New Zealand’s Māori culture is an integral aspect of Kiwi life. The experience can be found nowhere else but in New Zealand, giving visitors a very unique and dynamic time. There are many cultural villages that you can visit during your stay. Our pick? Whakarewarewa The Living Maori Village.
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Who are the Māori people of New Zealand?
Here’s a little background information – 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. In today’s age, 14% of New Zealand’s population is made up of Māori. Their language, traditions and history are pivotal to New Zealand’s identity.
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Fun fact: A major migration of Māori into the city happened after World War 2, where this prompted the government to discourage them from speaking their own native tongue (te reo Māori). This was subsequently changed for the better in 1987 when the Māori language was declared one of the official languages in New Zealand.
The Best Way to Experience New Zealand’s Authentic Māori Culture & Heritage
As a guest in New Zealand, you can experience first-hand Māori culture by visiting a marae (tribal meeting grounds) with an organised tour, watching a carving or weaving demonstration or learning about fascinating myths and legends from passionate Māori guides.
The best place to learn and observe Māori culture is, of course, on a marae. You will be spoilt with the number of organised tours to their marae in Northland, Auckland, Canterbury and Rotorua.
On an organised tour, you will be greeted with a traditional Māori welcome onto a marae, meet local people (where greeting involves the traditional pressing of noses) and enjoy a sumptuous hāngī feast cooked in earth ovens. Sounds enticing to you?
Which Māori Experience Suits You the Most?
There are so many organised tours and tribal meeting grounds available to observe Māori culture in the North Island so which one should you choose?
We were based in Rotorua, New Zealand for 2 days (which we strongly recommend you to stop by) as we found that Rotorua is steeped in cultural history and is home of ‘Maoridom’, where you can experience many aspects of the Māori culture. Besides, Rotorua is also home to a great range of activities suitable for any age.
Just in Rotorua alone, there are many villages for you to choose from and each village, we’re sure, has its own uniqueness. Then again, we were sure we wanted something more authentic!
Choosing how to experience Māori culture in Rotorua is important because each experience is exceptional and unforgettable in its own distinct way. Do have a look at how the different experiences differ here and choose one that suits your interests, personality, budget and itinerary the most!
Or if you are able to, go for more than one to compare and feel the difference, contrast and uniqueness of each experience.
As mentioned earlier, the Guidesify team picked Whakarewarewa The Living Māori Village as we were looking for authenticity.
Whakarewarewa Village – Real Māori Living in It!
Whakarewarewa Village is the ONLY living Māori village in New Zealand and people really live there! Since it is a real Māori village and about a thousand of the tribe call this place home, there are often funerals, weddings and meetings held there as well.
Whakarewarewa Village is home to the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people. The village is situated in an active geothermal area where the people actually utilise the bubbling hot pools and steam vents in their everyday lives for cooking, cleaning, bathing and preserving.
The people have been sharing their culture and ways of life since the very first tourists arrived in the early 1800s.
Note: “wh’ in Whakarewarewa is pronounced as F in Māori but for obvious reasons, the guides will not pronounce it that way.
What to Experience at the Living Village Tour
The daytime experience includes guided cultural tours of the world-famous Pōhutu Geyser (which erupts rather consistently every hour) and authentic historic landmarks such as Wharenui (meeting house). As tourism in itself has helped people embrace and preserve their history up to this modern-day, you will see some of the most passionate guides that are more than willing to impart their knowledge onto you.
Robert was our guide for the tour and although he couldn’t sing and perform for us, he sure has a lot of interesting stories while taking us for a walk around his home. Don’t forget to say hi to the locals who reside there!
If you’re feeling a little hungry, there’s always a chance to buy some corn cooked in the backyard of Mother Nature’s very own geothermal steam boxes and mineral pools. All the profits go to the upkeep of the community and village so that’s great news for you!
Whakarewarewa is just minutes away from Rotorua and the guided tours start at 9.00 am, 10.00 am, 12.00 pm, 1.00 pm, 2.30 pm, 3.00 pm, 4.00 pm. These experiences are all approximately 1 hour long. Whakarewarewa only provides daytime experiences, which gives their people some privacy at night.
A question to ask your guide: There’s a reason why the village closes at 5 pm sharp everyday. Want a hint? It’s related to using its geothermal pools.
The iconic Māori cultural performance is held daily at 11.15 am, 2.00 pm and 12.30 pm (available only in the summer). Watch the performers pay tribute to their ancestors’ performing arts. Every performance includes emotive and passionate use of the Waiata (songs) of their history, Patere (rhythmic chants), stick games, poi dancing and the world-famous Haka challenge. You will also get the chance to learn some basic Māori performing arts and Te Reo vocabulary!
This cultural performance is definitely not to be missed so plan your guided tours around the cultural performance timings to make the most out of your trip.
Done with the Whakarewarewa Tour – What’s Next?
There are a total of 26 items of interest and 4 different geothermal walking tracks you can take in Whakarewarewa.
Although the tour and show will only take approximately 2 hours, you can definitely spend more time to revisit the attractions in-depth and other highlights that weren’t covered during the tour. Visitors could also purchase souvenirs or try its Earth oven foods at the cafe.
Or… toss a coin into the cold river and watch the village kids dive to retrieve their hard-earned pocket money.
It was really amazing to see how New Zealand embraces the culture of their indigenous population in such an authentic and genuine way.
Like we said earlier, every village is special in its own way. We can’t speak for the others but Whakarewarewa definitely left a special memory in our hearts. It was truly a great way to spend a few hours in Rotorua!