Top 10 unique Māori cultural experiences

Māori culture and values shape the everyday life of people in New Zealand.

Transport yourself on a journey of discovery, from past to present, with these 10 unique Māori cultural experiences. 

1. Explore the Waipoua Forest

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 learn from a local storyteller who will guide you into the ancient kauri forest at twilight, so you can witness the stillness of the forest as it transforms from day into night. Listen carefully for the sounds of kiwis and morepork.

2. Learn about the great ancestor, Kupe

Manea, on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour, shares the stories and traditions of the great ancestor, Kupe. Experience a 75-minute multisensory journey of guided storytelling – through large scale artworks, film, performance, digital interaction, and the spectacular Hokianga environment. 

3. Enter a house that travelled for 117 years

Built and carved as a tribute to ancestors, this majestic meeting house was completed in 1875 in Whakatāne(opens in new window). Said to be fit for a queen, the building was disassembled in 1879 and shipped to the United Kingdom, in 1996 Mataatua was finally returned home. Take a tour of Mataatua(opens in new window) to discover where it travelled and find answers to your cultural questions. 

4. Learn about the Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is an important piece of New Zealand's history. In Northland, take the guided tour through the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, explore the heritage buildings and get up close to the historic war canoe. You could spend all day in the museum alone so take advantage of the Waitangi Experience Pass which gives you entry to all areas for two consecutive days. 

5. Be the first in the world to see the sunrise

In ancient Māori myths and legends, when demigod Māui fished up the North Island, it's believed that Maunga Hikurangi was the first piece of land to emerge from the sea. As one of the easternmost locations in New Zealand, found 90 kilometres north of Gisborne in the Tairāwhiti region(opens in new window), 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(opens in new window)

6. See master carvers at work

In Rotorua, you will find Te Puia and the Whakarewarewa Geothermal ValleyTe Puia is not only a place to see the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere and bubbling mud pools, but a place where Māori arts are kept alive and taught at the New Zealand Māori Art and Crafts Institute. Visiting Te Puia gives you the opportunity to see talented carvers at work, turning pieces of wood into intricately detailed art. 

7. Experience a traditional Māori village

15km south of Rotorua is Tamaki Māori Village, a recreated traditional village under the shelter of an ancient 200 year old native Tawa forest. Discover what life was like for the Māori people pre-European contact. Honoured traditions, food, stories, songs and performing arts of old remain prevalent to Māori today. 

8. Kayak beneath a huge stone carving

Get up close to the significant carving of a historic Māori navigatornamed Ngatoroirangi. Taupō Kayaking Adventures offers half and full-day tours to Mine Bay where you'll paddle through inlets and sheltered areas before visiting the carving. These relaxed tours allow time for swimming in the secluded areas of New Zealand's largest lake, Taupō.

9. Learn to paddle a Māori canoe

On the waterfront of the coolest little capital, you'll find Te Wharewaka o Pōneke tours. Discover Wellington's hidden treasures, learn more about the 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 waka tour. Once you've worked up an appetite head next door to Karaka Cafe for a hearty hāngi (traditional meal). 

10. Carve your own pounamu (greenstone)

Sourced from riverbeds on the South Island, pounamu is New Zealand's sacred treasure. In the small West Coast town of Hokitika, under the watchful eyes of talented master carvers at Bonz 'n' Stonz, see your creativity come alive as you design then carve your own unique piece of pounamu, bone, or paua shell to take home. 

Where to next?