If you’re planning a trip to Rotorua, New Zealand and want to experience Maori culture, you’ll want to check out the Tamaki Maori Village. Scroll to find out exactly what to expect and things to know before you visit this unbelievably cool thing to do in Rotorua, New Zealand.
Cultural Experiences in Rotorua
I’m a huge geek about doing something cultural everywhere we travel. When we decided to visit New Zealand with our kids, I immediately started looking into cultural experiences.
I knew I wanted to visit a Maori village in New Zealand. They have them all over the island, but the most popular Maori villages are in Rotorua, which is kind of the main place to find Maori culture in New Zealand.
Since we were already planning on spending a couple nights in Rotorua, I started looking to the different Rotorua Maori villages.
I found the following village experiences: Mitai Maori Village, Whakarewarewa–the Living Maori Village, Matariki Hangi and Concert Show, Te Puia Maori Cultural Evening and Hangi Dinner, Ohinemutu Maori Village, Pohutu Cultural Theater, and Tamaki Maori Village.
After doing a ton of research on Maori villages in Rotorua, it seemed like most families and other family travel bloggers were impressed with the Tamaki Village over the others. So, that’s the one I booked for all 11 members of our family.RESERVE NOW
Tamaki Maori Village Expectations Vs. Reality
The only exposure my family has had to Maori cultural has been at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu and at Hawaiian luaus. I was thinking it would be similar to a luau where we’d be shuffled into a large room, handed watered down Mai Tais, and eat dinner while watching some performers.
I was expecting a lot of kitsch and was prepared to roll my eyes at corny jokes.
I’m happy to report that the Tamaki Maori Village blew me away and surpassed all my expectations ten-fold. They showcased Maori culture in a very respectful and dignified way and I actually teared up a few times.
It’s one of the best cultural experiences I have ever done and it’s no wonder why TripAdvisor named it the number #7 best experiences in the world.
What Actually Happens During the Tamaki Maori Village Experience
Arrival in The Gathering Place
If you are staying at a hotel in Rotorua, the Tamaki Maori Village will send a bus to pick you up from your hotel and drop you at The Gathering Place in the heart of downtown Rotorua.
If you are staying outside Rotorua (like we did), you’ll want to park on the street right outside The Gathering Place.
You’ll check in with staff (who will tell you your bus name) and head inside to see a stunning audio/visual presentation. It includes a song from Disney’s Moana (the one where Moana is walking to Te Ka and returning the Heart of Te Fiti.) So, of course I was all teary-eyed.
The presentation sets the scene for how the Maori arrived in New Zealand and a bit of their mythology.
Bus Ride to the Tamaki Moari Village
Then, you’ll be dismissed and hop aboard your designated bus. Inside, you’ll have a guide talk over a loudspeaker about traditional Maori customs and language. And there’s an opportunity for audience participation.
They asked for a volunteer and my 6 year old enthusiastically volunteered to be the leader of our “canoe” and forcefully shouted commands at us as we pretended to paddle during our drive to the Village. It was awesome and made my son feel super important.
Next, they asked for a male to volunteer to be the chief of our village. We learned the protocols for visitors coming to a Maori village and how to enter respectfully. They asked that we keep a serious face and refrain from smiling, laughing, or mimicking the facial expressions of the performers.
As soon as you get off the bus, you’ll follow your chief through the entrance and wait outside the village. From there, Maori performers will arrive by canoe and start trying to scare/intimidate the chiefs.
They do a ceremony where the chiefs shake hands and touch noses twice before presenting a silver fern as a sign of peace.
At that point, guests are welcome to smile/relax and head into the village to get some hands-on Maori cultural experiences. You’ll visit with the people who were on your bus, so it’s a small group tour.
Our first stop was the wood carving area. Here, they showed us examples of traditional Maori wood carving. It was really detailed and beautiful.
They also talked about traditional Maori tattooing. It involved piercing the skin 3 times: First, they broke the skin, then they added the ink, finally they sealed it in.
What was really interesting is that the placement of the tattoo was just as important as the tattoo itself. Depending on the side of the face, it would refer to maternal/paternal genealogy, the position on the face would signify social rank, etc.
Next, we headed over to learn more about Maori poi balls. They were originally used as weapons by men, but then a version of them became used by women for dancing.
If you’re ever been to a luau in Hawaii, you’ve probably seen women dancing with two poi balls (sometimes even on fire.)
However, at this Maori village, the women use one long poi ball and use their other hand to tap the ball. It was really cool to see.
And my nieces got to go up and learn how to use the poi ball themselves!
Cooking/Weaving at the Tamaki Maori Village
From there, we headed to another area where it was set up to show was Maori cooking was like. They had a hangi set up to show what the underground Maori ovens look like.
They had sticks stacked up in a square tower with rocks on top and a fire below. The fire would heat up the rocks, which would then be used to heat up the food.
And we also got to see a bit of Maori weaving. They showed us how they strip leaves to get the fibers that they would use to make clothing, like capes.
They also had lots of woven items on display for us to see.
My nieces volunteered to participate in a game where they had to hold up large sticks and depending on if the presenter said “left” or “right” (in Maori, of course), they had to let go of their stick and hold up someone else’s stick.
The game was all about agility and listening closely to directions.
It was hilarious to watch and my nieces ended up beating two guys in our group. It was great!
