The Maori people of New Zealand are known as the tangata whenua – the people of the land. Te Ara encyclopaedia states that they likely arrived from the Pacific Islands around 1300 AD, settling along the coasts to hunt seals and moa.
Much of their early history is hard to determine due to Maori having no written language until Europeans settlers arrived in the 1800s. However, there are many traditions that have been passed down through the generations, and that you can still witness today.
Here is where to get the best cultural experiences here in Aotearoa.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
One of the most important days in NZ history is when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at the eponymous Bay of Islands settlement.
To summarise, this document effectively founded the nation as we see it today. It was an agreement signed by the British and Maori chiefs of the time, allowing the Crown to establish a government, among other – sometimes hotly contested – points.
At the Treaty Grounds, you can see not only where the signing took place, but also the largest ceremonial war canoe in the world.
Maori village attractions are also a must-visit during your cultural road trip of NZ. There are many spread around the country, and each offers its own unique insight into the tangata whenua. At these wonderful places, you will often be able to witness traditional Maori games and warrior training techniques, see flax weaving and try a hangi (below-ground cooking pit) feast.
Rotorua has some of the best in the country, though if you find yourself on the South Island, Christchurch also has its own.
Artefacts, history and more
As Maori are such a big part of local history and culture, it’s no surprise to see our top museums displaying wide ranges of their cultural artefacts. You can see intricately carved statues, beautifully restored maraes (meeting houses) and learn all about the history of this fascinating culture in these attractions, located throughout both islands.
Auckland Museum, Te Papa in Wellington and Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum are all free to enter and are perfect places to get your knowledge fix.
Pounamu (greenstone) was an important material in Maori culture. It was used to create gorgeous pieces of jewellery, in addition to weapons and tools as well. If you would like to learn about carving techniques, Hokitika on the South Island’s West Coast is a great place to visit, as it is home to some of the best tours.
You can also pick up your own necklace, bracelet or ring at most gift or jewellery stores around the country.