New Zealand is world-renowned for its pristine environment and its abundance of adventure activities. When considering things to do in New Zealand, it's easy to plan an itinerary revolving around the sites most known to overseas visitors, such as the picturesque landmarks used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the country’s famous hiking tracks. But what about the people and culture? Listed below are some of best Māori culture attractions or experiences that should be included in any tour of New Zealand.
10 Ways to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand
1. Eat a Hangi
A Hangi is a traditional way of cooking food in a pit using heated rocks. You'll normally find root vegetables (like Kumara) and some meat as part of the meal. Having a Hangi is often a key part of many cultural experiences in New Zealand.
2. Learn or Watch the Haka
Most people are already aware of the Haka because of the most famous rugby team of all time, the All Blacks. And I can guarantee that seeing the All Blacks perform the Haka live before a rugby match will be a totally unforgettable experience. You can watch the haka being performed or even learn how to do it at many cultural attractions, especially in Rotorua.
3. Stay in a Marae
A Marae is the meeting ground and focal point for Maori communities all over New Zealand. There are several places where you can actually stay overnight in a Marae and often this is combined with cultural performances, including learning the haka or poi and eating a Hangi. Some of the best places to stay overnight in a Marae are in Rotorua at a Maori village or in Hokianga. In Hokianga you can also see New Zealands largest tree (a Kauri tree) and learn about the legends of the forest.
4. Visit Rotorua
Rotorua, a town known for its geysers, mud pools and hot springs, is also known as the cultural capital of New Zealand. There are plenty of ways to experience and learn about the Maori culture in Rotorua, including:
Tamaki Maori Village - New Zealand's highest rated tourist attraction for very good reason! Stay overnight for the full cultural experience which includes learning Maori legends in addition to cultural performances, a Hangi feast and so much more.
Te Puia - Te Puia offers a way for visitors to learn about the area’s significance to Māori, taste traditional Māori food, and view the country’s national bird, the Kiwi, up close.
Whakarewarewa - New Zealand's only 'living Maori village'. This place is a fascinating insight into how the local Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people have used the geothermal activity to their advantage for centuries. They've welcomed visitors for over 200 years to learn about their traditional way of live.
Mitai Maori Village - Yep, another Maori village; didn't I say Rotorua was the culture capital of NZ? Spend an evening enjoying traditional performances and eating a Hangi.
Kaitiaki White Water Rafting - Even white water rafting in Rotorua includes learning about the cultural significance of the Kaituna River before you raft down it.
Rotorua Museum - You should always visit the local museum, especially when the entry is free.
5. See the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, represents the unification between the Māori people and the British Crown. It remains a hugely significant part of the country’s history. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds attempts to preserve this significance by allowing visitors a unique glimpse into the events leading up to and following the signing of the Treaty.
Located in Northland near the seaside town of Paihia, the grounds are just over three hours’ drive from Auckland, and are one of New Zealand’s most visited cultural attractions. You can explore the site’s informative museum, watch a traditional Māori performance, or simply wander the grounds which provide a stunning view of the ocean and surrounding islands.
6. Head to Te Papa Museum
Most of the museums in New Zealand will give you some sort of an insight into the early history and settlement of New Zealand. But for the very best you have to head to 'Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa' in Wellington. It's even free to enter although a gold coin donation is always welcome.
7. Carve your own Greenstone
Located on the west coast of the South Island, Greenstone Tours offers one of the most unique Māori activities found in New Zealand. Those who partake in a tour walk through the tribal village of Arahura and along the Arahura River with an experienced guide, and are encouraged to find and subsequently learn to carve greenstone, an incredibly important symbol to Māori people. During the tour, the guide will share Māori legends and their knowledge of the river and its surrounding areas, with which they have a significant relationship.
8. Watch a Kapa haka performance
"Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). Kapa haka is an avenue for Māori people to express and showcase their heritage and cultural Polynesian identity through song and dance." - source
It's hard to explain without a video, so here's an amazing te reo Māori version of Bohemian Rhapsody...
9. Go to the Pasifika Festival
The Pasifika Festival is an annual event held in Auckland to celebrate Pacific heritage and tradition, which are prominent contributors to New Zealand’s culture.
From its conception in 1993, the festival has showcased cuisine and performances across ten ‘villages’, each of which represents one of a variety of Pacific countries, including Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, the Cook Islands and of course Aotearoa (New Zealand). The family-friendly festival is free to attend, and is thus a cost-effective way to experience the very best of New Zealand’s rich culture.
10. Learn about some Maori Myths & legends
There are some wonderful Maori myths and legends that you can learn about while in New Zealand. Many tour guides will share some of the most famous of them and you will no doubt hear some of them during any evening which includes a cultural performance. Learn about Ngātoroirangi and his sisters or The First Woman - Hineahuone
New Zealand’s history is fascinating, and the country is committed to preserving this history in an accessible way, allowing tourists to truly get to know New Zealand and its culture when they visit. The Pacific and Māori people contribute greatly to the culture of present-day New Zealand. So when planning a trip, Māori cultural attractions and experiences should be at the top of your itinerary!