Experience New Zealand’s Maori Culture – the top 10 attractions

Experience Aotearoa’s indigenous culture at unmissable Maori cultural experiences  

Māori are New Zealand’s indigenous people. And Māori culture is a very special part of any New Zealand visit. Experience a rich and meaningful cultural connection to this land, Aotearoa, when you enjoy the best Maori cultural experiences.

Over 700 years ago, expert navigators left their Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki and journeyed across the Pacific Ocean to arrive on the shores of Aotearoa — “the land of the long white cloud”.  According to legend, the great Polynesian explorer Kupe was the first Māori to reach New Zealand.

Today, Māori culture is a very warm and inviting one.  And there’s a Māori word that sums up so much of this rich indigenous culture.  Manaakitanga (showing respect) is all about welcoming guests and providing great hospitality.  Māori are well known for this hospitality and in particular have a long history with being welcoming guardians of New Zealand to tourists.

Welcoming visitors since the 1860s

This tradition of welcoming visitors dates right back to the 1860s when early tourism in New Zealand was based around the geothermal features of Rotorua.

Māori ran the tourist industry and Māori women guides became household names.  At that time the pink and white silica terraces in the thermal Rotorua region were known as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.

But after the eruption of Mt Tarawera destroyed or submerged the Pink and White Terraces things changed. The government gained control of thermal attractions. Māori guides became employees or put on shows to display their culture and its traditions. These shows, however, were not always as authentic and meaningful to the culture as they could have been.

Rotorua: tourist destination and cultural centre

After the eruption, Rotorua was still a popular tourist destination. The outstanding geothermal activity, that had produced the eruption remained. And many hot mineral springs, thought to heal and cure many ailments, saw tourists continue to flock to this interesting city.

This history of showcasing natural and cultural wonders make Rotorua a place of great significance when it comes to gaining a deep understanding of Maori culture and history. For this reason the small city is considered the cultural centre of New Zealand.  In 2013 nearly 40% of Rotorua’s population identified as Māori – one of the biggest proportion of any New Zealand city apart from Gisborne.

Maori cultural experiences add richness and meaning to your Aotearoa visit.

The early 2000’s saw an increase in interest in Māori culture from tourists visiting Aotearoa, this was part of a worldwide upsurge and expansion in cultural tourism.

While Rotorua remained the centre of this type of tourism for New Zealand, Māori tourism businesses emerged in other parts of the country.  Bringing culture to the forefront of New Zealand’s tourism offering and making a visit to the country that much richer and more meaningful for it.

Today you can find Māori culture represented throughout Aotearoa’s tourism offering.  You’ll find memorable experience from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Waipoua Forest experiences in the North of the North Island, to Whale Watching, Kayaking and jetboating in the South Island.

There are an abundance of authentic and meaningful Māori owned and operated tourism experiences. Which are enriching New Zealand’s tourism offerings bringing the benefit of this warm and inviting culture, the history and connection to the land and the outstanding myth and legend storytelling that has been handed down for generations.

New Zealand’s Top 10 Māori Experiences

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Treaty of Waitangi holds great importance in New Zealand’s history because it is the founding document of New Zealand. Located in the Bay of Islands, in the Northland region of the North Island, you can take a guided tour through the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Visitors can explore the heritage buildings, get up close to a historic war canoe and learn about the history and founding of New Zealand.

Manea Footprints of Kupe

Still in Northland, Manea sits on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour.  This Maori cultural experience shares the stories and traditions of the great Māori ancestor, Kupe. According to the people of the Hokianga region, Kupe was one of the first Polynesian navigators to arrive in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

You can experience a 75-minute multisensory journey of guided storytelling. Experience large scale artworks, film, performance, digital interaction, and the spectacular Hokianga environment.

Tane Mahuta – Footprints Waipoua

Located close to the Hokianga Harbour and standing tall and proud in the Waipoua Forest is Tāne Mahuta.  This is one of New Zealand’s tallest native kauri trees. With Footprints Waipoua you embark on an intimate tour through the forest.

