Story: Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism

Page 4. Resurgence of the Māori tourist industry

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In the early 2000s scenery was the big drawcard for overseas visitors, but interest in Māori culture was growing, part of a worldwide expansion in cultural tourism.

While Rotorua remained the centre of ethnic tourism, Māori tourism businesses had emerged in other parts of the country. Not all focused on cultural tourism.

Pigeonholing culture

There has been debate over the place of Māori culture in tourism. Māori cultural tourism has often been pigeonholed in Rotorua. In 1996 the president of the Inbound Tour Operators Council argued that ‘[s]ome Māori culture is fine but visitors don’t want it pushed down their throat every other day while they are touring New Zealand ... Visitors get a Māori experience in Rotorua. When they have done that, let’s let them get on with the rest of the country.’1

Nonetheless, Māori have developed successful businesses offering kapa haka concerts and hāngī (feasts cooked in an earth oven) at New Zealand’s main tourist destinations.

Māori tourism operators

In the early 2000s many Māori tourism operators were smaller-scale, family-based operations which often departed from the traditional hāngī and concert-party experience. The hugely successful Whale Watch Kaikōura started when people from Ngāti Kurī mortgaged their house to fund a whale-watching business.

Brothers Mike and Doug Tamaki established Tamaki Tours in 1990, funding it by selling a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Tamaki Tours reinvented the familiar concert and hāngī typically offered in hotels by taking visitors to a replica Māori village south of Rotorua.

Other operators were based around Māori land-management trusts and incorporations. One example was the Wakatū incorporation, a joint owner of Abel Tasman Kayaks. Others, such as Ngāi Tahu Tourism, were funded from Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

Running their own show


In 1987 Robert Mahuta wrote, ‘Maaori people are also very interested in autonomy and want to run their own show, not just be the last three seats on the bus, the optional extra, the clip-on, add-on, tear-off-the-coupon sideline event. We do not want to provide [a] tacked-on tacky plastic Maaori experience in … facilities belonging to others.’2


A different experience

Tourism operator Mike Tamaki has noted that it is important to have more than just a ‘feed and a dance’.3 Ropata Taylor of the Wakatū Incorporation has commented that ‘[h]angi and haka are not my people’s strengths. Sauvignon blanc, lobsters and mussels – those are our strengths, and that is the experience we give on our marae.’4 In the early 2000s Potiki Adventures in Auckland offered an urban Māori experience. In the South Island, Ngāi Tahu Tourism included kayaking, jet boating and glacier guides amongst its businesses.

Māori tourism in the 2000s

In the 2000s Māori tourism was represented by the New Zealand Māori Tourism Council, made up of a number of Māori regional tourism organisations. In 2008 the council noted that there were more than 350 Māori tourism businesses operating in New Zealand. Of these, 37% were guided tours, 15% were accommodation, 15% were arts and crafts, 12% were attractions, 11% were retail, 7% were eating out, 5% were transport, 5% were concerts and hāngī, and 1% were marae stays. A large proportion were small operators; 65% were self-employed and had no employees.

The Ministry of Tourism estimated that in 2006, 567,200 tourists (80% international and 20% domestic tourists) experienced Māori cultural activities in New Zealand.

British guidebook publishers Rough Guides produced The rough guide to Māori New Zealand in 2004, and a number of Māori tourism ventures were featured in Lonely Planet tourism guidebooks.

  1. Dominion, 23 May 1996, p. 1. Back
  2. R. T. Mahuta, Tourism and culture: the Maaori case. Hamilton: Centre for Maaori Studies and Research, 1987, p. 1. Back
  3. ‘Maori theme park for Christchurch.’ TVNZ, (last accessed 23 June 2009). Back
  4. Dominion Post, 26 May 2007, p. C4. Back
How to cite this page:

Paul Diamond, 'Te tāpoi Māori – Māori tourism - Resurgence of the Māori tourist industry', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 April 2024)

Story by Paul Diamond, published 11 Mar 2010