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6 Ways to Experience Maori Culture

The indigenous culture in New Zealand is woven into the fabric of the land and its people.

The Power of Maori Encounter the spirit of New Zealand’s land and people.

The culture of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, is part of everyday life here, a rich thread in the tapestry of the country’s past, present, and future.

“Although our culture is ever moving, our history is set,” says Mori Rapana, Maori cultural manager at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. “In order to understand the present, you have to start with the past. This is where we came from. This is how we got here. This is why we came here.”

To experience just a fraction of this cultural wealth, visit these places to get a taste of traditional Maori culture.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Located in the Bay of Islands, this is the birthplace of modern New Zealand. The Waitangi Treaty was written and signed 177 years ago by the Maori and the British, who were prompted by a desire to work together and provide a sustainable future for New Zealand. Arguably New Zealand’s most historic place, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds feature an extensive museum, guided tours with a direct descendant of Maori who signed the treaty, and cultural performances. Plan to spend the better part of a day here.

Waipoua Forest

Waipoua Forest

At 58 feet tall, Tāne Mahuta is the largest living tree in New Zealand.

Located on the west coast of the North Island, Waipoua is the most significant kauri forest in New Zealand. It is home to Tāne Mahuta, the “lord of the forest,” a 58-foot-tall kauri tree with a girth of 45 feet, and the largest living tree in New Zealand. The 2,000-year-old tree is an important part of the Maori creation story, and Maori still visit Waipoua to receive Tāne Mahuta’s blessing. “This is a very spiritual place. It has mana [power], and people feel that when they come to visit,” says Bill Matthews, a tour guide with Footprints Waipoua.

Lake Taupo

The Maori carvings at Lake Taupo’s Mine Bay, in central North Island, were created in the late 1970s and represent the passing of skills from one generation to the other. Master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell spent 10 years training with Maori elders before he began these carvings—one of which is 46 feet tall. Join a guided kayak or boat cruise to experience the power of these carvings, which are only accessible by water.

Rotorua

This geothermal town on the North Island is the stronghold of cultural visitor experiences. There are guided walks, the re-creation of traditional Maori villages, native medicine tours, and cultural performances—enough to provide a wealth of insights into Maori history and culture.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

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The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has free admission and is home to over 500,000 artifacts.


Far from being a stuffy, stodgy museum experience, Wellington’s Te Papa is vibrant and interactive, with an impressive collection housing more than 500,000 artifacts. Maori culture features prominently, from artwork, to a marae (meeting house), to a waka (large canoe-like watercraft). Guided tours are available, and admission is free.

Hokitika

Located on the West Coast of the South Island, Hokitika was well known among Maori as a place of pounamu, also known as greenstone, a nephrite jade valued for its durability and beauty. Traditionally, Maori carve pounamu into tools, weapons, and ornaments, and Hokitika is a place to find the work of master carvers.

Carrie Miller is a New Zealand-based writer, traveler, and storyteller for National Geographic Traveler magazine and other publications. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Krista Rossow is a contributing photographer to National Geographic Travel. You can follow her on instagram @kristarossow.


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