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Maori history

In Māori mythology the North Island of New Zealand is a giant fish, caught by the demi-god Maui from his waka (canoe), the South Island. Wellington is known as the head of Maui's fish, Te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui.

Early arrivals

Long before European settlers reached New Zealand’s shores, Wellington’s sheltered harbour had been the ancestral home to generations of Māori tribes. The first Polynesian navigators were Kupe and Ngahue, who camped on the southern end of Wellington’s harbour at Seatoun in 925 AD.  Later visitors were Tara and Tautoke, which is when the origins of the settlement around Wellington Harbour became known as Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara). This is still one of the Māori names for Wellington.

The eyes have it

To Māori, the head of the fish is the smartest and sweetest part! Many areas within the Wellington region are recognised as part of Maui’s catch. The beautiful Wellington Harbour and Lake Wairarapa are the eyes of the fish, Nga Whatu o te Ika a Maui. Palliser Bay, on the south coast of the Wairarapa, is its mouth - Te Waha o te Ika a Maui. Cape Palliser and Turakirae Head are the jaws.

Tangata Whenua (people of the land)

The Te Atiawa people are the recognised tangata whenua (people of the land) of Wellington because of their continuous occupation and rights through ohaki (gifting) and conquest.

Sharing Wellington's history with visitors

Two of the guiding principles of Māoridom are inherent in Wellington’s tourism experiences.  The first is manaakitanga, or hospitality and the welcoming of visitors; the second is kaitiakitanga, guardianship of the land.

Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

The Māori words ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’ can be translated to mean ‘a container in which precious objects are held’. So when you visit Te Papa, you will be entering a massive, six-storey treasure box. 

To mark the World War 1 centenary, Te Papa has joined forces with Weta Workshop to bring you Gallipoli: The scale of our war. Experience the triumphs and countless tragedies of this 8-month campaign through the eyes and words of the ordinary New Zealanders who were there.

Te Raukura/Te Wharewaka o Poneke

This distinctive contemporary building, conceived as a feather cloak laid across the landscape, is located on Wellington’s waterfront on the former site of Te Aro Pa, a large Maori community until the 1880s. The Wharewaka (waka house) holds two ceremonial waka and is open daily to the public.

New Zealand Parliament Buildings

Our parliamentary system has seven seats reserved for Maori Members of Parliament and Maori is an official language of New Zealand. The Māori Affairs Committee Room, Māui Tikitiki-a-Taranga, represents all New Zealand tribes through stories and symbols incorporated into the weavings and carvings in the room, which is often visited on free guided tours of Parliament.

Wellington Museum

The Wellington Museum's dramatic installation A Millennium Ago is a favourite with visitors. The dramatic 12 minute installation uses holographic effects to tell Maori creation legends.

Kupe Statue, Wellington Waterfront near The Boatshed building

When great Maori explorer and discoverer of Wellington Harbour Kupe first came to see New Zealand, legend has it that his wife cried “He ao! He ao!” (A cloud! A cloud!), leading to New Zealand being named Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud).

Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures

Located in nearby Porirua, Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures showcases the best in Maori, Pacific Island and New Zealand contemporary art and culture with a regularly changing schedule of exhibits.

Kapiti Island Nature Tours

Less than an hour from downtown Wellington, Kapiti Island is one of New Zealand’s most highly valued nature reserves and bird sanctuaries. Established in 1897, Kapiti Island is now one of the last repositories for a staggering range of New Zealand wildlife, flora, fauna and marine habitats. The famous Maori haka Ka Mate was composed back in 1819 by Kapiti Island’s most prominent resident, the great warrior chief Te Rauparaha. The Barrett whanau (family) guide day trips and overnight kiwi spotting tours, offering genuine Maori hospitality and incorporating the concepts of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga.