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Māori Culture

Rotorua Museum, New Zealand
Rotorua Museum, New Zealand

Māori are the tangata whenua (indigenous people of the land) of New Zealand and their culture is an integral part of New Zealand life. About 15% of the country’s population of 3.8 million is of Maori descent. Maori are a tribal people and their tribes are known as iwi.

Visitors to New Zealand are presented with many opportunities to experience Maori culture first-hand.

Best known of these is the geo-thermal region of Rotorua in the North Island, where tourists can enjoy Māori kai (food) cooked on hot stones underground as part of a traditional hangi. They can also enjoy a Māori powhiri (welcome), visit local marae (meeting houses), listen to kapa haka (traditional performances of song and dance) and relax in the popular thermal pools.

Māori culture forms the basis of New Zealand culture and is the essence of its society.

The Legend of Tongariro

In Māori legend, the mountains were once gods and warriors of great strength.
Seven mountains once stood next to each other around Lake Taupo. All were male except for the beautiful Pihanga.

One night the mountains fought fiercely for her attention. There were violent eruptions, smoke and fire as the land trembled under the violent battle.

In the morning Pihanga stood next to the victor, Tongariro, who became the supreme leader of the land. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu stood a respectable distance behind but Tauhara – unable to completely leave his love – sat smoldering at the northern end of the lake. Putauaki (Mt Edgecumbe) headed north towards the dawn, and ended up 160 kilometres away, while Mt Taranaki dragged himself south, his tears creating the great Whanganui River as he went.

The active volcanoes around Lake Taupo – Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe – are treasures so precious, that local Tuwharetoa Maori gifted them to the nation over a century ago. The Tongariro National Park was the first national park in the world created by gift from an indigenous people.

Mt. Ruapehu was the last of the trio to erupt, as recently as 1996, throwing rocks, mud and ash high into the air and temporarily closing its ski fields.

New Zealand History

Read more in our article: New Zealand History

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