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Mountains and Mana - How to be a Culturally Sensitive Traveller in NZ

by Wilderness HQ | Jun 06, 2017
Man looking at Mt Taranaki from the distance

© Rob Suisted

Māori culture infuses almost every aspect of New Zealand, and is yet another drawcard for travelling in this extraordinary country. As the first settlers, Māori are New Zealand’s indigenous people and have strong relationships with the land. Today their culture runs deep in many aspects of New Zealand life, from food, to language, music and attitudes.

Immersing yourself in Māori culture when travelling here will enrich your trip, providing authentic moments that will turn into lifelong memories. So when visiting our shores, it’s important to show sensitivity at places that are significant to Māori. Doing so is a sign of respect and will bring rewarding experiences. While most travellers are careful to show Māori cultural awareness, some have missed the mark, with undesired results.

In this blog we explain how to show cultural courtesy at New Zealand landmarks, and what can happen when visitors fail to do so.

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Why Culture Matters

The diverse Māori culture should be respected and celebrated. Unfortunately however, not all travellers follow these guidelines. One high-profile example shows why it’s important to be culturally respectful when travelling in New Zealand.

When former Playboy Playmate Jaylene Cook recently toured the country, she scaled Mt Taranaki and took a nude photo at the summit, but not everyone took kindly to the stunt.

The naked photo of Miss Cook atop the sacred mountain was posted on Instagram and attracted more than 8,000 likes. However, Māori were shocked by the image, labelling it insensitive and disrespectful, as they consider the mountain an ancestor.

Miss Cook and her photographer boyfriend said they had researched the mountain before hiking to the top and didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong.

This example shows how, even inadvertently, travellers can cause offence if they don’t have an understanding of how to behave at places significant to Māori.

Māori Etiquette at Landmarks

Māori often personify landmarks such as mountains and give them human form. Natural landmarks can also have Mana - spiritual power - and hold special significance.

The head is sacred in Māori, so to stand on the head, or the summit of a landmark like Mt Taranaki is extremely offensive. Eating on the summit or washing in its streams is also insulting.

Accepting cultural values is part of being a global traveller. In New Zealand, it’s important to be mindful of Māori customs and respect the tangata whenua (indigenous people) as you journey through our beautiful country.

Before you arrive, research landmarks such as mountains, lakes, falls and national parks to check if there are any cultural rules you should be aware of. At places of significance, there is often signage outlining what you should and shouldn’t do, so look out for these. And if you’re unsure, ask.

The greatest reward of travelling is learning about other people and perspectives. For those open and willing to understand Māori culture, New Zealand offers a unique, unforgettable experience.

If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand and want to find out more about Māori culture, customs, and language, click here.

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  • Travelling in New Zealand
  • Taranaki
  • NZ Travel Tips
  • NZ History and Heritage
  • NZ Culture

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