Rotorua - Maori cultural experiences

With a quarter of Rotorua’s population of Maori descent, the spirit of Manaakitanga (hospitality) is alive and well here.

Every visit to Rotorua is infused with the warmth of Maori culture. Offering genuine hospitality to visitors is a responsibility that local Maori take seriously, so sharing their culture, history, music, art, language, and even homes, comes naturally. Whether it’s an encounter with a Maori guide, a hongi greeting, talking to a carver or weaver, eating indigenous food, experiencing traditional massage, hearing age-old stories or attempting a few words in Te Reo; visitors will be enriched by the experience.

Maori food

A hangi (steam-cooked feast) and concert is the most popular way to sample Maori culture. Whether hotel-based or an interactive experience on a marae, each one offers an authentic opportunity to learn and share surrounded by the warm spirit of manaakitanga. 

Traditional arts

With a Government mandate to protect and perpetuate Maori arts and crafts, Te Puia, set in the magnificent Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, is one of Rotorua’s most precious cultural taonga (treasures). Here wood carvers and flax weavers keep their art alive, and their finished work is showcased in the retail gallery. 

History and Heritage

Rotorua's European influence dates back to 1830 when a Danish flax trader began doing business in the area. The 1870 visit of the Duke of Edinburgh had a positive affect on the region’s tourist trade, many of whom were drawn by the magnificent Pink and White Terraces. Destroyed during the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption, the calamity was a temporary setback as the opening of the Bath House - ‘The Great Spa of the South Pacific’ - in 1908 drew visitors keen to experience the geothermal waters. Restored to its full splendour, the building now houses the Rotorua Museum and is a repository of much of Rotorua’s cultural heritage.

Nearby in Government Gardens, The Blue Baths’ Art Deco/Spanish Mission architecture reflects its 1930s heritage whilst The Buried Village, on the road to Tarawera, offers yet another look at the city’s heritage. Here objects and buildings unearthed from beneath layers of Mt Tarawera mud and rock tell their story.

Modern cultural influences, both Maori and European, can be found in high quality art and craft displayed at sculptor Joe Kemp’s gallery at Lake Rotoma, de Flute glass blowing gallery, Mountain Jade plus local galleries like Red Spot, Peter Reynolds, Rotorua Arts Village and Rotorua Museum.

Rotorua's cultural and heritage must-do's:

  • Learn a traditional haka with Haka World.
  • Allow a half day to fully explore the award-winning interactive Rotorua Museum.  
  • Enjoy a traditional Miri Miri massage that begins and ends with a karakia (prayer).
  • Visit the living villages of Whakarewarewa or Ohinemutu where the residents still bathe, cook and wash using the geothermal waters just like their ancestors.
  • Experience Tamaki Village’s overnight marae stay in a beautifully carved wharemoe.
  • Watch talented carvers fashion steel-hard jade into delicate jewellery at Mountain Jade.
  • Go on a indigenous food trail with Maori chef Charles Royal.
  • Follow the free public Arts Trail including the fabulous Lyonel Grant millennium bronze.
  • Stay with Maori hosts in stylish and contemporary B&B accommodation.

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