Story: Volcanic Plateau region

Page 7. An adaptable Māori culture

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In Rotorua especially, Māori interaction with Europeans has differed from that in other parts of the country. In other areas, contact was mainly through Māori doing seasonal work for Pākehā farmers, but in Rotorua it was mainly due to tourism.

Reviving Māori arts

When Apirana Ngata sought to revive Māori carving in the 1920s, he turned to a generation of Ngāti Tarāwhai carvers from Rotoiti, including Neke Kapua, Tene Waitere and Eramiha Kapua. The School of Māori Arts and Crafts opened at Whakarewarewa in 1927. Its successor, the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, was set up by legislation in 1963. It is now part of Te Puia cultural centre.

Almost heaven

In 1911 Mākereti Papakura took a 40-strong Te Arawa concert party to England, where they performed in the Crystal Palace and launched a 14-metre canoe in the Henley Royal Regatta. During an impromptu press conference at a London railway station, the PR-savvy Mākereti told reporters, ‘To the Maoris there is no place beyond England, only heaven.’ 1

Guiding tourists

Māori have long provided guidance and information for visitors to the thermal areas, lakes and rivers. Alfred Warbrick, one of the first guides, was particularly active after the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera. Sophia Hinerangi, who also survived the eruption, was one of a number of remarkable women who became well-known as guides. Mākereti Papakura (Guide Maggie) performed a similar role in the early 1900s, as did Rangitīaria Dennan (Guide Rangi) from the 1920s to the 1960s, and Dorothy ‘Bubbles’ Mihinui in the later 20th century.

Since the 1990s, Māori villages built to cater to tourists have been developed by the Tāmaki brothers from Waikato and the Mitai family of Rotorua.

Music and performance

The tourist industry fostered cultural life. Rotorua was an early centre for New Zealand film making, and local Māori were recruited as actors. Concert parties led by people such as Mākereti Papakura presented Māori music to non-Māori, informing it with Western musical practices.

A long career

Witarina Harris (née Mitchell), of Ngāti Whakaue, starred as Princess Miro in the silent 1928 Hollywood movie Under the Southern Cross, later known as The devil’s pit. Over half a century later, she became kaitiaki (guardian) of the New Zealand Film Archive. Mrs Harris died in June 2007 at the age of 101.

The cousins Ana Hato and Deane Waretini formed a soprano–baritone duo in the 1920s. They were among the first recorded New Zealand artists, and were often heard on the radio in the 1930s and 1940s. In the late 1950s, the Howard Morrison Quartet brought further national recognition to this style of popular music.

Temuera Morrison is a well-known contemporary actor of Te Arawa descent, who starred as Jake the Muss in the 1994 film Once were warriors. The movie, about violence in a Māori family, was based on a novel by Rotorua-raised Alan Duff.

Hinemoa and Tūtānekai

The Te Arawa love story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai, particularly Hinemoa’s epic night swim across Lake Rotorua to meet her lover on Mokoia Island, became well-known among Pākehā. It has inspired a musical work by Alfred Hill and a number of films.


In 1905 Mākereti Papakura wrote Guide to the hot lakes district. In later life she lived in England and studied anthropology at the University of Oxford, working on material she had collected on Te Arawa life and customs. It was published after her death as The old-time Maori (1938).

John Te Herekiekie Grace published Tuwharetoa, a history of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, in 1959. The Pākehā historian D. M. Stafford published a history of Te Arawa in 1967, and the two-volume Landmarks of Te Arawa in 1994 and 1996.

In 1981 Ngāhuia Te Awekōtuku became the first Māori woman to be awarded a doctoral degree. Her thesis was on the socio-cultural impact of tourism on the Te Arawa people of Rotorua.

Cultural life today

Rotorua’s acclaimed museum occupies the 1908 Bath House. The nearby Rotorua Arts Village is a craft and exhibition space. Opera in the Pā has featured on Rotorua’s cultural calendar since the early 2000s, with performances in the 2010s held at Ōhinemutu and on Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua.

The Rotorua Competitions Society has held annual performing arts contests since 1946, and its concerto segment is one of New Zealand’s foremost piano and instrumental competitions. The 2003 winner, John Chen, took first prize in the 2004 Sydney international piano competition.

Taupō’s museum occupies a former post-office building in the Domain, near the remains of an Armed Constabulary redoubt. The Lake Taupō Arts Festival was held every two years in the early 2000s.

  1. Quoted in Paul Diamond, Makereti: taking Māori to the world. Auckland: Random House, 2007, p. 100. › Back
How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Volcanic Plateau region - An adaptable Māori culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 1 Nov 2007, updated 1 May 2015