How to experience Māori culture in New Zealand

Māori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of Aotearoa New Zealand, and Māori culture is the cornerstone of the country’s cultural make-up.

Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings, Lake Taupō
It infuses the Kiwi lifestyle – from the sports field to the arts world – creating a warm, welcoming manaakitanga (hospitality) that makes this place such a unique destination.

As a visitor, it’s not always easy to get to the heart of a country’s culture. In New Zealand, however, your clients will have ample opportunities to gain a respectful understanding of te Ao Māori (the Māori world), both past and present.

From everyday encounters with locals, to guided tours of significant cultural sites, waka paddles, sunrise mountain climbs, whale watching trips – there are so many exciting and enriching ways to get to know Māori culture here.

Meet the descendants of Kupe, Northland

On the shores of spectacular Hokianga Harbour, where Kupe — the fabled Polynesian navigator — stepped ashore on Aotearoa, Manea Footprints of Kupe recounts the first chapter of New Zealand’s human history. This immersive cultural encounter celebrates Kupe's voyage and journeys in Aotearoa, guided by his descendants. Manea explores prehistoric tribal narratives and traditions, Māori spiritual beliefs, and the arrival and impact of Pakeha (Europeans).

Visit the “birthplace” of today’s New Zealand, Northland

The Treaty of Waitangi marks a checkered but important moment in New Zealand history. In Northland, take a guided tour through the treaty grounds, explore the heritage buildings and get up close to the ceremonial war canoe. You could spend all day strolling the beautiful grounds alone so take advantage of the Waitangi Experience Pass which gives you entry to all areas for two consecutive days. 

Stand in the shade of an ancient forest giant, Northland

Standing tall and proud in the Waipoua Forest you can find Tane Mahuta, New Zealand's tallest native kauri tree. Take a tour with Footprints Waipoua and be guided into the ancient kauri forest at twilight by a local storyteller. You will witness the stillness of the forest as it transforms from day into night. Listen carefully for the sounds of kiwi birds.

See master carvers at work, Rotorua

In Rotorua, you will find Te Puia and the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. Te Puia is not only a place to see the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere and bubbling mud pools, but also where Māori arts are kept alive and taught at the New Zealand Māori Art and Crafts Institute, the home of the national schools of carving (including pounamu and bone) and weaving.

Kayak under giant rock carvings, Lake Taupō

Sail or kayak to one of New Zealand’s most impressive artworks, the Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings and learn about the equally extraordinary story behind them. When master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell completed the 10-year training course with his elders, he came to the lake to mark the occasion on his grandmother’s land. The main carving is of his ancestor Ngatoroirangi, a visionary Māori navigator who guided the Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to the Taupō area over a thousand years ago.

Be the first to greet the sun on Mount Hikurangi, Tairāwhiti

A place of firsts, Tairāwhiti is where the first Polynesian canoes landed, James Cook made his first landfall and Māori and European first encountered each other. As one of the easternmost locations in New Zealand, 90 kilometres north of Gisborne in the Tairāwhiti region, this mountain is one of the first places in the world to see the sunrise. For a special experience, take a dawn tour with Maunga Hikurangi local guides.

Discover the capital’s hidden treasures, Wellington

On the waterfront of the coolest little capital, you'll find Te Wharewaka o Pōneke Tours. Discover Wellington's hidden treasures, learn more about its early arrivals and view archaeological remains not accessible to the general public. If you've ever wanted to learn how to paddle a traditional Māori waka (canoe), join the tour. Once you've worked up an appetite head next door to Karaka Cafe for a hearty hāngi.

Take a waka to water, Nelson Tasman  

Paddling the stunning coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park on board a waka (Māori canoe) is a unique cultural experience. The trip begins and ends with a blessing (karakia) for protection, and Waka Abel Tasman’s experienced guides will share stories of the ancestors who sailed the Pacific Ocean for thousands of years. All while gliding through the clear water of the Abel Tasman National Park on board one a double- or single-hulled outrigger canoe.

Explore Aotearoa New Zealand’s original art galleries, Timaru

See Māori rock art in the place where it was conceived, at Te Ana Māori Rock Art. Dating back to the arrival of Māori in the South Island between 700 to 1000 years ago, the drawings provide a rare glimpse into the lives and culture of the region’s first inhabitants, ancestors of today’s Ngāi Tahu tribe, the indigenous people of Te Waipounamu (New Zealand’s South Island).

Spot ocean giants in Kaikōura 

Home to a unique ocean environment with an astonishing variety of marine life including sperm whales, dusky dolphins, fur seals and albatrossKaikōura – on the South Island’s north-eastern coast – is an unforgettable and spectacular location to experience eco-tourismEstablished more than 30 years ago to create local employment, Whale Watch Kaikōura has become one of New Zealand’s most successful Māori tourism businesses and a globally recognised award-winning eco-tourism venture.

Gaze into the southern skies, Dunedin 

Discover the beauties of the dark skies of the Otago Peninsula and enjoy Māori manaakitanga (hospitality) on Horizon Tours’ Southern Skies Stargazing Tour. Local guides tell tales of the celestial bodies on these small group tours while guests are tucked up warmly, under cosy blankets on reclining chairs enjoying an expansive perspective of the heavens above.