Century-long saga: The six bids to change this village’s name

Posted 6 February 2024 by Moana Ellis
A sign at the entrance to National Park Village that says 'National Park Village', with Mount Ruapēhu visible in the background.

Iwi collective Te Korowai o Wainuiārua wants the name of National Park Village and its railway station changed to Waimarino Photo: Supplied

A local iwi collective has asked the Geographic Board to rename National Park Village and the nearby station to Waimarino – the latest chapter in a century-long saga.

Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board has considered the names five times since 1926.

It is diving into the debate again following a bid by iwi in the central North Island.

Previous naming proposals have been rejected by the Geographic Board five times during the hundred-year saga.

In November, it opened a three-month public consultation on the latest proposal. The consultation period ends on Thursday.

The iwi collective Te Korowai o Wainuiārua said in its bid that Waimarino was the original name of both the station and village.

But a Geographic Board report on the proposal, released under the Official Information Act, said early maps and survey plans name Waimarino for the plains, the stream and the land block but not a village.

“There is warranted confusion both historically and in the proposal material as to what exactly the official name of the village is,” the report said.

“While the Board has made several decisions on the names, no name was gazetted. Most of the decisions were to decline the village proposal at hand (Waimarino) and reconfirm the existing name (National Park).”

The report said National Park (village) has the current status of ‘unofficial recorded’ in the New Zealand Gazetteer, being a name not made official by the Board but recorded from documents the Board considered authoritative.

It said there is no evidence in the iwi collective’s proposal that a pā named Waimarino existed on the site of the contemporary National Park Village.

First move renames station and village

In 2016, a report by the Geographic Board secretariat said the Railway Department decided in 1925-1926 to change the name of Waimarino Railway Station to National Park.

“This change was partly a branding exercise due to the proximity to Tongariro National Park, though also for practical purposes due to misdirected mail and freight.

“There was ongoing confusion with Waimarino County (the administrative headquarters being in Raetihi to the south), and Waimarino electorate (the administrative headquarters being in Taumarunui to the north-west).”

The newly formed Honorary Geographic Board was not consulted and did not approve of changing the original Māori name. However, it accepted the change which took place in May 1926.

The report says the informal use of National Park for the village itself followed suit.

Mt Tongariro

The change from Waimarino Railway Station to National Park was partly a branding exercise because of its proximity to Tongariro National Park Photo: Dougal Townsend, GNS Science

Attempts to bring back ‘Waimarino’

In 1957, the National Parks Authority wrote to the Geographic Board that it wanted to change the name of the railway station back to Waimarino – ironically, because the mail and freight for other national parks was now arriving at ‘National Park’.

The proposal was shelved due to “a lack of local support”, the report said.

The following year, the Federated Mountain Clubs submitted a proposal to change the name of the village back to Waimarino. On 13 February 1959, the Geographic Board declined the proposal, saying the name ‘National Park’ was now well established.

Once again in 1967-68, the National Parks Authority informed the Geographic Board it wanted to change the names of the railway station and village back to Waimarino, saying further national parks had been established in the country and mail and freight were still being misdirected to ‘National Park’.

The residents objected. A petition opposing the proposal was signed “by every household, and many others in the area”, and the proposal was once again declined.

“National Park remains a ‘recorded name’ and is not itself official,” the report said.

In 1969, the Geographic Board also declined a proposal from Taumarunui County to alter ‘Waimarino Township’ to ‘National Park Township’ on the basis that National Park was already the existing ‘official name’.

The report says the proposal may have been made as a result of confusion around “cadastral appellations”. Cadastral maps record property information such as location and land area, and the Geographic Board says the names are a legal appellation and not a populated place name.

References to ‘Waimarino Plains’ first appeared with exploratory surveys for the route of the North Island Main Trunk in the 1880s, the report said. The Rail Heritage Trust records an opening date of 1908 for Waimarino Railway Station.

The station platform at National Park, showing new dual signage installed by KiwiRail in August 2023.

KiwiRail installed dual name signage at the station in August to reflect its historic name. Photo: Moana Ellis

The latest attempt

In August last year, Tongariro/TaupŌ Conservation Board co-chair Mike Britton supported an iwi bid for change.

“The history is an interesting one where the community that grew up around the National Park Station … came to be identified with the name of the station. Even though the name of the station was changed in 1926, the name of the kāinga was not. And whereas identifying a station with New Zealand’s first national park was appropriate when the rail link was made, this is no longer the case.”

Megan Dimozantos, president of Federated Mountain Clubs, also signalled the society’s support.

She said reinstating the name Waimarino would “be a long overdue step towards recognising the local iwi’s ancestral connections to the place”.

Visit Ruapehu general manager Jo Kennedy said “restoration of Waimarino Village’s name” would be a meaningful step towards acknowledging shared history and fostering unity and understanding among all New Zealanders.

Also in August, KiwiRail said it was “particularly supportive” of the name change proposal. Group Manager Planning and Land Use, Mike Brown, advised it had just installed dual name signage at the railway station to reflect “this historic name”.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air