One of the greatest joys of traveling is to experience another culture, especially a vibrant and lively culture like Maori culture. In New Zealand, you will find many opportunities to learn and experience this local culture and discover a rich heritage.
Maori are the indigenous people, or Tangata, of New Zealand. Before Europeans arrived, Aotearoa (New Zealand) was home to this community of seafarers and ocean navigators. The Maori came to the coast of New Zealand more than 1000 years ago from their mythical land of Hawaiki on wakas (canoes). Early Maori embraced this quiet country, learning how to live with its explosive beauty, forming a deep connection with the land and the natural environment.
Maori culture is rich in legend, or purakao. These stories, languages, and traditions are well preserved even in modern New Zealand society. You can listen to these stories or read about them when you travel across the country - kiwis are very forthcoming in sharing myths and legends about its land and its people. You even find common Maori phrases and sayings in everyday interactions.
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Spend a day in Rotorua
Undeniably, Rotorua is a place for Maori culture. Many Maori legends are told about this iconic city. Local Whakarewarewa Village invites visitors to learn about their way of life and see the geothermal wonder area. Near the town, Tamaki Maori village is another popular destination, will teach you about tribal customs and myths. A traditional hangi meal is part of both experiences in this village. For something slightly off-grid, Mokoia Island will bring you close and personal to a protected heritage in the area.
Spend the night at a marae
Spending the night at a marae is the best way to experience rituals, traditions and practice Maori from near. Rotorua Village from Tamaki Maori offers overnight stays, as well as Auckland Te Hana Ao Marama Marae Area. Be sure to improve some of the necessary rituals if you decide to do this - there are welcome protocols on Wharenui (meeting house), as well as general rules on how to behave while you are inside. For example, you must always take off your shoes before entering and never sit on any surface that can serve food.
Head over to Waitangi
Waitangi, on the Bay of Island, is a place of national significance. This is where the controversial agreement between colonial powers and chiefs, called the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. In the present times, the local Te Tii Marae is where the main Waitangi Celebrations are held each year on the 6 February. Regular tours are organized on the basis of the treaty, introducing visitors to the most important landmarks as well as local museums.
Paddle a waka in the Bay of Islands
Not only is the Bay of Islands the historic Waitangi Islands, it is also one of the few places that allow visitors to board a traditional Maori canoe. The local Ngapuhi tribe operates Taimai canoe trips, where you will use Waka Taua (war canoe) to cross the Waitangi River. As you paddle along, your hosts will share ancient stories, traditions, and histories that form their rituals and identities.
Travel in time with Ko Tane
Located in Christchurch's Willowbank Reserve, Ko Tane is proud that this is the only place in the South Island to offer a fully interactive Maori cultural experience. Learn all about Europe's Maori settlement before and after Europe, including how traditions have evolved into the 21st century. According to local customs, a special Powhiri will welcome you into the grounds, before you are introduced to warriors and homeowners of Ko Tane. The performances of Kapahaka (dance) and waiata (traditional song) will take you on the journey through each time period. A dinner hangi ends your trip in a typical New Zealand flavor.
Experience Maori art in Hokitika
Pounamu (blue stone) and bone carving are part of the Maori custom. To learn all about this type of art and even give yourself a memorable souvenir, go to Hokitika on the West Bank of South Island. The town is home to Bonz'n Stonz Carving Studio and Gallery, which creates subtle creations and gives people the opportunity to carve their own jewelry. If you want to learn more about how to use and the importance of pounamu, opt for the Arahura Greenstone Tours - the local guides will take you on a journey along the coast, as they share their knowledge of the stone's legendary qualities.