Traditional Māori Waka on Waitangi Day

Māori Culture with MoaTours

Kia ora my name is Andre Booth, also known as Andre the Guide! I am a veteran Kiwi Guide with MoaTours and am here to share some thoughts and insights on the Māori cultural experiences and special places we visit on our small group tours.

Māori language and culture is going through a renaissance at the moment and we’re seeing that with guests on our tours, many are attending Te Reo language courses and are interested in experiencing Te Ao Māori for themselves.

As a guide, I am in the fortunate position of being able to see and experience all these places and I’d like to share some of these with you.

Ko wai au? About me

But before the good stuff, a little bit about me: I grew up in Christchurch (Ōtautahi) and after I left school, I spent three years studying botany and plant ecology, then worked as a Park Ranger on Banks Peninsula, which I loved.

I then set off travelling as a lot of us Kiwis are inclined to do. The beauty of New Zealand called me back home, and over the last 15 years I have been lucky enough to be guiding professionally around Aotearoa.

Over the last five seasons, I have enjoyed guiding many excellent itineraries for MoaTours all over our wonderful country. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but what I have enjoyed the most is guiding fellow Kiwis. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy guiding our international visitors, but there is something unique and awesome about exploring special corners of our country with locals and, of course, there are no worries with my accent!

The Origins of Māori

You could say Māori culture is relatively young compared to other indigenous cultures around the world.

Nonetheless, it is estimated that Kupe arrived on his waka from Hawaiki in the year 925 AD. The legend goes that Kupe, a fisherman, celestial navigator, and chief became embroiled in a great sea battle with a giant octopus at the mouth of Cook Strait (Te Moana o Raukawa).

Kupe defeated this tentacled beast, and it is said that his wife, Kuramārotini, gave the name “Aotearoa” to the North Island, which we now know as Te Ika a Māui. 

The South Island is known as Te Wai Pounamu, or the waters of greenstone, reflecting the fact that all the precious pounamu is found in the South.

The famous Maori haka
The famous Maori haka

Treaty of Waitangi

In January 1840 Captain (and later Lieutenant-Governor) William Hobson arrived in the Bay of islands with the goal of securing sovereignty over New Zealand on behalf of the British Government.

The treaty document was prepared in just a few days and translated into Māori overnight by Rev. Henry Williams and his son Edward. Both the English and Māori language versions were read in full and debated all day on the 5th of February 1840.

Then on the 6th of February 1840, 43 chiefs signed the treaty in front of the Residence at Waitangi. The site of the signing is marked by the flagstaff. Copies of the treaty were then carried around the country. By September 1840, over 500 chiefs including a number of women had signed one of the translated copies. There were eight translated copies in total. On May 21st 1840 Hobson proclaimed British Sovereignty over the whole country.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is one of New Zealand’s key historical documents delineating the relationship between Māori and European settlers, and is regarded as New Zealand’s founding document.

Though debate continues over interpretation of certain parts, for me I think the treaty is best understood as a whole. By this I mean an agreement between two peoples to live and work together in one nation.

Visiting the grounds at Waitangi on a MoaTour has become even more enriching since the official opening of the Te Rau Aroha Museum on February 5th 2020.

The modern, immersive and interactive Museum incorporates state of the art technology to help bring its stories alive. The naming of the Museum is a term of respect given to those whose actions embody courage and service to their fellow citizens. One of the galleries tells the story of the commitment of Maori in the Boer War, World War I and the famous 28th Maori battalion of World War II.

For me, the knowledge you can take from Te Rau Museum (and the treaty grounds) makes it a must see for anyone, but even more so for Kiwis.


The meaning of Kaitiakitanga is guardianship and protection. It is a way of managing the environment, based on traditional Māori culture. A kaitiaki is a guardian. Tiaki translates as care for people and place. A concept all of us here at MoaTours embrace and is a core value of the company.

You may be familiar with the recent tourism initiative “The Tiaki Promise“. At its heart, the promise calls on all travellers, domestic and international, to make a commitment to care for New Zealand, for now and future generations.

The duty of care for the environment I work in is something I like to implement and share with my group every day with a simple mantra, of leaving places in a better condition than when we arrived for those who follow.

Visiting Mataatua meeting house in Whakatane with a local Kaitiaki
Visiting Mataatua meeting house in Whakatane with a local Kaitiaki


The second concept to share with you here means hospitality, kindness, support and respect.

