Place names of the Waimea Islands


Although the fourteen or so islands of the Waimea Inlet have an enduring and busy Māori history, many of them are named after early European owners or residents. Some of the islands don't have an official name or are known by multiple names, and some of the islands don't appear on every map. In this story we'll look at some of the European place names for these islands, and also two islands in the Wairoa and Waimea Rivers. There isn't much information available about why some islands are known by these names.  If you know more about these names, please let us know. 

John Gully ATL

Gully, John, 1819-1888: The Waimea Plains and cultivated country near Nelson / John Gully [1875?]. Dunedin, 1877. Gully, John, 1819-1888 : New Zealand scenery chromolithographed after original water-color drawings by John Gully with descriptive letterpress by Dr Julius von Haast. Dunedin, Henry Wise & Company; London Marcus Ward & Co., 1877. Ref: PUBL-0010-08. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22322824

Allington Island, Brightwater 

Once located in the Wairoa River above where the Brightwater Bridge is today. Also known as Reay's Island, or Reay Island.

Now part of the right bank of the Wairoa River, Allington Island was part of Allington farm and was named for farmer George Duppa’s home ‘Allington’ in 1842. The Wairoa River ran through the farm in a ring, creating the island. Some native bush and plants were left on the island, while the rest of the farm was cleared and used for running cattle, sheep, pigs, and for growing crops such as barley, oats and turnips. The island was the site of Alfred Saunder’s Flour Mill, which later became the Brightwater Powerhouse (1911-1933). It was also the site of combined Sunday school picnics in the 1870s, with between 400-500 children travelling by train to attend one picnic in 1878.  In the early 1900s the island was known as Reay Island, or Reay's Island after George Reay who had a sheep run on the island.1

Bell Island 

Located between Best Island and Moturoa/Rabbit Island. Bell Island is an official name. The island was previously known as Bell’s Island and listed on early maps as Waimea Island No. 2

Purchased sight unseen by Barnard/Bernard Hartley in 1854, ‘Waimea Island No. 2’ was sold to Scottish born James Bell in 1883. James (1817-1902) was the eldest son of William Gordon Bell and Alziere/Alsaire Cervantes/Servant the natural daughter of a French naval surgeon and an Afro-Caribbean. Alziere married William after the death of her previous husband Dr John Bell who owned Bellevue or Belle Vue Estate, a sugar plantation worked by slaves in Carriacou, Grenada. After spending time in Scotland and Australia the family arrived in New Zealand in March 1840. Initially farming in Whanganui, they moved to Nelson after conflict over land and unrest in Whanganui in 1847. William received Crown grants of land in 1851, and over the coming years he and his children purchased more farmland in Lower Queen Street/Swamp Road in Appleby and the Waimea South area as money allowed. James came to the district later than his family, having spent more time in the Wairarapa and Otago. He took over the family farm Bellevue with his brother William G. Bell Junior, and also purchased the island that was later named after him. Bell Island was too sandy for farming traditional crops, so James farmed sheep on the island, ferrying them over the water in boats.2

Best Island

Located between Bell Island and Deadman Island. Best Island is an official name. The island was previously known as Best's Island and is listed on early maps as Island No. 1. 

Named after Charles Best who purchased the island in 1858, and also owned land on the Appleby side of the inlet down to McShane Road. The land was passed down to Charles's descendants with the exterior of the island later subdivided by Charles’s son Peter Best into five blocks for his sons. The middle of the island with its sandy soil and light vegetation was used for pea farming and grazing sheep, pigs and cattle. Much of the family land was later sold, and in 1957 the island was subdivided further for housing or holiday homes on the east end of the island, with 130 acres on the west end going to create the Greenacres golf course, and the creation of Best Island Recreation Reserve.3

Bird Island

Located between the north-western end of Rough Island and Moturoa/Rabbit Island. Listed on early maps as Island No. 4. and as a Crown Gravel Reserve.  Bird Island is an official name.

Although Bird Island is home to an abundance of wetland birds, it is thought Bird Island may be named after either John Bird, or the Reverend William Bird who purchased the island in 1863. Four years after he purchased the land, the Rev. William Bird was a defendant in a court case.  The plaintive in the case claimed Mr Bird had “failed in his speculation of an island and would give up this land”. A Waimea County Council investigation into ownership of the island in 1943 showed rates had never been paid for the land, and the island was listed in the council rate book as a 'designated Crown gravel reserve'.4

Bullivant Island 

Located between Māpua and the west end of Moturoa /Rabbit Island. Bullivant Island is not an official name.  

Thought to be named after William Bullivant who was the Waimea County Council Engineer in the late 1920s-1940s. At this time council engineers were responsible for managing council reserves, building and maintaining roads, and other council services like water supply. In the 1930s William was responsible for the unemployed relief work camps on Moturoa / Rabbit Island. He was also responsible for bridging the Motueka River at Riwaka in 1929, and tar-sealing the road from Richmond to Stoke in the 1930s. The Waimea County Council often named new roads after former council engineers and other employees or councillors who played a significant role in developing the land or area.5

Challies Island 

Once located in the Waimea River near Challies Road, now part of the Waimea River Park. This is not an official name. The island can be seen on this map from the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Island Locations

Island locations.

