A Taste of Maori Culture

Updated on Jan 16, 2024 | New Zealand eTA

The Maori are a warrior race of the indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand. They came to New Zealand in several waves of voyages from Polynesia around 1300 AD. As they remained isolated from mainland New Zealanders, they developed a distinct culture, tradition, and language.

Who are they?

The Maori are a warrior race of the indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand. They came to New Zealand in several waves of voyages from Polynesia around 1300 AD. As they remained isolated from mainland New Zealanders, they developed a distinct culture, tradition, and language.

Their native language is Te Reo Maori, their literature was usually passed on orally but they also had carvings of stories on the walls of their houses.

Their war dance Haka which was performed by them before every war is recognised throughout New Zealand.

The traditional way to greet in Maori culture Powhiri takes place on a meeting ground, it begins with a challenge to assess the nature of the visitor (enemy or friend) and involves pressing against the other person’s nose, to finally sharing the traditional meal.

One of the most prominent features of their culture is the tattoos which adorn their faces which are called Moko.

The Marae is the traditional meeting grounds of the Maori that encompass a dining, cooking, and meeting area. These spaces are sacred and the Maori welcome people traditionally before letting visitors inside.


Inside a Marae

Inside a Marae

The most important feast for them is cooked inside the earth on pre-heated stones and is known as Hangi, the food cooked has an earthy flavour and is steamed.

Common phrases in Maori

  • Kia ora: Hello
  • Kia ora tatou: Hello everyone
  • Tena koe: Greetings to you
  • Tena koutou: Greeting to you all
  • Haere mai /Nau mai: Welcome
  • Kei te pehea koe?: How's it going?
  • Ka kite ano: Until I see you again
  • Hei konei ra: See you later

The experiences

The Maori people are extremely particular about Hospitality (Manaakitanga), the principles of sharing and welcoming are crucial to their culture. They believe in mutual respect and ensure the provision of food and rest for their guests. They believe in deep ties between human beings and the natural world, they don’t identify as owners of land but as guardians and protectors from modernity.


It is the best place to experience the Maori culture in its pure form and is the centre of the Maori universe. The site is the official Maori cultural centre of New Zealand and home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. The most authentic and best cultural experiences are here along with geothermal geysers of the landscape. Whakarewarewa is a village where Maori have lived for over 200 years and carry on unadulterated Maori traditions. One can live all aspects of their culture from a tour of the village, viewing performances, staying in the Marae, eating a Hangi, and receive a Maori tattoo that tells your story. In the Tamaki village, you can live in a re-created natural forest environment of pre-British New Zealand and experience their culture amidst nature.

A Geothermal Pool

Geothermal Pool


You can be witness to their spiritual and mythology here by visiting the Cape Reinga and Spirits Bay and take guided walking to the largest and oldest Kauri trees in New Zealand in the Waipoua forest. The Sandtrails here through which you can take a guided buggy tour to understand the significance of the place in the Maori culture.

Tongariro National Park

It is the oldest national park in New Zealand and the three volcanic mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro located centrally in this park are sacred to the Maori. They recognise a spiritual connection with this place and the Maori chief mooted for conservation and preservation of this location. This parkland has a richly diverse natural environment ranging from glaciers to geysers, lava flows to mineral-rich lakes, and snowfields to forests.

Tongariro National Park

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The location is historically important as the treaty between Britishers and Maori was signed here in 1840. The location represents truly the mixed culture of New Zealand with one part being pre-dominantly British in nature and the other represents the Maori world.

Lake Tarawera alongside hidden Te Wairoa Village

The Lake Tarawera is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand with its pink and white terraces, they are considered to have healing properties by the Maori. The eruption of Mount Tarawera led to the burying of the village of Te Wairoa and the becoming of it into a ghost town.

Lake Tarawera


This location bears a history of the discovery of greenstone along its coast and the Maori tradition of greenstone carving can be witnessed here. This place also has many gold and jewellery galleries specialising in pounamu jewellery. If you’re interested you can carve your own greenstone and take back as a cherished souvenir as well!


The place is a haven with the coast and the mountains meeting and it is home to the most number of whales who are considered guides by the Maori travellers. Whale and dolphin watching take place year-round here and the walking tours along the coastal track and wilderness are beautiful.


Te Koru Pa

It is one of the most beautiful archaeological and architectural wonders depicting the Maori carvings. The terraces with intricate carvings and the stone-riveting along the walls of the terraces ensured protection from erosion. The underground pits built for food storage with interconnected tunnels are a great site to explore.

In the Cities

In Wellington, the Te Papa museum is a treasure chest of information on the Maori people, culture, and traditions with its rich art and craft displays. There is also the option of taking a Maori Treasure Tour in the city. The city is also home to the oldest Maori meeting house in New Zealand

In Queenstown witness a very energetic and zestful Haka while relaxing on a gondola.

In Auckland, the place to visit if you are an art buff and would like to be amazed by the artwork and carvings of the Maori is the Auckland museum. The Maori court and their Natural History Gallery are testimony to how Auckland was an important centre of culture and wealth even in the pre-British era.

In the South Islands, you will be a guest of the Ngai Thau, the largest Maori tribe in the South where there are plenty of beautiful spots to visit like Mount Cook, Wakatipu, and Milford Sound. Most of the tourism and adventures one can take up here are under the tribe’s control to provide them with opportunities for employment.

The Maori greeting

The Maori greeting

The experience of their culture if left out when on a visit to New Zealand is a lost opportunity. Their rich and diverse culture and traditions are enriching and will add freshness to your trip. I highly recommend getting the feel of their culture in their authentic sense by visiting their villages and living amongst them within their community. The museums and galleries will give you all the information and knowledge but the real taste of their culture lies within the natives.

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