Kiwi Culture: A Maori Experience

Photo by: James Heremaia

New Zealand, one third of which is covered in parks and reserves, is a headline stealer following Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of JRR
Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit Trilogy – and Maori
offer a unique way of exploring the country through its people and culture.

BAY OF ISLANDS & NORTHLAND

From the white sandy beaches and islands of the Bay of Islands on the east coast, to the glorious sand dunes, pounding surf and kauri forests of the west, the landscape of Northland is a powerful presence.

The varied experiences include diving in clear waters at the Poor Knights Island marine reserve, walking and hiking coastal and forest trails, and bird watching on the beach. The Bay of Islands offers swimming with dolphins and big game fishing; further north in Matauri Bay, the Rainbow Warrior shipwreck lies 21m below the surface, acting as an artificial reef and
sanctuary for marine life.

The ‘birthplace of the nation’, Northland is a place to experience vibrant Maori culture. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is rich in history and stories; the Waitangi Cultural Performance group ‘Te Pitowhenua’ welcomes guests with a spine-tingling challenge outside Te Whare Runanga, the carved meeting house.

There are also guided evening walks by Maori guardians of the area into the Waipoua forest. Local guides introduce visitors to the ancient giant, ‘the lord of the forest’ – a 51m-tall 2,000-year-old kauri tree.

Photo by: Legend Photography

BAY OF PLENTY

The Pacific Coastal Highway travels along 125km of scenic white-sand beaches, and with a mild year-round climate, the Bay of Plenty’s scenic attractions go hand in hand with rich culture. The Pacific Ocean is an endless playground for fishing, diving and wildlife encounters including swimming with some of the 10,000 dolphin pods resident in the region. Just off-shore, White Island/ Whakaari – New Zealand’s only active marine volcano – visitors can see this via helicopter.

Modern Kiwi ingenuity has brought the region to the fore as the birthplace of blokart – a three-wheeled, land based yacht that provides a revolutionary speed thrill. At Papamoa Beach, you can have a go at these sail-powered self-drive blokarts. The region traces its Maori heritage back 1,000 years ago when three Maori waka (canoes) arrived in New Zealand. Papamoa Hills Cultural Heritage Regional Park (Te Rae o Papamoa) has 10 ancient village
sites that are amongst New Zealand’s
oldest.

Finish the day with a relaxing soak at Mount Maunganui’s hot salt water pools, under the shadow of Mauao, enjoy a sunset walk, or climb the iconic ‘Mount’.

ROTORUA

The town of Rotorua, on the shores of Lake Rotorua, is home to one of New
Zealand’s larger Maori tribes. A third of Rotorua’s population is Maori.
Rotorua translates as ‘second lake’ – one of 18 sparkling lakes, surrounded by magnificent native forests. This other-worldly volcanic landscape provides a dynamic backdrop to many activities – mountain biking, trout fishing, hot pools, white water rafting, and air adventures. At Whakarewarewa, a living Maori village in an active geothermal setting, residents still use natural resources for cooking, washing and bathing. Te Puia, a Maori culture centre, has visitor experiences covering traditional artforms, carving and weaving, and Maori story-telling. The Rotorua region is an angler’s dream with trout-filled river and lake fishing locations, and the unique option of cooking the catch in hot sands on a thermal beach.
With more than 70km of tracks, Rotorua is also New Zealand’s leading mountain- biking destination.

In Whakarewarewa forest, cyclists weave through thick forest past flashes of beautiful lakes, geothermal action and iconic Mt. Tarawera. Te Ara Ahi is a new 74km 2-day cycle trail that follows a gentle gradient through an active thermal landscape.

Photo by: Adventure HQ

WHANGANUI

Whanganui – pierced by the deep flowing Whanganui River – is a landscape of remote forests and mountains with spiritual, cultural and natural significance. The region’s extensive rainforests provide a safe haven for some of New Zealand’s most endangered native birds including the kiwi and whio (blue duck). The Whanganui region has a long history linking Maori and European culture, and a trip down the Whanganui river is classified as a ‘Great Journey’ requiring a pass for use of facilities from October to April.

Canoe trips led by Maori guides take visitors to two marae (meeting houses) on the river banks where they can stay and participate in cultural traditions. The old Maori pa (fortified village) of Tieke marae is a popular overnight stop for canoeist; when locals are present, visitors receive a powhiri (traditional welcome) onto the land.

A famous jet boat ride goes to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ (accessible only by jetboat, on foot or mountain bike). Constructed in the 1930s to provide access to Mangapurua valley farms, the bridge is the last remnant of settlement. Whanganui has some great short or multi-day hiking tracks. The Matemateaonga track – a three to four day 42km hike – travels deep into the Whanganui National Park wilderness via an old Maori trail and early dray road.

Photo by: Rob Suisted

Taranaki 

Taranaki, on the North Island’s rugged west coast, is dominated by Mt Taranaki (2,518m), an almost perfect volcanic cone, and a year-round outdoor destination with more than 300km of walking tracks, winter skiing and snowboarding. 

Taranaki is the North Island’s most- climbed and most accessible mountain, located in Egmont National Park where there are many walks and alpine treks on the mountain slopes. The Goblin Forest, showcases a lush rainforest where hang- ing moss, ferns and gnarled tree trunks create a mystical ambience. 

The Forgotten World Highway, New Zealand’s oldest heritage trail, travels ancient Maori trade routes through the region’s pioneering past. This secluded route follows an evolving landscape, with stunning mountain backdrops and historic sites.

The Kamahi track is an easy 10-minute nature walk, while the Pouakai circuit is a 3-day trek around the mountain, offering impressive coastal views. 

Taranaki boasts some of New Zealand’s best surf, and Surf Highway 45, a scenic coastline road between New Plymouth and Hawera, travels to the top surf spots as well as historic battle zones and hilltop Maori pa sites. 

Taranaki is also one of New Zealand’s earliest inhabited areas and was settled by four Maori tribes. Mt. Taranaki is a spiritually important landmark for Maori, and historic Maori pa dotted throughout Taranaki tell stories of the region’s culture and history.

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