The Tamaki Māori Village was one of New Zealand’s highest rated attractions in 2018. They have won numerous awards for being the best cultural activity in Australasia and is rated one of the top 10 cultural activities in the world.
The Tamaki Māori Village appealed to my love of indigenous cultures and mythology. With the excellent ratings, I knew I had to go! (It helped that I was promised that it would be the best bed I’d have during my Kiwi Experience trip.)
The Tamaki Māori Village
The Tamaki Māori Village is a cultural experience located in the forests of Rotorua.
At the village you get to engage with traditional Māori activities, learn about their culture and embrace their mythology. Authenticity is held in high esteem to offer you the best snapshot of Māori traditional life possible. The Māori tribesmen and women who work there are mostly from the Rotorua area and have a wealth of knowledge to share.
You are brought into the culture on a personal level that makes it resonate even more.
Tamaki Māori Experience Options
The Evening Experience greets guests to the village with a traditional welcoming ceremony. Following the welcome, guests partake in short workshops that explain Māori mythology and cultural practises. This includes a chance for men to partake in the traditional haka (war dance) and for women to spin the poi (a traditional toy). Watch your hāngi dinner be taken out of the pit before enjoying a traditional song and dance display by the Māori. Finally, enjoy your buffet hāngi meal with dessert in the dining hall.
The Overnight Stay includes the Evening Experience plus additional activities. Arrive in the afternoon to tea, with paraoa parai (Māori fried scones). Settle into your Whare Moe (sleeping house) and learn about Māori mythology. Your hosts will teach you a Māori stick game and how to sing the Māori alphabet. After dinner, sit around a bonfire and learn more about Māori history. End the night with a soak in a hot tub before going to sleep. In the morning, you will be given a continental breakfast before being driven back into Rotorua.
I had initially planned to do the Evening Experience, back when I was still pretending to care about my budget. However, I was easily talked into the Overnight Stay with the promise of a good bed and extra stories.
What is Hāngi?
Hāngi is a New Zealand Māori way of cooking. To cook the food, it is buried in a pit oven with heated rocks beneath. It is covered with dirt for a few hours until the food is ready.
Tamaki Māori Village: Arriving and Afternoon Tea
Before arriving at the Tamaki Māori Village, you must elect a chief for your group. The chief must be a man to adhere to Māori sacred customs (even Queen Elizabeth II isn’t allowed to participate).
We were greeted at the village with a Māori speech and song of welcome. In response, we sang an unintelligible version of “We Are Family.”
Unfortunately, our family didn’t know the words to the song.
Luckily, your performance doesn’t determine whether they let you in. Otherwise, we would have been sleeping on the street.
At afternoon tea we stuffed ourselves with hot tea or coffee, cakes, cookies and paraoa parai. These Māori fried scones are a greasy, but delicious treat to smother in jam and cream.
Tamaki Māori Village: Mythology and Activities
The Whare Moe are long sleeping quarters with single beds lining the walls. The bed was just as comfortable as advertised. I was so comfortable that I could barely sit up for the mythology discussion.
The walls are decorated with carvings of Māori ancestors or gods. The red, white and black beams on the ceiling support the building like ribs. A single column in the middle of the room represents the building’s heart.
Every detail of the Whare Moe has meaning in the Māori culture. The red, white and black represent the Sky Father (black), Earth Mother (white) and the blood from their separation to create the earth.
I put my hand up at least five times to pry more information from the brothers guiding us.
Woody and Harry, our guides, split us into two groups to share traditional Māori activities with us.
Half of the group learned a stick game while the other learned to sing the Māori alphabet. After twenty minutes, we switched groups.
The stick game involved stamping and throwing poles around a circle. It looked simple when Woody did it, but it took us the full twenty minutes just to complete one round successfully.
The alphabet song was easier to master. We learned the unique sounds of the Māori alphabet with their matching gestures.
It felt like being at a cultural summer camp. (I would definitely go to that camp!)