The reason I’ve chosen Kaitiakitanga and Manaakitanga as core Māori values is because they relate very strongly to what we do as guides and what MoaTours aims to deliver for our guests.

At MoaTours, the care for our guests is our number one priority, and it is with great pride that we focus on and constantly look for ways to make you feel safe and cared for. This involves everyone at MoaTours from Ena and Miles the owners, right through the operations guys along with our excellent office team.

For me as a guide one of the biggest rewards you have is when at the end of a tour everyone is happy and has been looked after, individual requirements have been met, and then I know the whole Moa team has contributed to help deliver a great standard of Manaakitanga on tour.

Here is a great example of manaakitanga from last season when we visited Tui Lodge in Te Kaha on our East Cape Caper tour, a couple of friends of the hosts performed an impromptu waiata on the lawn whilst we were eating lunch. It was just magical and really made us feel like we were walking on air for the rest of the day.

Two people with a guitar singing waiata on the lawn.
Waiata on the lawn at Te Kaha

Tāne Mahuta

On our North Island, and specifically in Hokianga on the west coast, dwells one of my favourite living things of all time.

A short five-minute stroll from the road puts you in the middle of Waipoua Kauri forest where the magnificent Tāne Mahuta, God of the Forest, towers over the surrounding trees.

Tāne Mahuta is the biggest living native tree in the land and is no spring chicken as it’s estimated this stunner is over 2000 years old! This Kauri tree simply must be seen to be believed (which is exactly why we visit there on our Northland Odyssey: Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands and Christmas in Northland tours.)

Even more extraordinary is the story of creation shared by our local guide who speaks about the crucial role Tāne Mahuta played in separating his parents, the Earth Mother (Papatūānuku), and Sky Father (Ranginui), allowing light to flow into the world.

Hearing that story whilst standing in the shadow of Tāne Mahuta is truly amazing and beautifully representative of the holistic relationship that Māori have with our natural environment.

For me, visiting Tāne Mahuta and feeling the presence of this immense living God of the Forest goes well beyond being a perk of the job; it is something I will never grow tired of.

St Mary’s church in Tikitiki on the East Cape

Another treasure is St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki. Considered one of the most beautiful Māori churches in Aotearoa, it serves to honour local Māori men who fought and died in the First World War and was the creation of esteemed Māori leader Sir Apirana Ngata.

Built in the 1920s, its intricate carvings and tukutuku (woven panels) are a beautiful example of traditional Māori artistry and craftsmanship. This piece of New Zealand history is a trip highlight on our East Coast Caper Tour.

Rerenga Wairua Cape Reinga

Another culturally significant experience awaits you at the top or tip the country at Cape Reinga/Te Rerenga Wairua.

It always amazes me how powerful it is standing there and watching the two oceans roll and swirl into each other. This is one of the most spiritually significant places in New Zealand for Māori as it is here, after death that their spirits travel up the coast and over the windswept vista to the Pohutukawa tree on the headland. They then descend into the underworld (Reinga) before returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiki.

Our visit to Rerenga Wairua is always a special day on our Northland Odyssey: Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands and Christmas in Northland tours.

Cape Reinga with lighthouse
Cape Reinga / Rerenga Wairua

Rakiura Stewart Island

Not to be outdone by the stirring beauty of our northern most point, our wee island, south of the South Island holds its own magic.

We visit Stewart Island (Rakiura) on the Southern Odyssey: Stewart Islands & The Catlins tour (one of my favourites!) where we spend two nights amongst flocks of kereru, night feeding kiwi, and kaka. Although your passport is not required it still feels like an overseas adventure!

Located in the main settlement of Oban is a brilliant new museum recently opened in November last year. I know this well and had the honour of bringing the first tour group through to experience the amazing collections showcasing the rich history of Māori and European settlers. This fantastic asset gives us a glimpse into past struggles and the vitality of those who chose to inhabit our southern-most island.

The name Rakiura translates to “glowing skies”, which refers to the story of the early Māori chief, Te Rakitāmau.

The legend says he left his home and came down to ask the Kāti Māmoe chief for the hand in marriage of his eldest daughter. Upon refusal, he asked for the hand of the second eldest daughter. Unfortunately for Te Rakitāmau, he was turned down not once but twice! This led him to blush with embarrassment and the red skies of Rakiura reflect this to this day as the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis. 

