Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 53, September 2009
(Researched and written by W. P. Wylde, a well-known and respected resident of Ngatea and Paeroa, and published in the Hauraki Plains Gazette, May, 1929).
Kerepeehi, the seat of the Lands Drainage Department on the Hauraki Plains, is spelt with two "e's" in the middle syllable by that branch of the Government service, but only one "e" is used by the Post and Telegraph Department. In an endeavour to ascertain which is correct, extensive investigations made by this paper points to the two "e's" being correct.
It is hoped that should any of our readers have any information which will throw further light on the subject they will make it known. As time passes the collection of this information becomes more difficult, and its reliability more difficult to establish.
It is not asserted that the derivations of the place-names given here are correct. They may be quite wrong, for with the intermingling of tribes with different dialects, and the passing away of those Maori who were conversant with the incidents that gave rise to the names—for many of the incidents were very trivial, and it was customary to name every single physical feature of the land—the literal interpretation of the name means nothing in some cases, while in others it is so obscure as to prevent an intelligent pronouncement by present-day Maori. In such cases the Maori will say that the names are just as inexplicable as many English ones.
Some years ago the settlers of the Hauraki Plains held a reunion at Kerepeehi, and there was present an aged Maori who, on being asked to speak, volunteered through an interpreter to explain how Kerepeehi got its name. Mr J. Kidd interpreted to the best of his ability, and the following account was recently obtained.
It was told that many years ago the tribe which inhabited the land about Kerepeehi was attacked by a tribe which came up the river in canoes. On sighting the attackers, the local natives concentrated on the more advantageous site at the top of the Kaikahu Hill, near where Mr H. D. Jamieson's house now stands. The attackers were seen to land near where the old flax mill once stood and make their way through the swamp on the flat now known as the racecourse.
Not knowing the district the attackers became detached into small parties as they made their way through the swamp and dense raupo. This fact was conveyed to the local natives on the hilltop by the movement of the raupo and on seeing the opportunity, the local natives, who knew every track through the swamp, fell upon these small parties one by one and practically exterminated the invaders.
Some few prisoners were taken and they were taken to the hill top and slain. Their bodies left to be eaten by the birds, thus the hill became known as Kaihaku, that is "hawks' food".
Fearing that some may have escaped the local natives proceeded to the river and seized the invaders canoes, and thus this part of the district was called "Ke Te Peehi" which meant "to seize" or "to hold down" or "to impound". The alteration of Ke Te Peehi to Kerepeehi was a small one due probably to the intermingling of tribes with different dialects; but if the foregoing is the correct foundation for the name the use of the double "e" seems justified.
Two of the attacking natives from Kerepeehi had been seen to escape by swimming the river and fleeing northward. To cut them off the local natives paddled down stream to the shell bank in what is now known as the Ngatea school ground, as all tracks led to this old camping place. Here the two escapees were ambushed and their hearts, lungs and liver hung on trees. Nga Ate meaning the heart of a man, thus became the name of the place from then on. Present-day Maori say that Ngatea means the heart or the centre of the Plains, but this is probably because they know that this version is pleasing to the Ngatea people.
The name of Ngatea only dates back to 1910. Prior to then it was known as "The Orchard", on account of peach and quince trees which had probably grown up from seeds planted by Maori in accordance with the instruction of the missionaries, who taught the natives to plant all fruit stones and pips in holes dug for the purpose with their big toes.
When the post office was to be established the question of a name arose as "The Orchard" was not acceptable to the department. The chief postmaster at Thames communicated by means of the Lands Drainage Department's private telephone line with Mr J. Bratlie, who was to be appointed postmaster and asked that suitable names be submitted.
Among the names suggested by Mr Bratlie was the old Maori name Nga Ate; but whether the chief postmaster misunderstood him—he being a Norwegian, and the telephone line being in poor order—or whether investigation brought to light the fact that in an early plan of the Piako Swamp the drainage engineer of the day Mr J. B. Thompson, had previously corrupted the name to Ngatea, is not known, but that was the name selected for the post office by the department.
There seems to be a great difference of opinion as to the origin of the name of Waitakaruru. It is widely supposed to be a "place where an owl (ruru) fell into water" but this is not supported by Maori, though no definite pronouncement can be obtained. One well-versed Maori asserts that the name refers to the noise made by the waterfall that in times gone by existed near the present site of the water supply dam. This waterfall was apparently of some size and the nature of the fall caused it to make a peculiar echoing sound which could at times be heard at the Maori settlement that existed near what is now known as Haley's Corner.
This settlement was originally Waitakaruru and the land is now the Waitakaruru block, the site of the present township being known as the Booms, for in the stream were situated the booms used in connection with the timber-floating operations. Kahikatea logs were floated down the Waitakaruru Stream until about 18 years ago, but when the post office was established its present name was given. Another suggestion is that the name refers to a shady waterfall, and others claim that it is derived from an incident in a game (ruru) played by Maori with small stones.
Pipiroa, literally means "long pipi", but a well-perverse Maori asserts that this is not altogether correct. There was a long beach where pipi were plentiful, and the old-time Maori used to come a long distance—as from the Waikato—to collect them. Naturally, after a long journey he would stay a long time to collect a big supply.
Whakatiwai, the district beyond New Brighton, on the western side of the Firth of Thames, is another descriptive name, showing it to be a pleasant landing place where fish and shellfish were found to be plentiful, so it was a good place to camp.
The name Turua was supposed to have been the description of the location of a pa between the two rivers. Very many years ago there was pa a short distance up the river from the present township, and present-day Maori acknowledge that it was the fault of a past generation that the site and burial ground nearby, was not reserved. The site is now farmland and only slight traces of Maori occupation remain. A depression mentioned in a certain drainage action in the Magistrate's Court at Thames a few years ago is a trace.
Patetonga is another description of a pa. It was also named because of its location on a hill above the present township, where it was exposed to the cold south wind.
In the name Kaihere is a curious example of the use of pure Maori and a Maori attempt to pronounce an English word 'Kai", food; "here", cherry. Until recently there was a grove of cherry trees near the Ohinewai Road.
Ngarua, literally means a junction and may have been a junction of two streams or of tracks.
Miranda is not a Maori name, but commemorates a visit by HMS Miranda and HMS Isaac in July, 1863. It was learned that the Thames Maori contemplated joining the Waikato Maori in the war against the whites and these warships were sent to the gulf to intercept them. However they arrived too late, for the Thames warriors had landed and proceeded towards Mangatawhiri, so the naval party found only their canoes. Local natives, who had nothing to do with this, still smart under the injustice done them by the confiscation of 10,000 acres of their land. The peak in the hills behind Miranda, to the top of which the naval party sent observers, is named Mt Esk, after one of the leaders of the expedition.