Tamaki Māori Village: The Welcoming Ceremony
The pōwhiri or welcoming ceremony is used to welcome guests to a marae (sacred place), such as the iwi’s (tribe’s) land. The ceremony began with the Māori chief giving a speech about his iwi and his culture. Three Māori warriors joined him and presented an aggressive challenge known as the wero. They held weapons, called out battle cries and exuded a sense of violence. This demonstrates their strength and tests the visitor’s courage.
I would definitely have been scared to face the Māori after seeing this!
Finally, the warriors lay down silver ferns at the feet of the tourists’ chiefs as a symbol of peace.
The ceremony ends with the hongi, the native and visiting chiefs pressing their noses (and sometimes foreheads) together.
To welcome the guests inside the marae, a female Māori greet the group.
Tamaki Māori Village: Cultural Workshops
To show hundreds of tourists their culture in just a few hours, the Tamaki Māori Village have developed small workshops. In an hour, we attended six workshops that highlighted different elements of the Māori culture. The men participated in a haka (war dance) and the women spun a poi (a traditional toy used in dances). There were two more stick games. Woven into the games were lessons and mythology.
Did you know the word “tattoo” originated from a Westerner misunderstanding the name for the Māori process of tattooing?
The best part of the cultural lessons was the traditional song and dance done by the Māori staff. Cameras didn’t stop flashing throughout their performance. The women flew their poi like birds and the men stuck their tongues out in the haka. Knowing the cultural significance of the moves made them that much more breathtaking.
Tamaki Māori Village: Hāngi Dinner
The Tamaki Māori Village dinner is advertised as an “all you can eat” meal. That is not necessarily true, as they didn’t leave the food out for long and they ran out of dessert.
However, we got to try hāngi! Our dinner had chicken, fish, lamb, roast vegetables and salad. Vegetarians got samosas instead of meat.
If you wanted to have an alcoholic drink with your meal, you had to line up in a queue that seemed a mile long. I stuck with water and the free tea/coffee station.
Dessert was bread pudding and pavlova. Unfortunately, they ran out before everyone could get some. I did manage to try my first pavlova though! (I’ve decided to try another before determining whether or not I like them.)
After dinner, the Evening Experience guests are driven back to Rotorua.
Tamaki Māori Village: Overnight Stay
The Tamaki Māori Village website talks about a bonfire with mythology and story telling for the Overnight Stay guests, but that didn’t happen for us.
Instead, the Māori staff took the time to chat with us individually about their culture and beliefs. I think that personal connection was more meaningful, but a bonfire would have been wonderful.
The Māori at the village were the best part of my stay. They all have a strong connection with their roots and took the time to interact with all of us. Every question I asked was answered, even the ones that I tried to make difficult. Most of all, they were fun! I’m terrible with names, but I still remember Woody and Harry who shared their culture with us.
I stayed up until 2 a.m. laughing in the hot tub and pestering Woody with questions. That was the one down side of the experience: I barely slept in the amazing bed!
Breakfast was a simple continental spread of tea, toast, cereal and fruit. I was just happy to have a provided breakfast for once instead of rushing to make peanut butter toast in a hostel kitchen.
Tamaki Māori Village: Leaving with a Love of Māori Culture
It was hard to leave the Tamaki Māori Village. Though it was only one night, we had done so much that it felt like we had been there for a week. I still wanted to learn so much more.
Since the village, I’ve sought out all of the Māori historical and cultural information I could find throughout my travels. I explored Cape Reinga, visited museum exhibits and have booked a ticket for the Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival in February to see more of the dancing I loved so much.
Tamaki Māori Village Prices
The Evening Experience costs $130 NZD per adult for the 3.5 hour experience. This price includes transport to your hotel in Rotorua.
The Overnight Stay costs $250 NZD per adult*.
*With a Kiwi Experience bus pass, my Overnight Stay was reduced to $185 NZD.
Visiting the Tamaki Māori Village is the best cultural experience I have ever attended. It is obvious why they have won so many awards. I wish other indigenous cultures had such immersive and interactive opportunities available for guests to learn more about them. It’s so important to learn about the first people to exist in a country.
What cultural experiences have you done around the world?