Story: Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism

Page 2. 20th-century Māori tourism

All images & media in this story

Crown control

At the start of the 20th century visitor numbers to Rotorua had recovered from the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption. The government controlled most of the lands containing thermal springs in the Rotorua and Taupō districts. In 1901 these came under the auspices of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, headed by the energetic T. E. Donne. The department controlled the presentation of Māori culture at Rotorua, and Donne attempted to recreate a romantic Māori past at Whakarewarewa. Māori were sidelined from the tourist economy, becoming employees or cultural exhibits.

Shift in power

In 1903 the department inaugurated the Waimangu round trip, which traversed the scenes of the eruption. It became very popular with tourists, especially while the spectacular Waimangu geysers were active. Guide Alfred Warbrick was from Ngāti Rangitihi, not from Tūhourangi, who had previously controlled tourism in the area. Power had shifted from the tribe to the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts. Tūhourangi had gone from being independent operators to subsistence farmers, reliant on state aid when emergencies arose.

Rotorua guides

In the 19th century visitors hired Māori tour guides. Two of them, Sophia Hinerangi (Grey) and Kate Middlemass, became well-known. This tradition continued in the 20th century and some of the newer guides became household names, including Mākereti Papakura (Guide Maggie), her half-sister Bella Papakura, and Rangitīaria Dennan (Guide Rangi).

From real to false


The Tourist Department under T. E. Donne attempted to build a model on the site of Rotowhio, a centuries-old fighting pā on a hill adjacent to the geyser valley at Whakarewarewa. The real pā was destroyed to build the model pā, and local Māori (as well as Pākehā soldier Gilbert Mair) questioned its authenticity, some calling it a ‘paraka hōia’ (soldiers’ barracks).



In the early 20th century the Māori presence at Ōhinemutu and Whakarewarewa was still highly valued as a tourist drawcard, but the government and the town board invested little in the infrastructure of either village. Housing was dilapidated and, unlike the rest of Rotorua, Whakarewarewa had no sewerage system. In 1902 Donne had proposed a model pā, which was dogged by controversy over its design. It finally opened in 1910.

Over time the pā deteriorated and became deserted. Living conditions at both villages became a national issue, more because of the impact on Rotorua as a tourist destination than concern for the welfare of the inhabitants. A formal government inquiry was initiated in 1926. The inquiry recommended assistance to upgrade housing, this was not forthcoming and the villages continued to deteriorate, leading to complaints from visitors and bad publicity.

Tourism fluctuation

Alongside Rotorua and the ‘hot lakes’, attention was directed at the ‘cold lakes’ and other scenic attractions of the South Island. Māori land ownership in the South Island had been almost entirely extinguished by the 1860s, so Māori had little involvement with tourism there.

With the advent of jet travel to New Zealand in the 1960s, visitor numbers increased dramatically. When the Tourist Department dubbed 1966 ‘Haere-mai [welcome] Year’, there were criticisms from some Māori, who argued there should have been consultation with Māori before the campaign was launched.

Māori control of tourism

An act of Parliament in 1963 established the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Whakarewarewa. Beyond the Institute, Māori had limited roles in owning and managing tourist businesses. However, Māori culture still played a key role in the promotion of New Zealand to prospective visitors.

A handful of tourism businesses in the Rotorua area remained in Māori ownership. Ngāti Rangiteaorere continued to control the thermal reserve at Tikitere. Mokoia Island was managed by the Mokoia Island Trust, controlled by Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Rangiteaorere, Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Ngāti Uenukukōpako. At the end of the 20th century, Māori cultural tourism was still centred on Rotorua – mainly in the Tamaki Māori Village (a replica early Māori village), Whakarewarewa village and Te Puia, which incorporated the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute.

How to cite this page:

Paul Diamond, 'Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism - 20th-century Māori tourism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Paul Diamond, published 11 Mar 2010