Learn About Maori Traditions in New Zealand
Hangi, hongi, haka, poi, whanau, marae, tiki, Aotearoa… What does it all mean?! All becomes clear once you have partaken in a Maori cultural experience. There are a few different ways to learn about New Zealand’s first culture. Whether it’s a performance, a tour, or a stay on a Marae (Maori meeting grounds), New Zealand sure gives you your cultural fix. One thing is for certain, a Maori activity will always include the Haka; a war dance. But where exactly can you experience Maori culture in New Zealand?
Well, 60% of the Maori culture reside in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Waikato and Northland regions. While you can find Maori activities on the South Island, options are limited. Read our list to find the best place to suit you.
And if you’re interested in planning a trip to New Zealand, make sure you check out The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.
There’s no denying that Rotorua is THE place to go for Maori culture. Many Maori legends are told about this iconic city. You’re bound to hear them on one of the many cultural experiences in the city. Visit one of the villages, Maori geothermal parks and organised Maori tourist attractions where you can even stay overnight.
Maori cultural attractions in Rotorua: Tamaki Maori Village (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park (on Viator and Tripadvisor), Mitai Maori Village (on Viator and Tripadvisor), Te Puia (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Whakarewarewa (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
2. Bay of Islands
Go to one of the most historically significant places in New Zealand, Waitangi. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is where a treaty was signed between the Maori and the Europeans. The grounds are also where you can enjoy a cultural performance. The Bay of Islands is also the place try paddling in a waka (Maori canoe).
Maori cultural experiences in the Bay of Islands: Waitangi Treaty Grounds (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Taiamai Tours (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
From cultural dance and song performed in the Auckland Museum to a Marae stay on the beautiful Waiheke Island, there are a few options to enjoy the Maori culture in the City of Sails.
Maori cultural experiences in Auckland: Auckland Museum (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Te Hana, Potiki Adventures, TIME Unlimited Tours (on Viator and Tripadvisor), and Hike Bike Ako Waiheke Island (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
On your way up to the very north of the North Island to the spiritual Cape Reinga and Spirits Bay, stop in Hokianga Harbour for an overnight Marae stay, as well as walking tours to New Zealand’s largest Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta, in the Waipoua Forest, well you will learn about Maori myths and legends surrounding the forest.
Maori cultural experiences in Northland: Footprints Waipoua (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
5. Whanganui National Park
Make your Whanganui Journey, on the New Zealand Great Walks, a cultural journey by staying in a Marae. In the heart of this untouched and ancient forest, this truly is a unique experience.
Maori cultural experience in Whanganui: Tieke Hut.
Models, arts, crafts and interactive display: the Te Papa Museum in Wellington is a huge source of information on Maori traditions. The city also offers a “Maori Treasure Tour”. At the nearby Kapiti Island, you can combine spotting New Zealand’s unique wildlife with some Maori hospitality as you stay the night on the island.
Maori cultural experience in Wellington: Maori Treasures Cultural Tour with the Te Papa Museum (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Delve into the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve to see the South Island’s only Maori village experience. Witness a cultural performance and eat a delicious Hangi meal cooked in an “earth oven”.
Maori cultural experience in Christchurch: Ko Tane (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Located in the quiet coastal town of Waimarama in Hawke’s Bay, Waimarama Maori Tours aims to give as an authentic Maori cultural experience as you can get. Visit a historical pa site (old Maori village), learn the ancestral history and traditions of the Maori people.
Maori cultural experience in Hawke’s Bay: Waimarama Maori Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
A rich history of greenstone (pounamu) discovery exists along the West Coast of the South Island. There are opportunities here to carve your own greenstone a Maori tradition. You will have something to cherish forever or a souvenir gift for your family and friends when you get back home.
Maori greenstone and bone carving in Hokitika: Bonz n’ Stonz Carving Studio & Gallery and Arahura Greenstone Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
10. Getting A Maori-style tattoo
Another permanent way to experience the Maori culture in New Zealand is by getting a Maori style tattoo. Otherwise known as Ta Moko, Maori tattoos often tell a story. Get your tattoo designed with a Maori artist and you will learn a lot about the culture along the way. There are many places you can get a Maori tattoo in New Zealand, but a good place to start is by reading our guide to Where to Get a Tattoo in New Zealand?
[TEMPORARILY CLOSED] Te Koru Pa
There are many pa sites across the country to visit, but one of the best archaeological examples is Te Koru Pa in Taranaki. There are clear examples of stone-built terraces and fire pits, along with interpretation panels to explain what you’re seeing. What’s more, it’s a free way to learn more about Maori culture and history. Find Te Koru Pa just outside of New Plymouth along Surf Highway 45.
Pa Site in Taranaki: Te Koru Pa.
[Update: The Maori cultural show with the Skyline Gondola is no longer running].
See for yourself the famous Haka at the top of the Queenstown gondola. The performance encapsulates the war dance and use of poi.
Maori cultural experience in Queenstown: Kiwi Haka.
[Update: Maori Tours Kaikoura is closed for the foreseeable future].
In the South Island, Kaikoura encompasses both mountains and sea. Learn about the Maori legends of this land and even take a tour into the forests to see how New Zealand plants were traditionally used.
Maori cultural experience in Kaikoura: Maori Tours Kaikoura.