New Zealand has a special kind of allure. Its vast and beautiful natural landscapes are a big draw for visitors, as are its famous cities and many cultural festivals and events. But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the country is its long connection with the Maori peoples, that stretches back over 700 years. The first native New Zealanders are thought to have settled in country around 1280, and over the following centuries developed a host of wonderful traditions and rituals, many of which are still practised today.
Although the New Zealand Maoris now only make up less than a fifth of the country’s population, Maori culture is an intrinsic part of the cultural fabric of New Zealand, and any visitor to the islands is sure to come across some connection. If you want to really immerse yourself in Maori culture, you can visit the following places and begin to understand how New Zealand became the country it is today.
Bay of Islands
To really start to understand Maori culture, and New Zealand itself, the site where the founding document of New Zealand was signed is a great place to start. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 by the British and 500 Maori chiefs. It was a pact between the two to found a nation state and build a government. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds has a state-of-the-art museum where you can learn all about this historic moment, as well as uncovering the stories of those who were involved in this historic day – the birth of a nation. And if you time your visit to be there on 6th February (the day the treaty was signed), you can take part in the Waitangi Day Festival – a free public festival that features all-day entertainment, market stalls and a traditional dawn service.
Of course, there is much more to visit on the sub-tropical Bay Islands, so once you’ve seen what Waitangi has to offer, don’t forget to explore the stunning beaches, wildlife, and rainforest.
Paihia, gateway to the Bay of Islands © Christina Fink/Shutterstock
No one with an interest in Maori culture should pass the iconic city of Rotorua by. It is steeped in Maori history and is one of the best places to go if you want to submerse yourself in all aspects of Maori culture. You can explore a traditional Maori village, go on a Rotorua Healing Tour, and marvel at the awe-inspiring landscape that features impressive feats of nature such as geysers and bubbling geothermal hot pools.
To help you get your bearings and understand the place a little more, Rotorua’s Tamaki Maori Village also offers guided tours. On these tours you can watch a Maori cultural performance featuring traditional songs and dances, learn traditional crafts, such as weaving and tattooing, from local artists, and even learn the traditional method of hangi –using hot rocks to cook food underground, resulting in a sumptuous feast.
A thermal pool at Rotorua, New Zealand © Dmitry Pichugin/Shutterstock
Whanganui National Park
The first place in the world to grant human rights to a river, Whanganui is an important place for Maori peoples, mainly because of the Whanganui river, which is revered. A visit to the national park gives you the chance to find out all about the native Maori tribes who called this place their home by visiting a marae.
Going to a marae is a special experience because you are not only learning about Maori culture, you are living it. A marae is a complex of carved buildings that serve as places where traditional tribal events are held. Staying at the Tieke Kainga marae is a unique opportunity to discover Maori culture first-hand. And because of the awesome natural surroundings, you can get stuck into some wholesome outdoor activities, such as travelling down the river in a canoe or hiking through the unspoilt forest.
The Whanganui river is considered sacred by Maori peoples © PK289/Shutterstock
Te Papa Museum in Wellington
This is the place to go if you want to see Maori treasures up close and personal. It is a unique insight into Maori culture and heritage. Te Papa houses a wonderful array of ancient relics and examples of Maori arts and crafts. It showcases exactly why Maori culture is so special and if you want to know more, there is also the option to take the Museum tour and find out the stories behind the artefacts and about the influences and inspiration that lie behind the exhibition.
New Zealand has a fascinating history, and the Maoris’ culture and traditions is a big part of that. This list provides an idea of some of the Maori cultural experiences you can do, but there is much, much more you can discover in the country.
Colourful houses in Wellington, New Zealand © Tom the FanThom/Shutterstock
Top image: Maori carving, New Zealand © Hartmut Albert/Shutterstock