Real Maori


David Whitley gets a glimpse of authentic Maori culture on New Zealand’s East Cape.

Authenticity can be something of a double-edged sword. And this is particularly the case when it comes to understanding Maori culture in New Zealand.  To many visitors, this is a case of going to Rotorua, going through greeting rituals and having a meal as Maori in traditional costumes dance.


And if you like that sort of thing, then go for it. But such cultural villages generally make me want to cry. It’s a different story on the North Island’s East Cape. This is arguably the most Maori part of New Zealand. Over 50% of the population in this part of the world identify themselves as Maori, and the old ways are still strong. Outside the main city of Gisborne, settlements are small and  rural. There’s an end of the world feeling to East Cape, but if you take the time to detour out there you’re more likely to get an �?authentic’ Maori experience than you will do anywhere else in New Zealand. 


The flip side is that this authenticity comes with baggage. Sitting in a café in Tolaga Bay, Anne McGuire tells me about the village. “Anyone who wasn’t here before 1940 is regarded as being not part of the community,” she says. “It’s quite closed, and if you’re not from here, people will make sure you know that.”This isn’t what you expect from a tour guide, but it does shine a light on why the East Cape hasn’t yet made it as a massive cultural tourism destination. The term Maori is a relatively recent one. Many native New Zealanders do identify themselves as such, but ties are a lot stronger to their tribes and sub-tribes. Someone in Tolaga Bay is more likely to feel a part of Te Aitanga-A-Hauiti than a wider Maori nation. 


It would be a mistake to think that most conflict in New Zealand’s post-European settlement history has been between the Maori and the white interlopers. It hasn’t – most of the worst violence has been between competing Maori tribes. Past wars have, in many cases, led to lingering feuds, bad blood and mistrust. And that wariness of the people in the village down the road can translate as an unwelcoming attitude to all outsiders. In short, don’t expect to come to the East Cape and expect to be welcomed into the family by hundreds of smiling theme park Maori. But it is possible to get a small window into Maori life. Anne takes me to her marae. It’s difficult to adequately describe what a marae is, but the closest approximation is a tribal headquarters. It is where important meetings are held, and members are always welcome to stay there.


We go into the main meeting hall. A stack of mattresses and pillows are crammed into the corner near the back window – visitors pay what they can afford when they book the hall for funerals, weddings and the like. The architecture is distinctive. The building represents an ancestor. The triangular roof decorations represent the arms, the door is the mouth, windows are the eyes and a central pillar is the heart. Removing shoes before entering is regarded as a sign of respect to that ancestor. Upkeep of all the buildings and the grounds of the marae is conducted voluntarily by whichever tribe members can spare the time, and most important discussions are conducted there. 


Anne tells me that, in the past, everyone would talk in turn until everyone was happy with a decision. You could not talk without holding the talking stick, and the idea was to achieve consensus however long it took.It rarely works like this in the modern world – votes often take place instead. People can’t spend weeks debating something any more – they have other things to do. This is one of the subtle changes that traditional culture has undergone over the years, and the clash between the old ways and the new can be painfully clear to see at times. There are approximately 20,000 members of Te Aitanga-A-Hauiti, but only 700 or so still live in the local area. Members working in Auckland or abroad have very different needs to those in Tolaga Bay. Catering for everyone’s is difficult, and ties are much stronger for some members than others.


My visit was a little look through a window onto Maori culture. It’s complex, forever changing and not easy to suddenly throw yourself into. There’s a lot more to it than hakas and costumes. But those looking for authenticity may not find the simple life they seek.

More photos here


Disclosure: David was a guest of Tipuna Tours ( and Tourism Eastland ( 



By David Whitley

Indoor Auckland



David Whitley investigates warm winter activities in New Zealand’s biggest city 


Auckland is well known as an outdoorsy city, and you can still go sailing, visit the harbour islands and clamber up volcanic craters in winter if you wish. However, if you fear that the elements may get the better of you for such activities during the cooler months, then never fear – there’s plenty to do indoors.


Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World


While it’s never going to win any awards for snappy titles, this hugely popular attraction is a great place for a rainy day.


