New Zealand's Māori culture is an integral part of Kiwi life and adds a unique, dynamic experience for visitors.
Māori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of New Zealand. They came here more than 1000 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Today Māori make up 14% of our population and their history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity.
As a visitor to New Zealand, you can experience Māori culture by visiting a marae with an organised tour, watching a carving or weaving demonstration or learning about fascinating myths and legends from passionate Māori guides.
The best place to observe Māori culture is on a marae (tribal meeting grounds). In Northland, Auckland, Rotorua and Canterbury, organised tours provide a traditional Māori welcome onto a marae, where you'll hear Māori speeches and singing, see carved meeting houses, meet the local people (you'll greet them with the traditional pressing of noses) and enjoy a hāngī feast cooked in earth ovens. You need to be part of a tour to visit a Marae.
Performing arts or kapa haka, which incorporate harmonious singing, rhythmic dancing, and ferocious Māori war dances or haka, are a must-see for any visitor. Many marae visits and Māori cultural tours include a kapa haka performance, with the most renowned place for these shows being Rotorua in the North Island.
Other traditional art forms like carving, weaving and tattooing are also alive and well in New Zealand. Precious jewellery and traditional weapons can be found in museums, galleries and artists' workshops throughout the country. If you catch a carving or weaving demonstration, you'll see that many of the techniques remain unchanged since ancient times. And if you find a greenstone (pounamu) adornment you like, make sure you ask someone else to buy it for you – it's good luck to receive pounamu as a gift.
From ancient times Māori knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation through storytelling. The creation of New Zealand is described by the legend of Māui, a demi-god who, using his magic hook, fished up the North Island. There are plenty of places where you can understand and experience Māori legends – you're guaranteed to be captivated.