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Experience New Zealand’s Maori Culture

Enrich your trip to New Zealand by delving into Maori culture in these North Island hotspots, explored by Elisabeth Easther.

Wooden carving of a face, New Zealand
Maori culture is part of what makes a visit to New Zealand unique. With traditions that feature stirring welcoming ceremonies (powhiri), song (waiata) and challenges (haka), to delicious feasts prepared in steaming earth ovens (hangi), it’s the warmth of the people that make New Zealand’s experiences so special.  
It’s estimated Maori have lived in Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand, aka “The Land of the Long White Cloud”) for at least 800 years, and the legends, crafts and ways of the indigenous people permeate the land. Here's how to savour the best of Maori culture on the North Island.
View from the coast with a lighthouse at sunset, New Zealand

The Far North

You can’t visit Northland without heading to the very tip of the North Island -the culturally significant site of Cape Reinga,  which you may choose to include as an optional tour. Not only is this where the Tasman Sea collides with the Pacific Ocean, it’s also the “place of leaping”, where it’s believed the spirits of Maori journey to after death on their way to the underworld. Whether you drive there or take a scenic flight from the Bay of Islands, memories of this sacred area will stay with you long after you’ve departed.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds, North Island, New Zealand
You might like to add on this select experience and visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which are highly recommended. This is where New Zealand’s founding document was signed and is also home to a magnificent museum that explores the historical relationship between the Maori and the British. Making your way north, the Waipoua Forest is bound to beckon. Travelling along the narrow, winding roads of State Highway 12, the majestic kauri trees will dwarf you as you enter the forest. There is a reason the best known of these giants, is referred to as the “lord of the forest”.
North Island Glowworm caves


En route to Rotorua, head towards the west coast and the renowned cave systems of Waitomo. Most famous is the Glowworm Cave, first explored by a local Maori chief, Tane Tinorau, in 1887, accompanied by an English surveyor. Two years later, Tane and his wife Huti began escorting visitors to spot the glowworms -a luminescent creature endemic to New Zealand -and their descendants continue to pass on their knowledge of the caves as guides.
At Rotorua, Te Puia is a Maori cultural centre and geothermal reserve, with 60 hectares of bubbling springs and mud pools. Devoted to preserving Maori Culture, Te Puia is also home to the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where students and teachers work to keep traditions alive, and the fruits of their labours will take your breath away. Wander around Te Rito (the weaving school) and Te Wananga Whakairo Rakau (the wood carving school), marvel at the intricate work and learn the stories behind the creations.
View of traditional Maori Hangi Feast, New Zealand
Take a stroll among the silica terraces to admire the bubbling mud pools and the famous geyser known as Pohutu. Erupting up to 20 times a day, Pohutu is New Zealand’s largest and most reliable geyser, reaching heights of up to 30 metres. According to Maori legend, it is a gift from the gods. After exploring Te Puia, keep hunger pangs at bay with top-notch food (kai) at Rotorua and savour a traditional hangi meal. Cooking food in deep earth ovens is the way Maori have cooked for generations and you’ll find a few modern twists on old favourites.
Explore the Maori culture in Aotearoa on Travelmarvel's 15 day New Zealand Getaway where Insider Experiences include discovering the famous Waitomo glow worm caves and savouring an authentic Maori Hangi feast in Rotorua.