Māori culture and tourism

Māori are increasingly utilising tourism in a bid to preserve and promote their culture and create a more prosperous future for their youth.

This initiative is assisting in the preservation of the natural environment of Aotearoa.

New Zealand, one third of which is covered in parks and reserves, is fast becoming a headline stealer following Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit Trilogy - and Māori offer a unique way of exploring the country through its people and culture.

The Ngāti Whare and Tūhoe iwi (tribes) in the Central North Island offer walking tours through the Whirinaki rainforest - one of the world’s most spectacular rainforests, and home to ancient species of flora and fauna. Local Māori guides provide tales of tribal history and explain the medicinal purposes of the plants.

Footprints Waipoua - Northland

Māori guided tours are also available through Northland’s Waipoua forest. Footprints Waipoua takes visitors on tours through the forest, telling legendary stories, entertaining tourists using forest themes and bringing the unique environment of the forest to life. A bi-cultural partnership between conservationists and Te Roroa iwi (Māori guardians of the area) works to protect, restore, interpret and promote Waipoua.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are an absolute must-do when you are in the Bay of Islands - rich in history and stories of the momentous events which shaped our nation.

The Waitangi Cultural Performance group ‘Te Pitowhenua’ gives a special introduction to New Zealand’s unique Maori culture. Guests are welcomed with a spine-tingling challenge outside Te Whare Runanga, the carved meeting house.

Visitors then enter this spectacular building and enjoy a performance of waiata (songs), poi, stick games, Maori weapon display, as well as the famous haka. On the grounds is the Treaty House, ‘Ngatokimatawhaorua’ the world’s largest carved war canoe (waka taua) and Te Whare Runanga, the carved meeting house.

Tāmaki Tours - Rotorua

Tāmaki Tours is another extremely successful Māori operation. More than two decades ago, Mike Tamaki had a dream to create an in-depth Māori cultural experience for tourists, but he had no funds. He spent three months trying to convince his brother Doug to sell his much-loved Harley-Davidson motorcycle to start the company.

The bike was eventually sold, and Tāmaki Māori Village proved so successful Doug was not only able to replace his Harley-Davidson, but Mike got one as well. Tāmaki Māori Village in Rotorua tells the story of Māori in pre-European times. The experience allows tourists to experience first-hand the cultural values of Māori, their arts and crafts, music and food.

Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village - Rotorua

Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village is a Māori tourism product with a long history on the global stage. It was one of the first places where Māori guides welcomed international tourists to their world.

An authentic, living Māori village set amidst steaming vents and bubbling hot pools, the village tour allows visitors to experience the customs, traditions and way of life of Māori people in a natural environment.

Wairākei Terraces - Lake Taupo

Wairākei Terraces is another ‘must see’ cultural eco-tourism attraction. Located seven kilometres north of Taupo in the Wairākei Tourism Park, owners Raewyn and Jim Hill of Ngāti Tūwharetoa opened the venture after five years of hard work.

Local Māori regard the Waiora Valley as a wāhi tapu or a site of significance, says Jim. "The valley has historical and cultural importance because it was a main tribal thoroughfare particularly for war parties. The geothermal area also produced heated pools, which were used by Māori for bathing, healing and recreation."

Wairākei Terraces offers a look back in time featuring man-made cascading silica terraces in pinks, blues and whites. Carvings depicting legendary figures of Ngāti T̄uwharetoa provide background into the history and culture of the tribe. Other features include a Māori village, therapeutic spa offer Māori treatments, and Te Kiri o Hinekai Pool, known world-wide as the Honeymoon Pool and recognised for its healing powers.

Kapiti Island Nature Tours - Kapiti

Kapiti Island is a protected nature reserve, north of Wellington. The island is home to New Zealand’s most endangered and rare birds such as little spotted kiwi, kākako, saddleback and stitchbird.

Kapiti Island Nature Tours is run by Māori guides who interpret flora and fauna, and tell of local history and customs. The business is run by John and Susan Barrett, and John’s sister Amo Clark. John and Amo’s iwi (tribe) and whānau (family) have been living on Kapiti Island since the 1820’s. They offer birding and nature day tours, as well as overnight stays with night-time kiwi spotting walks.

Māori Treasures - Wellington

The Hetet whānau (family) has integrated traditional Māori arts with tourism and education in its Māori Treasures complex in Lower Hutt, 20 minutes from Wellington. Five generations of Hetet creativity is on display at the centre, which is located in a converted house among 40 others belonging to the whānau.

The late Erenora Puketapu-Hetet, was internationally renowned as a weaver of traditional korowai (cloaks) - a tradition passed down to her by her husband’s grandmother, Rangimarie Hetet. Master carver Rangi Hetet is the last surviving member of a special group of carvers known as Konae Aronui. He shares his skills in a specialist art school, Konae Aronui Wānanga, at the Māori Treasures complex.

The complex bases its business on family tradition and features a Māori artisans’ studio, gallery, gift store and café. Visitors to the Māori Treasures complex go on an art tour that includes a sculpture garden, traditional Māori musical instruments and weapons and the opportunity to meet Māori artists at work. Māori Treasures also assists in encouraging the growth of Māori arts in the Hutt Valley community. It has helped establish a community arts council, through a network of 11 marae throughout the region. The Māori Treasures venture includes a comprehensive online store selling artworks.

Māori Tours - Kaikōura

Māori Tours in Kaikōura gives visitors an insight into Māori spirituality and way of life. Maurice and Heather Manawatu established the family-owned and operated business in 2001.

As the first Māori cultural experience in Kaikōura, they attribute the success of the business to support from their whānau (family) and tribal elders.

Traditional Māori values guide the way Maurice and Heather run their business. They aim to share the Māori culture and teach visitors about the history of the area, whilst strengthening the development of Māori people.

Whale Watch - Kaikōura

Whale Watch Kaikōura - on the eastern side of the South Island - is proof of the success of established Maori tourism ventures. Prior to its development in 1987, many local Ngati Kuri people were unemployed and their relationship with the town strained. Ngati Kuri elders decided to take action, so four families put their homes on the line to buy a boat to start a whale watch operation. They went to their tribal authority, the Ngai Tahu Maori Trust Board, to raise funds.

Whale Watch now employs up to 75 people and supports many extended Māori whānau (families). Whale Watch Kaikōura has won many awards, including a gold award from the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the British Airways Award for best eco-tourism venture and the Green Globe Achievement Award in Berlin for distinction in tourism. Its chairman, Wally Stone, served on the Tourism New Zealand Board from 1999 and was chairman from 2002 to 2008.

Ulva's Guided Walks - Stewart Island, Southland

Ulva Island is an open sanctuary located in Stewart Island’s Paterson Inlet. Its restored forest and lack of predators make it a safe environment for many rare birds and plant species which the public can see at close quarters.

Ulva Goodwillie, who was named after the island and is a descendent of the first Māori on Stewart Island, offers guided walks on Ulva Island. She teaches people about the native flora and fauna from a Māori perspective.

More information

Aotearoa - New Zealand's unique Maori culture

Introduction to Māori culture

Māoritanga - Māori culture explained

The haka: New Zealand icon

Tā moko

Māori connection to land and sea

The Māori marae

A new era: the Māori renaissance

The Treaty of Waitangi

New Zealand icon: Silver fern