The Antarctic Encounter gives a glimpse of what it’s like where it’s properly cold – visitors can go inside a Snowcat and mosey around a life size replica of the Antarctic hut set up by South Pole explorer captain Robert Scott.


The highlight for those with easily melted hearts, however, is a colony of sub-Antarctic penguins, for which fresh snow is created every day.


On the slightly less icy side is Underwater World, which is a giant aquarium complex. Everyone has their own favourites, whether the sea horses, piranhas or crayfish, but it’s hard not to be mesmerised by the bronze whaler sharks and the huge stingray. The latter has a two meter wing span...


More information:


The Sky Tower


You see that big thing jutting out of Auckland’s CBD? Yes, the pointy building that utterly dwarfs the rest of the skyline. Well, that’s the Sky Tower, and it’s higher than Sydney’s version (and indeed, the Eiffel Tower in Paris).


It’s also home to Sky City, a large entertainment and gambling complex. There are a few bars and restaurants on offer, but it’s the casinos that prove the major draw card for the punters.


If the weather’s holding up OK, there are also a couple of adventure activities on offer that involve the tower. The first is the Sky Walk – the opportunity to walk around the building on a narrow ledge with no railings or balcony at 192m high. Only a harness will save you if you stumble...


The second insane endeavour is jumping off the viewing platform attached to a wire and slowed down by a big fan. Scary stuff.


More information:


Auckland Museum


Over half a million tourists visit New Zealand’s oldest (and Auckland’s biggest) museum every year. Parked on a hill in the Auckland Domain, the museum dates back to 1852, although it’s only been at the present site since 1929 when the building was created as a memorial to the city’s war dead.


Over a million objects are divided over three floors of permanent exhibitions. The first concentrates on the Maori and the people of the Pacific. A whole range of topics is covered, from traditional arts and music to ancient civilisations and boat-building.


The second floor is where the big beasties hang out – it’s the natural history segment. This is home to two Discovery Centres that are focused on child learning and the impressively interactive permanent exhibition on volcanoes.


Last but not least comes New Zealand War Stories. As is fitting for a building designed to honour the troops, this covers conflicts that have involved the New Zealand Military over the years from the Boer War to modern day conflicts via the two World Wars.


There’s an armoury full of weapons for the more bloodthirsty, and warplanes for those harbouring romantic visions of flying one.


More information:


National Maritime Museum


Another excellent museum is the National Maritime Museum, and it’s only fitting that it should be hosted by the City of Sails. The museum explores the country’s history at sea, from Polynesian canoes and to modern commercial shipping.


On the way it explores seafaring industries that (thankfully) no longer exist, such as whaling and sealing, as well at looking at traditional maritime arts and crafts.


Naturally, boats and canoes are among the exhibits, while there’s a fascinating section on the coastguard service and lifeboat workers.


The National Maritime Museum can be found on Hobson Wharf, right on Viaduct Harbour.


More information: www.nzmaritime.or


Hanging out in Ponsonby


Ponsonby, to the west of the city centre, is generally regarded as the city’s coolest area to go for a few drinks in. This is where the café culture has seeped up from Melbourne, a lot of young people tend to live and many of the best bars are.


There are also a few good eateries too for those wanting to anchor the later alcohol content. Among the most popular are Logos, Estasi and Prego, but it’s really a case of taking your pick. The range of options runs from classy Italian to burger bar to stylish modern Asian.


Brewery tour


Of course the serious drinker may be more inclined to go straight to the source, and that’s where Lionzone comes in.


Now this claims to be not just an ordinary brewery tour, but let’s face it, most of them work along the same lines. Still, as brewery tours go, it’s fairly impressive, taking in the history of brewing, the ingredients and machines used to make the good stuff and all manner of high-tech wizardry.


Naturally, it also focuses on the Lion Brewery’s brands, including Lion Red and the altogether more palatable Steinlager.


And yes, there is some free sampling included.


More information:


Stardome Observatory


In the One Tree Hill Domain, this is where you can go exploring further afield. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays it’s possible to go and have a look through the centre’s ginormous telescope, but it’s really the Planetarium show that captures the imagination. This features spectacular projections of the night sky (including 3,500 stars) in a 360 degree theatre.


More information:


You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal




by David Whitley