Māori culture is rich in pūrākau, or legends. Learn about some of the most famous stories, and where to experience them for yourself.
Tāne Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, is an important figure in Māori history. The oldest of six siblings, Tāne Mahuta, grew tired of living in darkness, closed in between his sky father (Ranginui) and earth mother (Papa-tū-ā-nuku). He decided to push them apart and, in doing so, created the world of light (Te Ao Mārama) we live in today.
Waipoua Forest, on the northwestern coast of the North Island, has one of the largest surviving stands of kauri forest; some of its trees are more than 2,000 years old. The forest’s most ancient and revered trees are Te Matua Ngahere (the father of the forest) and Tāne Mahuta – the legendary Lord of the Forest.
Footprints Waipoua offers guided tours through this unique native wildlife haven. Along the journey, visitors will hear Māori legends of the forest, its gods and its inhabitants, including the creation story of Tāne Mahuta. A highlight is hearing the local guides greet the giant trees with spine-tingling sacred songs (waiata).
According to Māori legend, Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga was a cheeky and clever demigod who liked to push boundaries. When his brothers planned to exclude him from their fishing trip, Māui hid in the front of their canoe, revealing himself once they were far out to sea. On that fishing trip, Māui caught his biggest fish ever – the North Island.
Mount Hikurangi, on the North Island’s East Cape, is said to be the first part of Māui’s fish that emerged from the sea. The mountain is sacred to the local tribe Ngāti Porou, who consider themselves direct descendants of Māui.
A guided tour up Mount Hikurangi with a local Māori guide is well worth the effort. You’ll hear legends while gazing up at amazing carved representations of Māui and his family.
Ngāti Porou run guided hikes and 4x4 tours to see the Māui carvings, as well as treks to the mountain's summit to watch the sunrise.
The first explorer to discover Aotearoa, New Zealand, was the intrepid ancestor, Kupe. Using the stars and ocean currents as his navigational guides, he ventured across the Pacific on his waka hourua (voyaging canoe) from his ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Kupe's waka first landed on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour in Northland around 1000 years ago.
It is said that Kupe's wife, Kuramārotini, gave Aotearoa its name. On arrival, as she watched the horizon, she saw a long white cloud. She yelled, "He ao! He ao! He Aotearoa!" ('A cloud! A cloud! A long white cloud')
Walk in the footsteps of Kupe at Manea Footprints of Kupe. On the shores of the Hokianga Harbour, Manea shares the stories and traditions of the great ancestor through guided storytelling, art, tāonga (cultural treasures), film, performance, digital interaction.
Māori legend tells the story of the ancestor Paikea who journeyed to a new life in Aotearoa, New Zealand, on the back of the Tohorā whale. The story represents the spiritual bond between humans and the natural world and the potential revealed when nature is respected rather than exploited.
The story of Paikea inspired Witi Ihimaera’s book Whale Rider, which in turn inspired an award-winning film of the same name.
Off the Kaikoura Coast in the South Island, majestic whales dwell beneath the ocean’s surface. If you want to encounter the giants of Paikea’s story, Kaikoura is the place.
On board a Whale Watch Kaikoura tour, visitors feel the connection between the Māori people and the sea as they witness nature at close hand, learn about Kaikoura’s hidden wildlife and hear the legend of Paikea, and other local stories.
Hinemoa and Tutanekai were New Zealand’s very own Romeo and Juliet – two star-crossed lovers whose liaison was both passionate and forbidden. This tale has a happy ending though, as they proved the strength of their love through a dramatic and dangerous act, thus gaining the acceptance of their families.
The best place to learn about Hinemoa and Tūtānekai is on the island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua, where the famed events took place. Venture there with Katoa Jet and you’ll hear the lovers' story in all its colour and fullness from members of the local Te Arawa tribe.
There on the island, you can soak in Hinemoa’s Pool, the natural hot spring where she bathed. You’ll also get to experience a traditional welcome ceremony, delicious Māori food and a bushwalk to see native plants and birds.
The Pink and White Terraces were natural wonders of New Zealand, sometimes referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. They cascaded down a hillside in New Zealand's geothermal Rotorua region, created by geothermal waters flowing from the Earth's core that crystallised over hundreds of years, the silica terraces formed tumbling pools, staircases and waterfalls that were filled with warm, mineral-rich waters.
In the early hours of 10 June 1886, a violent eruption occurred at Mount Tarawera and lasted approximately 6 hours. This led to an explosion of Lake Rotomahana which buried Te Wairoa Village in a blanket of mud and ash, where many people survived by taking shelter in the villages buildings.
Today the giant mountain is dormant and it's crater is a six kilometre ravine. Access onto the mountain is restricted to guided tours by the local tribe. Kaitiaki Adventures offers fully guided walking experiences, that captures the history of the area with 360 panoramic views.