Travel Articles

Maori Cultural Experiences

It’s been a thousand years since Māori explorers first found New Zealand's lush, green islands. No humans had ever set foot there before, so the Māori became the Tangata whenua, people of the land.

Since those legendary times, Māori have developed a unique Pacific culture. It combines respect for the natural environment and manaakitanga (hospitality) towards their guests. The combination makes them wonderful hosts to all their visitors.

Māori didn’t have a written language until the 1800s. Their history is told in rich legends and tales of gods, the natural world and Man’s interaction with both.

Now, in the 21st-century Māori tourism covers a wide range of experiences.  Throughout the country, you can join them in walking, boating and fishing tours. Share their legends and learn their oral history in large or small guided tours.

You won’t hear these stories, nor experience a culture like this anywhere else in the world.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds — Bay of Islands (Northland)

When you're visiting Northland, make sure you visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Rich in history, this is the site where Māori and Pakeha first signed the treaty which now shapes modern New Zealand.

Enjoy a guided tour, or wander as you will through two interactive museums. Marvel at the Whare Runanga (Carved Meeting House) and the giant Waka Taua (War Canoes).  Visit the Carving House and marvel at Māori carvers create their art. Finally, stroll through the gardens and bushwalks in the expansive, seaside grounds.

https://www.waitangi.org.nz/

Manea Footprints of Kupe — Opononi (Northland)

New Zealand’s newest Māori cultural and education center opened in 2020. Manea Footprints celebrates the legendary explorer and ancestor, Kupe.

Experience a traditional powhiri (Māori greeting.) Next, see the ancient stories come to life in a show of live theatre, art and special effects.  You’ll hear stories and history that even some New Zealanders don’t know as you walk in the footsteps of Kupe.

https://maneafootprints.co.nz/

 

Footprints Waipoua — Waipoua Forest (Hokianga)

Not far from Opononi is Waipoua, the largest tract of native forest left in Northland.  Here you’ll find Kauri trees that were already giants before Kupe even arrived in the Hokianga. The trees here were seedlings before Christ was born.

Footprints of Waipoua offers fascinating guided twilight tours through the forest. Stand in awe beside Tane Mahuta — 2000 years old and still growing. Then meet his even older brother Te Matua Ngahere, the Father of the Forest.

As you wander, your guides recount the forest legends. They'll teach you about the plants, insects and birds that live in New Zealand native forests.  Finally, they'll entertain you with Māori songs about their connection to this land.

https://footprintswaipoua.co.nz/

 

Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village (Rotorua)

While some tribes stayed near the coast, others ventured inland. There, they found the volcanic lakes and geothermal areas we now call Rotorua and Taupo.

In Rotorua, Whakarewarewa is one of New Zealand’s oldest attractions. It's also one of the first places that tourists could learn about the Māori world.

Here you can visit an authentic, living Māori village. Enjoy a guided tour learning some of the pre-European customs. Afterwards, visitors love exploring the new, self-guided Whaka Trails around this thermal wonderland. 

https://whakarewarewa.com/

 

Wairākei Terraces (Lake Taupo)

Just north of Taupo township are the natural hot springs of Wairākei. Here you’ll find Wairākei Terraces Thermal Health Spa, a cultural and wellness eco-tourism attraction. Rich in silica, the hot pools are adult-only zones. (14 years and over.) But people of all ages can enjoy the walks around the steaming terraces outside.

Local iwi have a long history of bathing in these healing, steaming waters. As you walk around today, you'll see intricate carvings explaining the history and stories of the land. 

https://www.wairakeiterraces.co.nz/

 

Waimarama Māori Tours (Hawke’s Bay)

Māori have lived happily at Waimarama for seven hundred years. Today Robert MacDonald runs “A Day in the Life of a Māori Elder.” This interesting tour highlights the everyday life and activities of this small community.

Leave the vineyards and cycle trails for a day, to spend time with a special family. Your guides will give you a Māori perspective into the ways history influences the present.

https://waimaramamaori.co.nz/

 

Kapiti Island Nature Tours - Kapiti (North of Wellington)

Māori enjoy a deep connection to the land. The Barrett whānau (family) have been living on and caring for Kapiti Island since the 1820s. Now they offer eco tours where you’ll see how the island’s protected rare birds are thriving.

Make the most of your day and book a tour to the north end of Kapiti. This tour including a guided walk, chef-prepared lunch and ferry transport. Why not go a step further and experience the true magic of night on the island? The overnight tour includes meals, comfortable rooms and a magical kiwi-spotting tour. 

https://www.kapitiisland.com/

 

Māori Eco-Cruises (Marlborough Sounds)

Pete and Takutai run private charters on their lovingly restored, 90-year-old launch, Tutanekai. You'll love hearing about Māori history and customs while cruising on the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound.

Tutanekai goes wherever you fancy. Choose between bushwalks on remote islands. Explore the old whaling station or go in search of the rare Hector's dolphins. You can even schedule a lazy picnic on a secluded beach.

https://maoriecocruises.nz/

 

Whale Watch Kaikōura (2 hours from Christchurch)

The coast off Kaikōura is a spectacular and unique ocean environment. Here, the local iwi has run one of New Zealand’s most successful Māori tourism businesses for the past 30 years.

Whale Watch Kaikōura employs local Māori as skippers and guides who’ll take you on a voyage of discovery. Learn the stories of Kaikoura as you sail in search of sperm whales, dusky dolphins and fur seals.

http://www.whalewatch.co.nz

 

Dark Sky Project (Takapō /Lake Tekapo)

In the heart of the Mackenzie Country is New Zealand's International Dark Sky Reserve. Here, Ngai Tahu offers you a guided tour of the universe and the chance to learn about Māori night-sky beliefs.

During the day, experience a multimedia show combining Māori heritage, science and astrophotography. At night, choose between two fascinating excursions. Visit the small private Cowan's Observatory on the edge of Tekapo. Or join the tour up to Mt Johns Observatory for the Summit Experience.  

If you’ve never peered through a telescope before, here’s your chance.

https://www.darkskyproject.co.nz/

 

Horizon Tours (Dunedin)

Enjoy Māori manaakitanga on Horizon’s Southern Skies Stargazing Tour.

Māori knowledge of the moon and stars visible from the Otago Peninsula comes alive in your guide's ancient tales. So, tuck yourself under a cosy blanket and get ready for a storytelling session under the stars.

Incredibly, this evening experience is only a short drive from downtown Dunedin.  

https://www.horizontours.co.nz/southern-skies-stargazing

 

So, there you have it. Eleven exciting and educational experiences into the unique world of Māori in Aotearoa.

Join their eco-endeavours, learn about their unique culture and leave Aotearoa with a wider world view.

It’s truly a New Zealand-only experience you won’t want to miss.

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