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A Traveller’s Guide to the Maori Language: te reo Maori

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Kia Ora!

New Zealand has three official languages: English, New Zealand sign language and Maori, more commonly known as te reo Maori (or Māori if we are being perfectionists).

English may dominate the conversation in New Zealand, but around 50,000 people in New Zealand speak te reo Maori well or very well according to the 2017 census. Plus, you see and hear Maori often mostly while travelling through the country, especially when seeing all the Maori place names! Those interested in learning about the first culture of New Zealand can take part in a variety of cultural experiences, which usually involves visiting a marae.

That’s why we have put together this quick guide to the Maori language so pronouncing those place names will not seem so daunting and you will know some basic words that are often used around New Zealand.

Pronouncing Maori Vowels and Consonants

Vowels

There are short vowels and long vowels (macrons) in the Maori language.

The short vowels are pronounced:

  • “a” as in “far”
  • “e” as in “egg”
  • “i” as in “see”
  • “o” as in “awe”
  • “u” as in “to”

A macron is a vowel with a long line above it indicating a long vowel sound, which looks like this: Ā, Ē, Ī, Ō and Ū.

Consonants

h, k, m, n, ng (as in singer), p, r (pronounced as a rolling r), t, w, wh (makes an “f” sound as in “father”).

foolfillment on Flickr© foolfillment on Flickr

New Zealand (Aotearoa) Place Names

Much of New Zealand’s towns, cities, regions, mountains, lakes and rivers have kept their original Maori names. You’ll get to know some of them well during a trip in New Zealand and some may even be your favourite place in the world!

We don’t have enough space to name every part of New Zealand here, but we’ll give you a good list to start practising.

Some Maori place names

  • Whangārei (city)
  • Tauranga (city)
  • Rotorua (city)
  • Taupō (town)
  • Ngauruhoe (mountain)
  • Taranaki (mountain and region)
  • Hāwera (town)
  • Whanganui (river, city and region)
  • Taumarunui (town)
  • Tupapakurua (waterfall)
  • Kaikōura (town)
  • Aoraki (mountain)
  • Te Ānau (town)
  • Hokitika (town)
  • Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maungahoro nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu (town)

Some New Zealand place names have some funny translations too. Check them out in the 10 Funny Place Names in New Zealand.

Pxhere© Pxhere

Maori Words to Know When Travelling

It’s not very likely that you’ll be fluent in te reo Maori after your gap year in New Zealand, but you will take a few words and phrases home with you!

Whether you are visiting a marae or reading certain words over and over again on signs, you’ll pick up some words to make even the native English speakers travelling in an English speaking country feel cultured.

Here are some words to get you started and how to pronounce them.

  • Kia ora (key-ora) – Hello (general informal greeting) or thank you
  • Aotearoa (ow-tee-a-row-a) – New Zealand
  • Ka pai (kap-eye) – Good
  • Marae (mar-eye) – Maori meeting grounds
  • Haka (ha-ka) – A chant and dance to challenge
  • Nau mai (na-u-my) – Welcome
  • Tapu (ta-pu) – Sacred
  • Whenua (fen-u-a) – Homeland, country
  • Hapū (ha-poo) – Sub-tribe
  • Iwi (ee-wee) – Tribe
  • Waka (wa-ka) – Canoe
  • Whānau (fah-no) – Extended family
Tourism NZ© Tourism NZ

Just for Fun…

Introductions (Mihimihi)

In formal situations like in the marae, people introduce themselves according to Maori custom, which includes naming rivers, mountains, lakes and their marae to show their connection to a certain area. Although we won’t get that complex, here is a basic mihimihi anyone can use to totally wow everyone they know!

  • Tēnā koutou (Greetings everyone)
  • Ko ____________________ taku iwi. (My people/tribe is ________________).
  • Kei _____________________ taku kāinga. (My home is in _______________).
  • Ko ____________________ taku ingoa. (My name is ____________).
  • Kia ora tātou! (Thank you, everyone)!

For more Maori culture fun facts, check out the 10 Things You Did Not Know About the Maori Culture.

More on the Maori Culture and the New Zealand Language

Want to feel like the most cultured individual on the Internet right now? Take a look at our other articles on the New Zealand culture:

Author

Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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