How Did New Zealand Get Its Name?

Milford Sound
Milford Sound | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr
Joe Coates

New Zealand has been put on the map thanks to its unbelievably scenic landscapes, amiable locals and hobbit-related tourism. What a lot of people don’t know – both tourists and Kiwis themselves – is how the country came to be called New Zealand. As with all names, after a bit of research and reading, an interesting history emerges and tells you more about the country than a simple name. We all know that sometimes the old human imagination runs a little thin and we simply call something ‘New’ after an already established city or place. For example, we have New Hampshire, New York and New England from the original Hampshire, York and England. New Orleans is named after the French town of Orleans. Even Nova Scotia is Latin for New Scotland! Take a look at how New Zealand came by its name, and learn a little bit of the history of this brilliant little island nation.

A bit of background

Firstly, although English is the first language of this little Pacific nation, it wasn’t actually the British who were the first Europeans to first clap eyes on what the Maori people had been calling Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud. (And yes, let’s face it, the Maori name is a little more lyrical and romantic than the English version.)


Whilst the well-known Captain Cook was the first European to land in New Zealand in the late 1700’s – on three separate expeditions no less – and make a comprehensive mapping of the coastline, it was actually the Dutch who rocked up a century or so earlier.

A Statue of Captain Cook, Christcurch

Now, the Dutch were seemingly well ahead of the game here, what with managing to find a relatively tiny speck of land at the end of the world. If they’d overshot it they might’ve ended up in Antarctica. However, old Abel Tasman and the boys were convinced that they were on an island off the coast of Argentina. After much muttering and a few hasty calculations, a bit of head scratching and some embarrassed looks, they figured out where they’d actually ended up. Presumably, Abel Tasman covered the awkward silence by proclaiming that this new land was to be called… Nieuw Zeeland!

Abel Tasman

Where was the old Zeeland?

Well, as you would expect, Zeeland was a province in the Netherlands. The word ‘Zeeland’ actually translates to ‘sea-land’, which was not a bad shout from the explorer Tasman – especially when you think how silly he must have been feeling after landing somewhere thousands of miles from where he intended to be. Still, he came up with a nice name and then biffed off again. He still got his name pinned to a good many locations around the area in the end, being the first bloke to the party and all. These included the Tasman Sea that divides New Zealand and Australia, and also the island of Tasmania.

The Land of the Long White Cloud

Captain Cook and his finishing touch

When Captain Cook sailed on into town about a century later – also, amazingly, by getting completely lost and sailing into the area quite by accident – he was quick to act in the time-honoured tradition of many explorers of the day and totally disregarded the fact that he was the second bloke to discover Nieuw Zeeland. He gave it the Anglican twist and renamed it the more English-friendly New Zealand. This is, obviously, how we all know it today. It’s nice though to be aware that this name didn’t just spring out of nowhere. That it came about through the – and this is looking at in a tongue-in-cheek way – ineptitude of two excellent and brave explorers and their crew. Who would’ve thought that two such crucial landings were the results of the equivalent of poor map-reading skills?

However it happened, New Zealand or Aotearoa, is a wonderful place to visit, and on reading this guide you’ll be a little more equipped to impress the locals.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.