Most likely named after the Challies family who were early European settlers in Appleby and who farmed the land around where the island was located. Crops grown there in the 1800s included barley. Henry William Challies and his wife Sarah arrived in New Zealand in 1853. Sarah and one child travelled to New Zealand on the barque Mahomed Shah. During the voyage the ship caught fire and all their possessions were destroyed. The crew and 31 passengers were rescued by a passing brig (a type of ship) the following day. Her diary recalls “We hoped to hold on until daylight, when about half-past 4 a.m. the carpenter sang out that the rigging looked very slack, and immediately that the foremast was settling down. We all hurried into the boats, and the gig with 10 men in it got clear of the ship, the next was the whaleboat with 13, and last the lifeboat with the captain and five others. We pulled for about three-quarters of an hour in a very heavy sea until we reached the brig. We all got safe on board at daylight”.6

Deadman Island 

Located between Best Island and the Appleby. Deadman Island is not an official name.

This island is said to have been named Deadman's Island or Dead Man Island after human remains (Koiwi) were accidently dug up beneath a pine tree off the island in 1948. The causeway, or road to Best Island crosses Deadman Island.  This island was one of the least developed islands in the Waimea Inlet.7

Grossi Island

One of the two small islands located in the Blind Channel between Moturoa / Rabbit Island and Nelson Airport. Also known as Grossi's Island or Grosse Island. Not to be confused with Grossi Point in Māpua. Grossi's island also appears to have been the name for Oyster Island during the late 1800s. Grossi Island is not an official name. 

Thought to be named after Biaggio Grossi, a Croatian (?) born fisherman, and his family who lived on various islands within the Waimea Inlet, including Oyster Island, during the late 1800s early 1900s. Biaggio and Elizabeth had 12 children, including brothers Alfred, Mark and Philip Grossi. The Grossi family were often mentioned in newspapers of the time for their discovery of large sharks, whales, and unusual fish in the area including a ‘Torpedo’ or Electric ray, also known as a Whai Repo, in 1896, and a Gape whale beached on Saxton Island in 1883.8

Manuka Island

Located off Redwood Road, on the way to Moturoa / Rabbit Island.

Presumably named after the Manuka growing on the four-acre island. 

Moturoa / Rabbit Island

Located north of Rough Island and Bell Island, and east of Māpua. Previously known as Rabbit Island. Moturoa / Rabbit Island is an official name.

Read the Moturoa / Rabbit Island story.

No-Man Island

Located between Bird Island and Māpua in the western arm of the Waimea inlet.  No-Man Island, or as it is also known No Man Island, or No-Man's Island, is not an official name. 

We could not find any information about why No-Man Island is known by this name.9

Oyster Island 

Located to the north of Saxton Island, between Moturoa / Rabbit Island and Monaco, Stoke. This is an official name. Confusingly this island for some time during the 1870s-1880s was also known as Grossi's Island, as it was home to the family of that name, but Grossi Island is now the name of one of the islands in the Blind Channel, slightly north of Oyster Island. 

Shellfish, including oysters, mussels and pipi, were popular with early European settlers as well as Māori. It is thought that the island was named after the dredge oyster beds found in the Waimea Estuary. Oyster Island is one of 12 official New Zealand places names featuring the word oyster, with six of them in the top of the South Island.  Some believe that the island was also a traditional camp site for Māori working pakohe, or argillite, a type of stone, they quarried from the nearby hills. When Europeans arrived, there may have been a stock of shells on the island, and this may have contributed to the name.10

Pig Island 

Located between Saxton Island and Monaco, Stoke. Pig Island is an official name. Not to be confused with Pig Island in Marlborough.

This island is possibly named after pigs that were kept as livestock on the island, although we couldn't find any evidence of this. Early European settlers grazed pigs on islands in the Waimea Inlet, including Grossi and Best Islands, and in Appleby. Pure breed or cross bred Berkshire pigs were considered the best by Mr May who imported a boar of this breed and ran a bacon factory in Richmond in 1894.11

Rough Island

Located on the south side of Moturoa / Rabbit Island. Rough Island is an official name. 

We couldn't find any information about why Rough Island is called that, but the island was also known informally as Joe's Island, after Joseph Bardinovich/Darinovich, who was also known as Joe Darby. Joe was a Yugoslavian fisherman who lived on the east end of the Island in the late 1800s and sold the fish he caught as far away as Belgrove. He farmed pigs on the island and grew tobacco and vegetables, but unfortunately the pesky rabbits ate most of his crops.12

Saxton Island 

Located southwest of Oyster Island and near Pig Island, close to Monaco, Stoke. This is an official name. 

Named after the Saxton family and John Waring Saxton a provincial governor, and a member for Waimea South in the Nelson Provincial Council in the 1850s. The Saxton family owned a farm in Stoke near the island.13

March 2023

Sources used in this story

1. Allington Island

2. Bell Island
3. Best Island 
4. Bird Island
5. Bullivant Island
6. Challies Island
7.Deadman Island
8. Grossi Island
9. No-Man Island
  • Do you know why No-Man Island is known by this name?  Please get in touch with us. 
10.Oyster Island
11. Pig Island
12. Rough Island
  • O'Connor M. & Appleby School (N.Z.).(1984).Appleby School Nelson: Centennial history 1859-1959 and supplement to centennial history 1959-1984. Appleby School Centennial Committee. Page 10.
13. Saxton Island
  • Lash M. D. Smith D. & Nelson Historical Society. (1992). Nelson notables 1840-1940 : a dictionary of regional biography. Nelson Historical Society. Page 130.

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