Rakiura Stewart Island
Rakiura Stewart Island

Aoraki Mt Cook

And speaking of skies, Aoraki / Mt Cook, our tallest mountain, or “cloud piercer” is steeped in Māori legend and New Zealand history.

Following the settlement between Ngāi Tahu and the Crown in 1998, the name was officially changed from Mount Cook to Aoraki Mount Cook incorporating and recognising both names and cultures as one.

As we approach this iconic National Park from Lake Pukaki (and luckily this is a stop along the way on several of our tours), you’re offered unparalleled views of the majestic 3,724 metre high Maunga (mountain) piercing the sky and changeable weather right on the spine of the mighty Southern Alps (Ka Tiritiri-o-te-Moana).

Aoraki Mt Cook is a must-see spot for all Kiwis, and is always a highlight on our High Country Stations, Gardens & Goldfields tours.

Aoraki 'the cloud piercer' snow covered mountain with lake in foreground
Aoraki 'the cloud piercer'

Te Urewera and Lake Waikaremoana

It’s also worth mentioning a brand new tour for this season which is steeped in Māori culture and history, our 7 day Te Urewera, Mahia & Gisborne tour.

This itinerary is truly unique and explores this very special corner of the North Island. A visit with local guides from Tuhoe in the primeval forests of Te Urewera sounds utterly intriguing and I’m so excited to get out and guide this new tour.

The Whirinaki Forest and Lake Waikaremoana are beautiful, and I look forward to sharing this new experience with you.

This tour is the latest special itinerary crafted by MoaTours founder Ena, she’s very proud of it and we know guests will love it too.

See more about the Te Urewera, Mahia & Gisborne tour here.

Māori Place Names

Here are the Māori language translations of some popular places we visit on our tours.

Piopiotahi (Milford Sound)

Means “a single piopio” When Maui died trying to win immortality for his beloved people a piopio (native thrush extinct 1905) flew to Milford Sound to mourn his death.

Te Waipounamu (South Island)

Means “water of greenstone” and refers to the South Island being the source of all pounamu / greenstone.

Te Ika a Maui (North Island)

Means the fish of Maui. It is worth noting in October 2013, Land Information Minister officially approved the original Māori names for the North and South Islands.

Lake Pukaki

Means “bunched-up waters”.


The name is derived from the Māori term meaning “return in a straight line”.


The South Island form of Wānaga meaning “sacred knowledge or a place of learning”.


Means “second lake”.


Said to describe the south wind that almost killed Ngatoroirangi, often shortened to just south wind.


The shortened version of Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe meaning “the final departing place of Kupe” on his way back to Hawaiki.

Small boat cruise on Piopiotahi Milford Sound
Small boat cruise on Piopiotahi Milford Sound

New Zealand’s most famous Māori tour guide – Guide Sophia

One of the earliest and probably most famous Māori tour guides in New Zealand was Guide Sophia (Te Paea Hinerangi) of Ngāti Ruanui iwi at Lake Tarawera and Rotorua. Well educated and bilingual, Guide Sophia established a reputation as “guide, philosopher, and friend” to thousands of tourists.

Hinerangi was the principal tourist guide (or head guide as we would call it today) for 16 years at the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana. There’s a famous story of Sophia seeing a phantom waka on Lake Tarawera 11 days before the eruption which was interpreted as a warning.

Following their destruction during the Mt Tarawera eruption of 1886, she became a tour guide at nearby Whakarewarewa, Rotorua.

So the origins of Kaitiakitanga and Manaakitanga relating to New Zealand tourism date right back to 1870! Not only that but two of Guide Sophia was “kuia” to Karen Walmsley and her daughter Tracy, who still guide at Lake Tarawera to this day for guests on our East Coast Caper Tour. It’s always one of my personal highlights getting to see Karen and Tracey again and experience their genuine hospitality and stories.

Ka kite anō – See you again soon

I love the story of Guide Sophia and it motivates me to continue delivering these time honoured traditions as a kaitiaki and guide for MoaTours.

Māori culture is rooted in our history and its traditions, principles and contributions make us a unique country.

Also I have to say the growth and confidence in recent times of Māori especially in the tourism industry, sharing their proud culture has been so positive to see and be a part of. So. with that said. it has never been a more perfect time to discover more of it for yourself!

I hope to see you on a MoaTours sometime soon.

Ngā mihi.

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