One of the most enriching aspects of travel is being able to learn first-hand about a different culture, particularly one as vibrant as the Māori culture. As the indigenous people of New Zealand, early Māori were a community of seafarers with a deep connection to the land, conveyed through their customs, language and stories – aspects of which are now woven into the nation’s unique identity. As we approach Waitangi Day, here are 6 ways to experience the Māori culture while in New Zealand.
Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
6 February marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, when Māori chiefs and British officials signed what is often regarded as New Zealand’s founding document. While the Treaty has sparked long-standing tensions over the years due to its divergent versions, the day remains an important marker in the country’s history, providing an occasion to celebrate Māori culture.
A memorable way to spend New Zealand’s national day is to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds overlooking the stunning Bay of Islands. Every year a free festival is held with displays of waka (war canoe), arts and craft stalls, food and performance stages.
Stay on a Marae
If you’re looking for an immersive cultural experience, then a stay on a marae (meeting house) is a must! A sacred and communal space of traditionally carved buildings, it is the focal point of different iwi (tribes) around New Zealand. By joining an organised tour, you’ll get to take part in a pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony), greet the locals with a hongi (pressing of the noses), and listen to Māori speeches and songs.
Eat a Hangi
While in New Zealand you may be lucky enough to taste the delicious ground-smoked flavours of a traditional hangi – an iconic feast slow-cooked in an earth oven. Think sumptuous foods such as pork, lamb and kumara (sweet potato), steamed under the earth on hot rocks for several hours. The meal is often complemented by Māori fried bread, fresh kaimoana (seafood) and steamed pudding for dessert!
See a Kapa Haka Performance
No doubt you’ve already seen or heard of the powerful Haka, performed most famously by the All Blacks before each rugby match; however, the traditional Māori performing arts encompasses a range of captivating compositions, from emotional chants to graceful action songs. Often performed by cultural groups on marae or at festivals and special events, if you have the chance to watch Kapa Haka, it’s one you should definitely seize!
Watch a Māori Carver at Work
Whakairo is the traditional art of Māori carvings in wood, bone, or stone. Each design is incredibly intricate and unique, visually symbolising different Māori legends and beliefs. Alongside other practices such as Tā Moko (Māori tattoo), there has been a recent resurgence in traditional carving with some studios offering live demonstrations from a master-carver.
Matariki signifies the start of the Māori New Year. It’s held during mid-winter, when the cluster of stars known as Matariki (or Pleiades) can be sighted from New Zealand. Traditionally, Matariki was a time for both celebration and reflection, with the clusters nine most visible stars each representing its own story. Today, festivals are held nationwide including stargazing, Kapa Haka performances, food and fireworks.