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Maori Culture: Aotearoa's Vibrant Heritage

June 7, 2023

A journey through New Zealand is not complete without experiencing Māori culture up close and discovering the rich history and customs of New Zealand’s indigenous people. Say ‘kia ora’ to the locals and hear the stories and legends that have been passed down through the generations. Visit heritage sites, admire arts, crafts and live performances, and feast on traditional kai(cuisine).

Hosting guests and providing a warm welcome is core to Māori culture – a value known as manaakitanga – and manuhiri (visitors) can look forward to genuine kindness, care, and curiosity upon arriving in New Zealand. Open your mind and expand your horizons to learn more about Te Ao Māori (the Māori world)and you’ll quickly feel the warm embrace of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Here's a showcase of sights and activities across the motu (country) where you can immerse yourself into Māori culture and embark on a unique experience that will surprise, delight, and inspire.


Waitangi Treaty Grounds | Bay of Islands

Start your cultural journey where New Zealand’s founding document was signed, at the historic Treaty Grounds overlooking the picturesque harbour. Signed in 1840 by Māori chiefs and the British Crown, this living and breathing document continues to shape and challenge New Zealand society to this day.

Arrive curious and eager to learn, as Te Kōngahu museum’s eye-opening and thought-provoking exhibits tell the story of the Treaty’s signing and its ongoing legacy from multiple perspectives. Through imagery, audio and taonga (treasured objects), you’ll gain an understanding of the Treaty’s significance and influence on New Zealanders across multiple generations.

Read a replica of the original document, see the world’s largest ceremonial waka (war canoe), wander through the heritage buildings, and admire carving demonstrations in the live studio. A Waitangi Experience Pass unlocks access to all these cultural experiences, across two consecutive days.

Photo: Camilla Rutherford

Ruapekapeka Pā | Bay of Islands

Regrettably, the expected peace and union following the treaty didn’t eventuate for long. Five years after the treaty’s signing, the British breaching their obligations led to a fiery disagreement on its interpretation and an eventual armed uprising between local tribes and Pākehā (European settlers).

Perched upon a hilltop, this important defence site for Māori during the battle is one of New Zealand’s best preserved land war battlefields. Walk back in history, see the intricately-built trenches and ditches, and read the interpretation panels to gain a sense of the trials and tribulations that occurred in the 1840’s, and through to modern times.

Manea Footprints of Kupe | Hokianga

Voyage to the east coast, where the Hokianga region holds the legacy of the great navigator and explorer, Kupe. Known as the first Māori ancestor to reach New Zealand’s shores, Kupe’s story is one of bravery, strength, and mana (charisma/prestige).

Amidst the stunning natural landscapes of the Hokianga Harbour, this profound experience takes you on a multi-sensory journey of Kupe’s great adventure from his homeland of Hawaiki to Aotearoa – through art, film, performance, and immersive storytelling.

Photo: Northland Inc

Te Puia | Rotorua

Set in a spectacular 60-hectare geothermal valley, bubbling mud pools, boiling craters and breathtaking native bush sets the scene for a truly spine-tingling experience. This captivating attraction showcases Māori culture up close, with rich storytelling providing a window into local customs and practices .Begin with a pōwhiri (welcome ceremony), waiata (song) and haka (war dance),before being awestruck by the majestic Pōhutu Geyser – the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

Te Puia is also home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where you can watch master craftspeople showcase their talents, and pass on their traditional weaving, carving and tattooing skills to up-and-coming artists.

Te Pā Tū (formerly known as Tamaki Māori Village) | Rotorua

As the sun goes down, the mystical and majestic Te Pā Tū comes to life. This four-hour evening experience has a unique seasonal flavour, combining song, dance, kapa haka and cuisine into a beautifully choreographed evening that you’ll never forget.

Settle in to the forest-lined amphitheatre amidst the towering native trees and the crackling of the ahi (fire), and be captivated by the raw, vivid performance unfolding right in front of you. Then tuck in for a hākari (feast) alfresco-style under the stars, with an exquisite three-course feast, including a modern take on hāngi – a steam-cooked meal in an earth oven. Hear Māori stories and legends through a cultural showcase that’s equal parts entertaining as it is enlightening.

Photo: Miles Holden

Whakarewarewa | Rotorua

Known as the ‘living Māori village’, it’s here where the 200-year-old traditions of the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people are practiced to this day. Meet and greet the locals as they show you their unique way of living atop a geothermal plateau, using pristine geothermal waters to cook, bathe and heat their whare (homes). Your kaimahi (guide) will share insights and knowledge of their lifestyle through a guided tour of their marae(meeting houses), churches and grounds – an authentic insight into life before European settlers arrived.

These attractions weave together the strands and stories of people, places, and key events to unveil the rich cultural history of Aotearoa – showcasing its relevancy and interconnectedness within New Zealand society past, present and future. Whichever experience you choose, you’ll depart Aotearoa feeling inspired and touched by Māori values and stories – having arrived as a stranger, but leaving as part of our global whānau (family).