They asked for male volunteers to learn one of the most famous Maori dances: the Haka. If you’ve seen the All Blacks play rugby, you’ll know they always perform a Haka before their matches. And Jason Mamoa performed one recently at a red carpet event. They are quite popular.
My son, husband, and brother-in-law headed up to learn how to Haka and it was so fun to watch them! My 6-year-old had the time of his life and was just beaming at the end!
After we learned about Maori culture and traditions, we headed to a little amphitheater where they presented the food from the hangi. They had all the food separated in wire racks and I couldn’t believe how many racks were in the hangi!
It was all on display afterward.
Next, we were guided into a Maori log house to experience Maori singing and dancing. It was really cool!
The men performed a traditional Haka dance, the women did poi balls as well as dancing where they shake their hands. They even did a love song that took place in Rotorua and featured descendants of the people the song was about.
What made it special is that we could tell they really enjoyed what they were doing. They were laughing and cheering each other on and we felt lucky to be in the room.
Traditional Maori Feast
The last event of the evening was eating a traditional Maori feast. It included food from the hangi: lamb, chicken, roasted carrots, potatoes, purple yams, and corn on the cob.
There was also green salad, bread, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. The highlight for me was the fish in coconut milk. The flavors hit the spot!
For dessert, they had the popular New Zealand dessert of pavlova with canned peaches and tropical fruit. They also offered a steamed cake with cream.
Drinks were available at the bar for an additional cost. They had wine, beer, sodas, and fruit punch.
Our waitress was so nice and she brought my 3yo “ice blocks” aka popsicles and flavored marshmallows because he was melting down a bit from his ear infections. And then she brought extra ice blocks for my 6yo, which made his night!
Gift Shop at the Tamaki Maori Village
After dinner, there was time to explore their little gift shop for New Zealand souvenirs. They had poi balls, jewelry, wooden sticks, stuffed animals, shirts, and other fun things.
It was TINY and it gets packed quickly. So, if you think you (or your kids) might want a souvenir, head there before you get your food.
Bus Back to The Gathering Place
Because I read a bunch of reviews, I knew that the bus ride back would be entertaining. However, my husband and I were cracking up the whole ride home.
Basically, our driver led the bus in non-stop sing-a-longs the entire time. We were like a karaoke bus. And I’m not a karaoke person. However, it felt more like karaoke at 2am when everyone has had too much to drink and sing in any key they want. I loved it!
Things to Know Before You Go to the Tamaki Maori Village
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Here are the ticket prices through Get Your Guide:
Adult: $130 NZD ($88.43 USD)
Child (ages 5-9): $35 NZD ($23.81 USD)
Child (ages 10-15): $75 NZD ($51.02 USD)
Infant (ages 0-4): FREE
They also sell Family packs (2 adults and up to 2 children) on their website for $340 NZD.
Get your Tamaki Maori Village ticketsRESERVE NOW
HOW TO GET THERE
Tamaki Maori Village has buses that will pick guests up from a bunch of Rotorua hotels. Or, you can head directly to their Gathering Place in the heart of Rotorua.
There is plenty of paid street parking (although it’s free during evenings and weekends.)
From the Gathering Place, they will load you onto a bus and drive about 10-15 minutes to the actual village.
WHAT TO WEAR TO THE TAMAKI MAORI VILLAGE
The weather in New Zealand isn’t as warm as you might think. It gets quite cool in the evenings, even in summer. That’s why they recommend guests bring jackets and warm layers.
My family wore jeans and sweaters and we brought rain jackets (that we ended up not needing.)
ARE PHOTOS AND VIDEO ALLOWED?
Yes, in fact they will even give you the hashtag and social media handles so you can tag them in your posts!
The only restrictions are that you stand in one spot if taking video of the initial Maori welcome ceremony.
CAN YOU BRING A WHEELCHAIR OR STROLLER?
While the village is completely wheelchair accessible, their buses are not. So, you’d need to drive yourself directly to the village.
Personally, I think bringing a stroller would be more hassle than it’s worth. I’d use a baby carrier for little ones or just plan on carrying toddlers while exploring the village. The rest of the time is spent sitting in the performance hall or dining room.
IS THERE SEATING IN THE VILLAGE?
There are benches available in the Hangi and performance area, as well as in the dining room and directly outside. However, there really isn’t any seating as you do the hands-on cultural demonstrations.
DO THEY SERVE ALCOHOL
Yes, during the dinner, they offer both wine and beer for purchase at their bar in the dining room. They also offer non-alcoholic sodas and juice. Plus spiked punch and non-alcoholic punch.
IS THE TAMAKI MAORI VILLAGE KID-FRIENDLY?
YES. In fact, it was the highlight of Rotorua for my kids and they keep talking about it. It was such a fun Maori experience and I recommend it for any family heading to Rotorua with kids.
What Else to do in Rotorua with Kids?
Get your discounted Hell’s Gate ticketsRESERVE NOW
REDWOODS TREE WALK
It’s great for kids of all ages. They even have special strollers available for babies and toddlers.
HOBBITON MOVIE SET
If you are a fan of The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings series, you’ll definitely want to set aside a day to explore the Hobbiton movie set.
And if you don’t have time to do the tour, you can still enjoy their cool gift shop and cafe.
Get your discounted Hobbiton Movie Set ticketsRESERVE NOW
This is probably one of the coolest things to see in Rotorua. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is where you’ll see gurgling mud pools, volcanic craters and steaming lakes.