Rotorua is the place to embrace Maori culture at large. The local Whakarewarewa Village invites visitors to learn about their way of life and see the area’s geothermal wonders. Closer to town, the Tamaki Maori Village is another popular destination, that will teach you about tribal customs and myths. A traditional hangi meal is part of both these village experiences. For something slightly off-grid, Mokoia Island will bring you up close and personal to a protected heritage site in the area.
Spending the night at a marae is the best way to experience Maori ceremonies, traditions and practices from up close. Rotorua’s Tamaki Maori Village offers overnight stays, as does Auckland’s Te Hana Ao Marama Marae. Make sure to brush up on some basic etiquette if you decide to do this — there are protocols for being welcomed into the Wharenui (meeting house), as well as general rules on how to behave while you’re inside. For instance, you should always take your shoes off before entering, and never sit on any surface where food might be served.
Waitangi, on the Bay of Islands, is a place of national significance. This is where the controversial agreement among colonial powers and chiefs, known as the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. In present times, the local Te Tii Marae is where the main Waitangi Celebrations are held each year on the 6 February. Tours are regularly held on the treaty grounds, introducing visitors to the most important landmarks as well as the local museum.
Not only is the Bay of Islands region home to the historic Waitangi, it is also one of the few places that allow visitors to board a traditional Maori canoe. The local Ngapuhi tribe operates the Taimai Canoe Tours, where you’ll use a Waka Taua (war canoe) to traverse the Waitangi river. As you paddle along, your hosts will share the ancient stories, traditions and histories that shape their rituals and identity.
Located in Christchurch’s Willowbank Reserve, Ko Tane takes pride of the fact it is the only place in the South Island to offer a fully interactive Maori culture experience. Learn all about Maori life pre- and post-European settlement, including how traditions have evolved into the 21st century. As per local custom, a special Powhiri will welcome you into the grounds, before you’re introduced to Ko Tane’s warriors and hosts. Kapahaka (dance) and waiata (traditional songs) performances will take you on a journey through each time period. A hangi dinner ends your trip in a typical New Zealand flavour.
Whanganui made international headlines after becoming the first place in the world to grant human rights to a river. It’s no wonder, then, that the national park will expose you to lot of tradition and history. You can hike your way towards knowledge, kayak the famed waters, and spend a night at the Tieke Kainga hut as you admire those lush forests. The latter is quite unique, as it is the only Department of Conservation accommodation site that doubles up as a marae.
Te Papa’s collection of Maori taonga (treasures) aptly encapsulate Maori heritage. Arts, crafts and ancient relics are some of the items on display. Museum tours are the best way to get a feel for the what makes Maori culture special, from the historic influences to the artistic inspiration surrounding each exhibition. If you’re venturing further afield for a day, make sure to pay a visit to Kapiti Island, an area that’s filled with Maori and colonial treasures to share with its visitors.
Even the budget-conscious travellers will be able to enjoy this. You can choose to travel up Bob’s Peak on the panoramic Skyline Gondola, or head up to the summit through the free-to-access Tiki Trail. Once you’ve reached the top, you can sit yourself down for a buffet dinner at the Gondola’s Stratosfare Restaurant and prepare yourself for a memorable haka performance.
Pounamu (greenstone) and bone carving are very much part of Maori custom. To learn all about this art form, and even score yourself a memorable souvenir, head over to Hokitika on the South Island’s West Coast. The town is home to the Bonz ‘n Stonz Carving Studio and Gallery, which makes exquisite creations and gives people the opportunity to carve their own jewellery. If you want to learn more about pounamu’s uses and significance, opt for the Arahura Greenstone Tours — the local guides will take you on a journey along the coastlines, as their share their knowledge about the stone’s legendary qualities.