One of the biggest joys of travelling is experiencing another culture, especially one that is as is as vibrant and alive as the Māori culture. In New Zealand, you’ll find ample opportunities to learn about and experience this local culture and discover a rich heritage.

Māori are the indigenous people, or tangata whenua, of New Zealand. Before the Europeans arrived, Aotearoa (New Zealand) was home to this community of seafarers and ocean navigators. Māori people arrived on the shores of New Zealand more than 1000 years ago from the mythical land of Hawaiki on their wakas (canoes).  Early Māori embraced this quiet country, learning to live with its explosive beauty, forming a deep connection with the land and the natural environment.

Māori culture is rich in legends, or purakao. These tales, the language and traditions are well preserved even in the modern New Zealand society. You’ll hear these tales or read about them as you travel through the country – kiwis are very forthcoming in sharing the myths and legends of the land and its people. You’ll even come across common Māori phrases and sayings in everyday interactions.

While you’ll learn about Māori connections throughout your journey in New Zealand, a performance, tour or a stay on a Marae (Māori meeting grounds) is a great way to get your cultural fix. Here are our picks of the best places and tours around the country to experience this unique culture.

The top places to experience Māori culture:

Footprints Waipoua

Listed as an ‘amazing journey’ and a ‘life changing experience’ by Lonely Planet Code Green, this tour is truly deserving of all accolades it gets. Nothing gets you closer to the spirit of this land and its ancestors like a Footprints Waipoua tour located in Northland’s Waipoua Forest, a place where towering kauri trees are commonplace.

This spiritual and educational journey provides a mythological interpretation of the forest and trees like the Tane Mahuta (The Lord of the Forest) that are extremely fascinating. Coming face to face with a tree that is 13 metres in girth is of course a sight to behold. Their Twilight Tour is especially recommended.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

As children of the sea god Tangaroa, whales have a powerful presence in Māori mythology. There are numerous tales of whales guiding wakas (canoes) to safety through stormy nights.

On a Whale Watch Kaikoura tour, you’ll hear of these tales, of how Maui used Kaikoura Peninsula as a foothold when fishing North Island out of the sea… the legends of this land and the giants that visit its coastline.

Run by the indigenous Ngati Kuri people of Kaikoura, Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of our most popular things to do for visitors. Seeing these amazing creatures in the wild, where they belong, is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. What makes it even more special is the respect they are given by the locals and the deep connection they have with the Kaikoura people.

Tamaki Māori Village

You’ll be welcomed like a visitor, you’ll depart a friend, well versed with the rituals and stories that make our culture so unique. Tamaki Māori Village is located in a lush, native tawa forest in Rotorua, the heart of Māori culture in New Zealand. The beauty of the village apart, it is a fascinating peek into the Māori culture. The Evening Experience includes learning the world-famous haka (Māori war dance) performance, witnessing traditional warrior training, local arts & crafts, and a taste of our kai (food) – the hangi.

Māori woman in traditional dress welcomes a couple in front of marae at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds offer an insight into Māori traditions

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Overlooking the stunning Bay of Islands, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds  are home to the founding document of modern New Zealand – the Treaty of Waitangi, signed between the Māori chieftains and English. A lesson in history, it tells you of the document that shaped a nation and the struggles behind this treaty. Over years, the Treaty Grounds have been developed to incorporate a museum and host various tours to give visitors an insight into Māori traditions and culture.

Hikoi Tamaki

Hikoi Tamaki’s range of tours give visitors an idea of what it takes for a people to live through extreme change and adversity. You’ll gain an understanding of why Tamaki-makau-rau (Auckland) was so fiercely contested, how the local Ngati Whatua iwi (tribe) co-existed with the land, and the impact of colonization on indigenous people. The views of a glistening Waitemata Harbour on these walking tours is just icing on the cake.