Māori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of New Zealand. They came here more than 1000 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Today Māori make up 14% of our population and their history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity.

As a visitor to New Zealand, you can experience Māori culture by visiting a marae with an organized tour, watching a carving or weaving demonstration or learning about fascinating myths and legends from passionate Māori guides.

Experience Māori traditions in action

The best place to observe Māori culture is on aa marae (tribal meeting grounds). In Northland, Auckland, Rotorua and Canterbury, organized tours provide a traditional Māori welcome onto a marae, where you’ll hear Māori speeches and singing, see carved meeting houses, meet the local people (you’ll greet them with the traditional pressing of noses) and enjoy a hāngī feast cooked in earth ovens. You need to be part of a tour to visit a marae.

Carving, weaving and tattooing

Other traditional art forms like carving, weaving and tattooing are also alive and well in New Zealand. Precious jewelry and traditional weapons can be found in museums, galleries and artists’ workshops throughout the country. If you catch a carving or weaving demonstration, you’ll see that many of the techniques remain unchanged since ancient times. And if you find a greenstone (pounamu) adornment you like, make sure you ask someone else to buy it for you – it’s good luck to receive pounamu as a gift.

Māori stories and legends

From ancient times Māori knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation through storytelling. The creation of New Zealand is described by the legend of Māui, a demi-god who, using his magic hook, fished up the North Island. There are plenty of places where you can understand and experience Māori legends – you’re guaranteed to be captivated.

Haka – Maori War Dances

The haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. Haka are a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. Actions include violent foot-stamping, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping to accompany a loud chant. The words of a haka often poetically describe ancestors and events in the tribe’s history.

Today, haka are still used during Māori ceremonies and celebrations to honor guests and show the importance of the occasion. This includes family events, like birthdays and weddings.

Haka are also used to challenge opponents on the sports field. You may have seen a haka performed by New Zealand’s All Blacks before a rugby match? You’ll probably agree that it’s a terrifying sight to behold!