Discover the ancient kauri forest with local Māori storytellers who will guide you at twilight, so you can witness the stillness of the forest as it transforms from day into night. Learn how the forest plays an important role in the lives of local Māori and the eco-system. Listen carefully for the sounds of wildlife, including kiwi and morepork, this can be quite a moving experience.

First to see the sun – Maunga Hikurangi Local Guides

Heading south to the East Coast of the North Island, one of the easternmost locations in New Zealand you’ll find Maunga (Mt) Hikurangi. Located 90 kilometres north of Gisborne in the Tairāwhiti region, the mountain is one of the first places in the world to see the sunrise.

In Māori mythology and origin stories, Māui was a famed character whose deeds led to the discovery of New Zealand. This is symbolised in narrative as the ‘fishing up’ of the North Island. The people of the East Coast of the North Island recount that their mountain, Maunga Hikurangi was the first piece of land to emerge from the sea during this time.

You can experience one of the first places in the world to see the sunrise. Enjoy the benefit of a local Māori guide to enable you to see this experience through their eyes on a guided tour.

Te Puia & Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

In Rotorua, on the doorstep of the Wakarewarewa Valley, is Te Puia. This is not only a place to experience the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere and see bubbling mud pools. It is also a place where Māori arts are kept alive and taught at the New Zealand Māori Art and Crafts Institute.

Visiting Te Puia gives you the opportunity to see talented carvers at work, turning pieces of wood into intricately detailed art, and feel the power of the geothermal activity. And Te Puia also hosts iconic cultural evenings offering a chance to experience Maori cuisine and enjoy a concert.

Te Pa Tū (Previously Tamaki Maori Village)

Located 15km south of Rotorua, Te Pa Tū is a recreated traditional village under the shelter of an ancient 200 year old native Tawa forest. Discover what life was like for the Māori communities pre-European contact.

Te Pā Tū also offers culture and kai (cuisine) events. Share Māori history, traditions, and future aspirations across four hours of celebration and feasting.


Located in Whakatāne this majestic meeting house was completed in 1875 and was built and carved as a tribute to prominent Māori ancestors.

Said to be “fit for a queen”, the building was disassembled in 1879 and shipped to the United Kingdom. In 1996 Mataatua was returned home. Take a tour of Mataatua to discover where it travelled and learn it’s cultural history.

Waka Tours Abel Tasman

Located at the top of the South Island in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park.  You can take a journey with Waka Tours and paddle a waka (Māori canoe) along the stunning Abel Tasman coast.

As you glide across the water, hear the stories of Māori ancestors who sailed waka across the Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa. Learn the protocols associated with paddling a waka. The embark on our journey to Toka Ngawhā, Split Apple Rock.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

At Whale Watch Kaikōura, located on the East Coast of the South Island.  You head out from this delightful coastal village and glide across the southern waters.  If you’re lucky, you’ll come up close to giant Sperm whales.

Hear the stories of how the local Māori people live with the land and sea together as one. Learn about their great ancestor, Paikea, who came to Aotearoa from the Pacific Islands on the back of a whale many centuries ago.

Shotover Jet Queenstown

Just outside the popular alpine tourist town of Queenstown, you can experience the thrill of the Queenstown Canyons with Shotover Jet. Feel the power of the water and see the jaw-dropping scenery through an adventure-seeking jet boat ride.

Owned by Ngāi Tahu, the iwi (tribe) of the land, the team at Shotover Jet has exclusive access to the spectacular canyons. They can tell stories of their ancestors and the special connection they have to the land and area.

Experiencing Maori Culture in Aotearoa

No visit to New Zealand is complete without a Maori cultural experience that introduces you to our indigenous culture’s customs and traditions. Many visitor attractions include and reference customs and traditions and local Maori history. But these attractions champion and showcase Maori perspectives and culture.

Talk to a tour specialist about tours that include these attractions to ensure your New Zealand experience is complete. All our North Island tours include time in Rotorua. And many of our nationwide tours also visit this historic tourist destination. But they will help you find the tour that is right for you.