Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, the original Maori name, positions Stewart Island firmly at the heart of Maori mythology. Translated as "The Anchor Stone of Maui's Canoe", it refers to the part played by this Island in the legend of Maui and his crew, who from their canoe (the South Island) caught and raised the great fish, (the North Island).
The more commonly known and used name however is Rakiura. Translated as "The great and deep blushing of Te Rakitamau" an early Maori Chief, seen today as the glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.
"Stewart Island anchors more than Maui's canoe. It anchors in its rocks, rivers, and rugged shores and in its garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist."
- Neville Peat, 1992 -
Te Rakitamau left his home to ask a high ranking Kati Mamoe family for the hand in marriage of the elder of his two daughters. To his embarrassment he blushed terribly when he was turned down. Te Raki Tamau then asked for the hand of the second daughter, but she too was already betrothed. It is said that the red skies of Stewart Island reflect the blushing embarrassment of Te Rakitamau.
From this story came Te raki o te uraka o Te Rakitamau, then, Te raki ura o Te Rakitamau. It has been shortened to Rakiura. In memory of the heat of his face the highest peak was named Hananui (the great blush).
In 1809 the 'Pegasus', sailing from Port Jackson, Australia, on a sealing expedition had aboard as first officer, William Stewart. While the boat was in the large south eastern harbour (which now bears its name 'Pegasus'), William Stewart began charting the southern coasts, and his work is acknowledged by the Island's present name.