Story: Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism

Page 1. 19th-century Māori tourism

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Māori have been a constant presence in New Zealand tourism, but the nature of their involvement has changed over time.

Geothermal region

Hot springs were used by Māori for treating illness, cooking, heating and bathing. They were also the early focus of tourism in New Zealand.

The hot springs in the central North Island are within the tribal area of Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa. Traditions about this geothermal region trace its origin to Ngātoroirangi, a tohunga (priest) on Te Arawa canoe. He was freezing on Mt Tongariro and called out to his sisters to bring fire to New Zealand from Hawaiki, the ancestral homeland. They did, and this is said to be the origin of the geothermal areas.

Tūwharetoa and tourism

The Tūwharetoa people had a peripheral role in tourism from its beginning. After the New Zealand wars in the 1860s, Taupō developed as a tourist destination, but businesses were controlled by former Pākehā soldiers rather than the local iwi.

In 1887 Tūwharetoa paramount chief Horonuku Te Heuheu made an agreement with the government about Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu mountains. They became the basis of Tongariro National Park, established in 1894. The Tourist Department developed the park as a visitor destination. Iwi involvement in park management was limited, and diminished after 1914 when the park was transferred from the founding trust board to the Tourist Department. Repeated requests for iwi recognition were refused, and it was many years before a copy of Horonuku’s deed was displayed in the park.


Tūhourangi people controlled access to the Pink and White Terraces. From the 1850s a sign at Te Wairoa displayed the set fees for guides and transport to the terraces. The wealth generated by Tūhourangi’s success in tourism saw pāua-shell eyes on carvings replaced by gold sovereigns.

Te Arawa and tourism

During the mid-19th century Pākehā tourists began visiting the hot springs near Rotorua, the home of Te Arawa. Income from tourists gave Māori economic independence, and made up for difficulties in sustaining agriculture in thermal areas. In Rotorua, Māori retained control over all major geothermal areas. As word spread about the thermal attractions, and access to the area improved, visitor numbers increased. The village of Ōhinemutu on Lake Rotorua’s shore developed as a stopover on the way to Te Wairoa and the premier visitor attraction – the Pink and White Terraces (in Māori, Te Ōtūkapuarangi and Te Tarata) beside Lake Rotomahana. Access to the terraces was controlled by the Tūhourangi people, who earned substantial income from tourism.

Land purchase

In 1874 colonial politician William Fox recommended that the government purchase lands with geothermal areas and develop a world-class sanatorium. The Thermal-Springs Districts Act 1881 meant that only the Crown could purchase land in this area, with Māori to receive rental income. The government took control of the leasing of Māori land to Europeans. It did not provide as much income as anticipated.

Tarawera eruption

In 1886 the Pink and White Terraces were obliterated or submerged when Mt Tarawera erupted. Many Tūhourangi moved to Whakarewarewa thermal village, which became a popular visitor destination. The eruption disrupted tourism and caused economic hardship for Tūhourangi and other iwi. Instead of providing aid, the government took advantage of the disaster to continue purchasing Māori land. By the end of the century the Crown owned most of the land in the Rotorua and Taupō districts which contained thermal springs.

How to cite this page:

Paul Diamond, 'Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism - 19th-century Māori tourism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2024)

Story by Paul Diamond, published 11 Mar 2010