Last Updated: 12/4/20 | December 4th, 2020
Maori culture has always fascinated me ever since I saw the movie Whale Rider (it’s one of my favorite travel movies). Their history, cool tattoos, dancing, beliefs, and general relaxed personality make them very interesting to me. As the indigenous people of New Zealand, they haven’t done well since the arrival of European settlers.
Then again, no indigenous population fared well after Europeans arrived.
The History of the Maori
The Maori are a warrior race and are famous for never having been defeated by the English settlers. It’s a fact the proud Maori cherish greatly and are always happy to share.
The Maori came to New Zeland from Polynesia in the 13th century. They arrived in waves, having set out in large ocean-going canoes that ranged from 20-40 meters in length. They populated the islands over time, living off the abundant landscape.
European contact occurred in the 17th century, though the initial meetings didn’t go well (occasionally the Maori would kill the intrusive Europeans). Contact eventually led to conflict — including internal conflicts between the Maori. By the 19th century, the Maori population had almost been cut in half.
Disease also took its toll. By the 1870s, influenza, measles, and smallpox killed anywhere from 10-50% of the Maori population.
At present, there are around 600,000 Maori in New Zealand, representing around 15% of the population. Even to this day, the Maori people continue to face social and economic barriers and even have a lower life expectancy when compared to other ethnic groups in the country.
Interesting Facts About the Maori
Here are a few facts about the Maori I found fascinating and inspired me to learn more about the people and their history:
- The Maori language is known as “Te Reo” (though it’s often just referred to as “Maori”). It was the dominant language in New Zealand until the 1860s.
- Before battle, the Maori would perform a dance known as a “Haka” (which you’ll see at the cultural show).
- Until Europeans arrived, the Maori had no written language. Their history and traditions were passed down orally.
- Tattooing is a huge part of Maori culture. Traditionally, tattoos were used to depict a person’s status or rank.
- Traditional Maori food (known as “Hangi”) is slow-cooked underground, using the geothermal geysers that are common in New Zealand.
- To access the Maori meeting ground (“Marae”) you need to be welcomed through a “Powhiri.” This involves a challenge by a warrior, as well as chanting and singing. Visitors would have to show that they come in peace in order to be allowed entry.
Where to See Maori Cultural Show in New Zealand
The best place to see a Maori cultural show is Rotorua. Not only are there some amazing cultural shows here, but you can visit some traditional villages and explore the geysers that dot the landscape. This is an important place in Maori culture and history, making it the perfect place to learn more and take in a show.
During my visit, I was determined to learn more about them while traveling here in New Zealand. The city of Rotorua is supposed to be one of the best places to learn. There are a variety of cultural shows and educational tours in the area. A Maori in the Bay of Islands even told me that if I was going to learn about the Maori, this area would be the easiest for me to do it in.
The cultural tours all are quite similar (some are smaller, some have better food, some are different length) but you learn and see a lot of the same stuff. I went with the Tamaki Maori Village tour because my travel partners at the time were also doing it.
Here’s a video of my experience to give you a sense of what to expect:
The show provides a basic look at Maori life, history, and culture. It’s essentially an entertaining introduction to how they have lived and survived over the past few centuries.
Tamaki Maori Village is where I went to see a show and I was thoroughly impressed. It’s consistently rated not only one of the best shows in the country but one of the best in the world.
Tours will last around 2.5 hours and include a traditional meal, a tour of a historic village, and performances. Tickets cost 110 NZD per person.
That being said, this is definitely an experience that caters to tourists. While the cultural show was interesting, the food great, and the music entertaining, if you really want to get a deeper sense of Maori culture you’ll want to also visit the Rotorua Museum. It’s currently under renovation, though they still offer some tours and programs. You can learn a bit more about the Maori here and see some important historical artifacts as well.
There are usually several shows per day, however, until the pandemic ends there are only three performances each week: Saturday, Sunday, and Mondays at 12:15pm.
Another option for a cultural show in Rotorua is Mitai Maori Village. It’s the same sort of experience, and most people say it’s just as good as Tamaki. Until the pandemic ends, however, they will also be limiting performances.
If you can’t attend a cultural show in Rotorua, consider seeing one in Auckland or the Bay of Islands.
If you can’t make it to Rotorua, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington is another great place to learn more about the history and culture of the Maori.
No visit to New Zealand would be complete without spending some time learning about the Maori, their history, and their culture. They are inextricably linked to the past, present, and future of New Zealand. The more you can learn about them, the more depth and understanding you’ll have about the country itself.
Book Your Trip to New Zealand: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Here are my favorite hostels in New Zealand.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on New Zealand?
Be sure to visit our robust robust destination guide on New Zealand for even more planning tips!