The Best Maori Cultural Experiences in New Zealand
Manaakitanga is a word used by Maori to explain the spirit of hospitality. But like many things in Maori culture, the meaning runs much deeper than this modest explanation. The joy of travelling in New Zealand is the many opportunities that visitors have to experience Manaakitanga through unique Maori experiences and touch points.
Manaakitanga is not simply hospitality; it is the concept of being a kind and respectful host. It is welcoming visitors as you would like to be welcomed yourself. All New Zealand tourism operators strive to emulate this thought. But if you'd like to see it done by the experts on your New Zealand itinerary, here are some of the best places to experience Maori culture in New Zealand.
Waitangi, Bay of Islands
By far New Zealand’s most historically significant place, The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the place where Maori chiefs and the British Crown signed an agreement on British Sovereignty over New Zealand in 1840. This momentous event has shaped New Zealand today and the complexities of what this treaty means can be explored in depth at this impressive location. Take a day to explore Waitangi with a Waitangi Treaty Grounds Day Pass, visit Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi and take in a cultural performance.
Footprints Waipoua, Northland
Omapere, three hours north of Auckland is the home of giants. In the Waipoua Kauri Forest, ancient Kauri trees - some of the largest left on the planet - stand tall with the 2,000-year-old Tane Mahuta the oldest and grandest of them all. Footprints Waipoua runs tours through the forest, bringing this powerful and haunting environment to life through story-telling. With a Maori guide, step into this spiritual place where nature, mythology and history entwine beneath the mighty canopy of these ancient guardians. Footprints Waipoua is a bi-cultural partnership between conservationists and Te Roroa iwi (Māori guardians of the area) and was featured in Lonely Planet's Experiences of a Lifetime guidebook.
Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village, Rotorua
Whakarewarewa Living Thermal Village was one of the first tourist operations to welcome international visitors into the world of Maori. And today, it is as popular as ever. Since the early 1800s, guests have visited Whakarewarewa to see Maori using the natural geothermal landscape to cook, bathe and heat. It’s a fascinating insight into what life amongst this surreal landscape is like. Choose a village tour, overnight marae stay, nature trek or watch traditional weavers and tattooists at work.
Te Puia, Rotorua
One of the most popular Maori experiences in New Zealand is Rotorua’s Te Puia. Alongside the bubbling, boiling mud pools visitors get an up close look at the Southern Hemisphere’s largest active geyser, Pohutu Geyser, the endangered kiwi and Whakarewarewa, a 60-hectare Geothermal Valley. This landscape is unlike anything else in New Zealand and with your local Maori hosts, you can learn more about famous Rotorua mud pools, over 500 geothermal wonders and of course, the geysers. For something special, take an evening tour and journey through the geothermal valley under the starry night sky, with the Pohutu Geyser illuminated in its full glory.
Wairākei Terraces, Lake Taupo
For most Kiwis, The Great Lake Taupo district is one big natural playground. And seven kilometres north of Lake Taupo, you will find one of New Zealand’s must-see Maori cultural eco-tourism attractions, Wairākei Terraces. Waiora Valley is a site of significance (wāhi tapu) for local Maori. It was once used as a tribal thoroughfare, and the geothermal area was used for bathing, healing and recreation. Today, the man-made thermal hot pools feature cascading silica terraces in pinks, blues and whites and feature carvings of Maori legends. The waters of the therapeutic spa are said to have healing powers.
National Museum – Te Papa, Wellington
Wellington is known as Te Upoko o te Ika (the head of the fish of Maui) to Maori. And the jewel of Wellington is Te Papa where you will find the best displays and information on Maori tradition and culture.
New Zealand’s national museum features over 2.5 million items but for a fascinating insight into Maori culture, don’t miss the Taonga Māori Collection. The diverse collection includes over 30,000 highly prized tribal taonga including ancestral carvings, personal ornaments, garments, and weaponry. After the museum, why not head to nearby Lower Hutt for a visit to Maori Treasure and learn to weave the Maori way?
Maori culture is about much more than pounamu trinkets at the gift store. Find the right experience and you can leave New Zealand with a deep understanding of Maori culture and its people. And maybe even a taste of Manaakitanga.
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