Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty

Vineyards in New Zealand's Gisborne/Poverty Bay area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Vineyards in New Zealand’s Gisborne/Poverty Bay area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

This post is totally based on my own curiosity about geography—which pops up at random times during wine studies—such as last night while I was reviewing the wine map of New Zealand. I noticed that Gisborne is also known as Poverty Bay. What place on earth would want to be known as Poverty Bay?

To me, this is a burning question, in need of well-researched answers—and some wine-related context as well! There’s a fine line, it seems, between a wine geek and a geography geek; and we might as well throw history geek in there as well, because the name Poverty Bay, and its (perhaps) better half up the road a bit, the Bay of Plenty, relate back to Captain James Cook (1728-1779), a captain in the British Royal Navy who made three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, and is believed to be the first European to reach Australia and the Hawaiian Islands and to circumnavigate New Zealand.

Poverty Bay


There is a lovely series of bays where the city of Gisborne, on New Zealand’s North Island, meets the South Pacific Ocean.  The largest of these is known as Poverty Bay, which stretches for about 6 miles south to a place called Young Nick’s Head. (This too must be explained…it seems that the area, a headland, was the first land sighted by the crew of Captain Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, on October 7, 1769. A reward of a barrel of rum and the right to name the landmass had been offered to the first crewman to sight land; the reward was claimed by 12-year-old Nicholas Young.)

Later that day, the ship’s crew went ashore.  They encountered the residents of the land, the Maori, and it did not go well. The first meeting led to the death of 6 Maori, and the crew, quite battered themselves, returned to their ship without any of the provisions they had hoped to acquire. For this reason, Captain Cook gave the area the name “Poverty Bay.” Perhaps they should have stayed with Maori name, which at the time was Teoneroa; today it is Te Kuri o Paoa.

From the department of I thought this was a wine blog: These days, Gisborne/Poverty Bay is the third largest producer of wine (in terms of volume) in New Zealand, and yet it seems to be somewhat obscure. Perhaps it’s the out-of-the way location. The area currently has 4,735 acres (1,915 ha) of vines. Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety, at about 2,312 acres (936 ha). Pinot Gris is next, with 950 acres (381 ha). Gewurztraminer, Merlot, and Viognier are widely planted as well. New Zealand’s super-star grape, Sauvignon Blanc, actually comes in around sixth place in Gisborne, with about 138 acres (56 ha) planted.

Vineyards in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Vineyards in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Being part of the widest part of the North Island, Gisborne records some of the most sunlight hours and warmest overall temperatures in New Zealand, so much so that the grapes here are often the first in the country to be ready for harvest. Gisborne is also the easternmost part of New Zealand, meaning the vineyards here are the first vineyards in the world to greet each new day.

The Bay of Plenty

After the unfortunate encounter at Gisborne, Captain Cook’s crew sailed north to what is now known as the Bay of Plenty. Here he was able to get the provisions he needed, and noted that it was an area “full of plantations and villages” that was “a bay of plenty.” Bay of Plenty is still a lush area, with orchards of kiwi fruit, avocadoes, and citrus, not to mention the vineyards and abundant seafood nearby. The Māori name for the Bay of Plenty is Te Moana-a-Toi (“the sea of Toi”), in honor of the Maori explorer Toi-te-Huatahi.

In the interest of the “wine” part of this blog: The regions of Bay of Plenty and its neighbor-to-the-west, Waikato, are generally lumped together when discussing the wine of the area. These regions, located just south of Auckland, currently have a tiny but growing wine industry—mainly small vineyards tucked between fruit orchards and dairy farms. Chardonnay is the leading grape variety here, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.


The area is one of the warmer regions in New Zealand, owing to its more northerly location (remember this is the Southern Hemisphere),  the width of the land mass, and the protection of the Hakarimata Mountain Range  The soils are quite fertile, due to the wide floodplain of the Waikato River and several other rivers.  Some areas around Waikato/Bay of Plenty were previously swampland, made accessible for agriculture via large drainage programs implemented by European settlers.

Stay tuned for more on New Zealand’s landmarks—such as Cape Foulwind, the Farewell Spit, and Cape Kidnappers (complete with wine information from the regions of “Sunny Nelson” and Hawke’s Bay).

 The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

7 Responses to Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty

  1. SHERYL HARVEY says:

    I always wondered why they were named that!  Sheryl Harvey Southern Wine and SpiritsCertified Specialist of Wine949-533-1546

    • bubblyprof says:

      Hi Sheryl! Thanks for the note! I guess weird geographical names are my thing! And…I have to admit, knowing the story also helps me remember that the Bay of Plenty is north of Gisborne, following the journey of Captain Cook (ah, context)!

  2. Duff's Wines says:

    Great story. We have a province up here with some of the weirdest names of hamlets and villages. Newfoundland has Heart’s Content, Dildo, Little Heart’s Ease, and Cupids among others. And just like New Zealand the people are delightful, unassuming and full of the history of the place.

    • bubblyprof says:

      HI Duff! Thanks for reading! I think there might be a Newfoundland post in my future…”Heart’s Content” must have a great story behind it (not to mention some of those other names…)! And the area has its own fascinating spirits (and some local wine, I believe!) Cheers!

  3. It’s funny how places get their names and that was a great little history lesson! Thanks!

  4. d d b says:

    That was an informative post. I am a Kiwi, and yet I learned something new today (about the Maori names for Poverty bay and BOP). Thanks!

  5. Pingback: Cape Kidnappers, Sunny Nelson, and the Farewell Spit | The Bubbly Professor

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