Story: Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism

Early tourism in New Zealand was based around the geothermal features of Rotorua, where Māori ran the tourist industry and Māori women guides became household names. But after the eruption of Mt Tarawera destroyed or submerged the Pink and White Terraces, the government gained control of thermal attractions.

Story by Paul Diamond
Main image: The Pink Terraces

Story summary

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The 19th century

New Zealand’s first tourist attractions were the thermal areas of the central North Island.

Tūwharetoa chief Horonuku Te Heuheu made an agreement with the government about Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu mountains. They became the basis of Tongariro National Park.

Pākehā tourists began visiting the hot springs around Rotorua. At first the thermal areas were controlled by local Māori, who earned plenty of money from tourists. Some Māori tour guides became well known.

The main attraction was the Pink and White Terraces, but they were lost in 1886 when Mt Tarawera erupted.

Shift in power

By the end of the 19th century the government had bought most of the land containing thermal springs. The government began to control tourism. Māori became employees, or were put on show to display Māori culture.

Māori culture

Māori art and performance have often featured in tourism. Some buildings were carved especially for tourists, and kapa haka concert parties travelled overseas to perform.

The Māori Arts and Crafts Institute was set up in Rotorua in the 1960s to train carvers and weavers. Tourists could visit and buy the products.

The toi iho trademark was developed to identify authentic, high-quality Māori arts and crafts.

Resurgence of Māori tourism

In the early 2000s many international visitors were interested in Māori culture. In 2006 more than half a million tourists experienced Māori cultural activities during their visit.

Rotorua was still the centre of cultural tourism, but other Māori tourist businesses had been set up around the country. Many were small and family-run. Businesses included Whale Watch Kaikōura, a replica Māori village near Rotorua run by Tamaki Tours, and kayaking, jet boating and glacier trips in the South Island operated by Ngāi Tahu Tourism.

How to cite this page:

Paul Diamond, 'Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2024)

Story by Paul Diamond, published 11 March 2010