Māori Culture: Cultural Dos and Don’ts in New Zealand

While New Zealand – or Aoteroa as it is known locally – is renowned for its offering of epic adventure and landscapes, it also has a rich culture rooted in the Māori history. For anyone travelling in New Zealand, it is important to understand that the people, the land, nature and history are all deeply sacred within Māori culture. Ancient customs still thrive today; whether listening to a Māori chief personify the land or witnessing a haka in the flesh, when you experience this strong sense of Māori culture first-hand, it can feel incredibly moving.

If it’s your first time travelling in New Zealand, it’s essential to get the lowdown on Māori culture pre-departure. This post includes everything you need to know to introduce you to the Māori culture in NZ including cultural dos and don’ts, a few Māori words and activity options on offer to help you learn and experience Māori culture in New Zealand. A few local words and some background knowledge go a long way – especially in New Zealand – so be sure to get involved!

Cultural dos and don’ts in New Zealand

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The most important cultural dos and don’ts in New Zealand for travellers revolve around the land and traditional interactions you might experience.

• Tapu Land

For a number of reasons certain places or areas of land are regarded as ‘tapu’ meaning ‘sacred’; if a place is tapu there is a restriction on access due to the spirits which the Māori believe are present in the area. Therefore do respect nature and sacred areas, do be sure to ask your Wild Kiwi tour leader where you can and can’t enter if it’s not clear and don’t go walking or swimming in a sacred area.

• Give Koha

You might see the word ‘Koha’ on signs, but it’s worth knowing about the concept of Koha which means ‘donation’. In order to enter onto a Māori person’s land, you’ll need to give Koha and be welcomed onto the land. You’ll be with your Wild Kiwi tour guide, but it’s worth noting that trespassing is taken to be very offensive, so do always ask the land owner if a trail isn’t clearly marked and you’re going off the beaten track and don’t trespass.

• A traditional welcome

When visiting the Tamaki Cultural Village on a New Zealand north island tour, you will be welcomed onto the marae (a traditional meeting place), and a Māori representative will give a fern as a welcome gesture. Don’t turn your back when gifted the fern as it is considered highly offensive to turn your back. Instead, do walk backwards, keeping eye contact with the person who has given the fern.

How to experience Māori Culture with Wild Kiwi tours

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If you want a more in depth journey into the Māori culture and its people, then you’ll get the opportunity to experience the Tamaki Cultural Village (mentioned above) on the Wild Kiwi Northern Voyager route as you make your way from Taupo to Rotorua. You’ll have the chance to experience a hongi, a hāngī, and a haka; all of which are explained briefly below.

• Hongi

A hongi is the act of the noses pressing together as a greeting between two people.If a Māori person or chief greets you in this way, they are not leaning in for a smooch, but greeting you in a traditional way.

• Hāngī

A traditional way of cooking food in an oven dug into the earth, be sure to ask your guide for more information!

Pōwhiri

A welcoming dance or welcoming haka, usually followed by a prayer (Karakia) to welcome visitors onto the land or marae.

Haka

While the pōwhiri is more of a welcoming haka, the haka that New Zealand is renowned for, is a war dance used to intimidate the enemy; if you’ve seen the All Blacks rugby team before a game, you’ll have seen this version of the haka.

An introduction to Māori language

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Known locally as Te Reo Māori language, you’re highly likely to hear the kiwi people speaking some of the Māori language. So here are a few words to help you become familiar!

• Kia ora! – Hello, thank you, goodbye
• Mā te wā – See you
• Haere mai! – Welcome
• Haere rā – Goodbye
• Aotearoa – New Zealand
• Ka pai – All good
• Moana – Sea
• Maunga – Mountain
• Roto – Lake
• Whare – House
• Iwi – Tribe
• Whānau – Family
• Marae – a traditional meeting place

If you’re looking for a New Zealand culture tour along with adventure and epic nature, you can experience and learn more about Māori culture on the Wild Kiwi Northern Voyager route.

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