The Māori kai food festivals are very popular in Aotearoa New Zealand for foreign tourists and Kiwis, as they best represent New Zealand food and culture.
For centuries, the Maori - New Zealand's native people - had a big love and respect for the fertile lands of their ancestors, believing that the earth was the one who gave all life for from soil to food and the same kind of food is cooked beneath the ground in hangi style.
Traditional Māori dishes were once reserved for Maori functions and events, but now tourists can taste these delicacies at the Māori kai festival. Here are some kai festivals to put on your itinerary.
Kāwhia Kai Festival is one of the most attractive food festivals in New Zealand
Recognized by Lonely Planet as one of New Zealand's premier Māori attractions, the Kāwhia Kai Festival is a full celebration of indigenous culture with a particular focus on native Māori cuisine.
Locals call Kāwhia “kai food heaven” because of an abundant supply of seafood and wild game, and festival participants eat wild boar, a variety of New Zealand shellfish and as mud snails.
Held in early February, the festival was held to coincide with the New Zealand's national holiday - Waitangi Day - February 6.
Each year, more than 2500 Kono / traditional flax baskets are specially woven to serve delicious portions hangi kai which has been cooked in a series of large underground ovens - often required to supply more than 10,000 guests.
Where: Kawhia, North Island
On the menu: toroi / marinated mussels and puha / watercress, inanga / whitebait patties, kanga wai /pirau fermented corn, wild pork, and puha spring rolls, koki/shark liver pate, and mud snails.
Te Ra o Waitangi - Wellington
Wellington celebrates Waitangi Day every year with a festival held at the river bank and in Waitangi Park to celebrate the collaboration between Tangata Khiua / locals and the Crown.
It begins with a dawn ceremony for invited visitors and involves traditional kapa haka, story-telling, and contemporary music. A variety of kai food stalls are influenced by Māori and Kiwi, offering breakfast and lunch.
Guests can participate in water sports and play ki-Rahi, a traditional Māori ball game. This event includes exhibitions of waka ama/canoes.
Where: In Wellington, at Waitangi Park, and on the waterfront at the lagoon and Wharewaka.
On the menu: Traditional Māori kai including hangi food, fresh kina/sea eggs, and rewena – traditional Māori bread made with potatoes.
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival – West Coast
Visitors can try some gourmet “bush tucker,” or native dishes, at this annual festival held in March at Hokitika - on the South Island's rugged west coast.
Listed among the “world’s unmissable festivals” by US tour guide Frommers, the wild foods festival is a unique celebration inspired by some of the more weird and wacky ingredients provided by the bountiful landscape of New Zealand.
Popular varieties include whitebait fritters of New Zealand, 'Westcargots / garden snails in garlic butter, gorse flower wine, mountain oysters/sheep's testes, Ponga fern pickles and huhu cheeses (a species of endemic beetles of New Zealand).
Traditional Maori fare as a muttonbird - a seabird, considered a delicacy - is another rare treatment offered.
The festival has been held since 1989, and each year attracts a crowd of capacity about 13,500.
Where: Hokitika, West Coast, South Island.
On the menu: Wild pork, pickled/barbecued/ or live huhu grubs, eel, pukeko / NZ swamp fowl, kebabs, muttonbird, whitebait, wasp lavae icecream, mountain oysters.
Maketu Kaimoana Festival – Bay of Plenty
This authentic festival of local kai is set in New Zealand’s pie capital – Maketu, in the North Island’s Bay of Plenty region.
While the stress of festival food is on kai moana / seafood, the festival also has a reputation for rewana paraoa or Māori potato bread.
Held each March, the festival is famous for being more than just about food – it is a celebration of culture, people, entertainment and fine wines, and has continued to grow in popularity being unique in its situation and cultural importance.
Where: MaketuSports Ground, Maketu, Bay of Plenty
On the menu: Kaimana / New Zealand seafood basket, prawn salad, seafood kebabs, curried mussels, paua/abalone fritters, seafood pizza.
Kai in the Bay Festival – Hawke’s Bay
The Kai in the Bay Festival - held in the heat of Hawke Bay in mid-November - serves pre-European and contemporary Māori cuisine, as well as some unusual wild foods native in New Zealand.
The festival is held in Napier - known for its Art Deco architecture and palm tree-lined streets - and aims to promote culinary arts around the preparation and service of traditional Māori dishes In the 21st century, guests included talented Māori and Pakeha / European chefs.
The event included more than 50 food merchants selling mouth-watering treats such as whitebait fritters, pig on the spit, and crayfish along with more unusual items like huhu bugs, weka birds, parengo seaweed, and titi/muttonbird.
Where: Perfume Point Reserve, Napier, Hawke's Bay
On the menu: koura mara / rotten crayfish, shark liver pate, kanga piro / fermented corn, huhu grubs, and kina / sea eggs.
Don't miss out on these culinary festivals when you travel in New Zealand