 11 commonly mispronounced places in NZ.


Welcome to Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu.

As with the other longest place names in the world such as Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales and Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, South Africa, you may as well give up before you even begin trying to pronounce Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu, New Zealand. The locals of Hawkes Bay have wisely adopted the abbreviated name Taumata when talking about this hill and it’s obvious why. Translated from Maori it means: “the place where Tamatae, the man who had big knees, the climber of mountains, the slider, the land-swallower that traveled about, played the nose flute that he had to the loved ones.”

It is also the longest place name on the planet.

What a jaw-breaker! ©Archives New Zealand


This is a name that anyone visiting New Zealand will have to pronounce at some point, as this lakeside town is an essential place to visit on any traveler’s itinerary. Located basically smack-bang in the middle of the North Island, this beautiful and vast lake is essentially a crater left by an absolute ripper of a supervolcano eruption about 26,500 years ago. It is New Zealand’s largest lake at 616 square kilometers, and is about 186m deep at its deepest point. Even most Kiwis are guilty of pronouncing this famous spot incorrectly, however, whether it be out of ignorance or laziness. Mostly it is referred to as Tau-poe, but the correct pronunciation is actually Toe-paw.

Sunset over Lake Taupo © russellstreet


The Maori pronunciation of Wh- as F- is one that trips up most visitors the first time around, but once you realise your mistake it is quickly cemented in the brain. As a place, Whakapapa is a ski area located on the north side of Mount Ruapehu. This mountain offers the best skiing and snowboarding terrain on the North Island, so it’s well worth a visit for any powder hounds that find themselves in New Zealand during the winter. Whakapapa is also the Maori word for genealogy and basically defines all livings things from what they are now all the way back to when they were created by the gods.

Snowboarding on Whakapapa ©Kiwi Flickr / Flickr


So, now that we know that “Wh” is pronounced like an “F” in New Zealand, here is Wanganui, a city in the North Island that is absolutely, positively pronounced Wong-a-nui. This gets people all the time, whether they be Kiwis visiting for the first time or tourists. It is also proof that as general as a rule is when it comes to pronunciation, that rule can be broken. In this case Whanganui – oh, by the way, it is also spelled Wanganui, and both spellings are deemed correct – isn’t an obscure little place buried in the deep south or far north, it’s a central North Island region with a population of 44,500.

Beautiful Wanganui © Javier Losa / Flickr


According to some sources this is the most mispronounced place name in the whole of New Zealand. It seems that every man and his dog has been incorrectly saying Tau-rong-a when they should have actually been saying Toe-rung-a. It’s not surprising though that this beautiful area is commonly mispronounced as it is probably one of the most visited areas in the North Island. It’s not hard to see why both New Zealanders and tourists flock here, what with the beautiful, white sandy beaches, excellent food and stunning scenery.

Tauranga is a lovely spot © Jeff Hitchcock / Flickr


This is a bit of a humdinger that will catch everyone out, no matter if you’re a born and bred Kiwi or not. Basically everyone would be forgiven for thinking that this little town is pronounced Ahu-ree-ree, but in fact it’s called AH-hoo-di-di. It’s a little known fact outside of NZ, but all of the beautiful region of Napier was once called Ahuriri, and was named for the great Maori chief Tu Ahuriri, who cut a channel into the lagoon when the entrance became blocked.


This North Island region might not be one that would swiftly come to mind when thinking of one of New Zealand’s most famous spots. However, it is probably one of the places that foreigners – even those who have never set foot in Aotearoa – have seen the most. Why is this? Simply, because Matamata is also Hobbiton from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. If you’re looking for picturesque rolling countryside then look no further. However, no matter how many people go to visit, it seems that the name alludes many of them. The correct way to pronounce this lovely place is mutter-mutter.

Hobbiton / Matamata © Jackie.Ick / Flickr


This is another tricky one, and one that trips up even the proudest Kiwi. It is also another part of New Zealand that many will not realise that they’ve seen before, as Mount Ngauruhoe’s claim to fame is as the sinister Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings. If your inner hobbit feels inclined to scale this peak then it’s good to know that, as of last year, trampers have been politely asked to desist (although you can still climb it if you want) in climbing this active volcano because it is a scared site. How do you say it? Ngar-oo-hoy.


You’d think that this vowel-riddled number would be pretty easy to pronounce, but you’d be mistaken. New Zealanders are just as guilty of lazily calling this place Om-a-roo, as fresh-faced foreigners. When pronounced correctly this town’s name does become a little bit of a mouthful: Oh-ar-ma-roo. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily, but that’s definitely no reason to avoid this special spot. At sunset you can watch the little blue penguins come waddling up the beach as they head off to find a comfortable spot to spend the night.

An Oamaru local © Strange Ones / Flickr


In all honesty Manukau isn’t going to make it into many people’s list of places to visit when coming to New Zealand – although it is home to New Zealand’s favourite theme park, Rainbows End. But if you live in Auckland you’ll find yourself here fairly often as it is a major industrial area and is home to many large outlet stores. Pronunciation-wise it might seem pretty straightforward, man-oo-cow, right? Wrong. It’s actually pronounced mar-nook-oh. This is another one that gets Kiwis and visitors from other shores alike.


What could be simpler than why-cat-oh, you might think? Well, it turns out that many of us have been saying it wrong for years. This region in the North Island is one of the richest agricultural areas in the entire country, and is home to the world-famous NZ dairy industry. If you’re a dairy cow then this is where you want to call home. The rolling, luscious grass isn’t only the ideal place to live and eat if you’re of the bovine persuasion, it is also where the best racehorses in New Zealand are bred. If you visit (and you should) then impress the locals by calling it the why-cut-o(r).

Misty Waikato Lake ©kiwinz / Flickr