Whether you’ve visited New Zealand before or are itching to see our headline: “Trans-Tasman Bubble Open”, you know you’ll receive a warm welcome. However, what often goes undiscovered is the depth of New Zealand’s unique culture, where you’re welcomed into marae (meeting house), homes, and the hearts of each community you visit.
Travel with us as we take you deep like a hāngī (food cooked underground) on a north-to-south road trip exploring the richest of New Zealand’s unique cultural landscape and thriving art scene.
Haere Mai! Waitangi, Northland
Haere Mai (welcome)! Start your cultural tour of Aotearoa at Waitangi, the ‘birthplace’ of today’s New Zealand. Your 2-day Waitangi Experience pass gives you the skinny on the country’s checkered past and historic Treaty of Waitangi. All amid the lush grounds heritage buildings.
- Getting there: Allow 3.5 hours from Auckland International Airport via Whangarei.
Papatūānuku: Waipoua, Northland
Nothing allows you to connect to your place on Papatūānuku (the land), than time spent under the shade of Tane Mahuta, in the Waipoua Forest. At 18m tall and 4.4m, wide, this awe-inspiring towering giant is New Zealand’s largest native kauri tree.
To hear tales about the legends of the forest as the night critters spring to life, book a tour with Footprints Waipoua: we’re wild about it.
- Getting there: The scenic drive from Waitangi to Waipoua Forest takes 1.5 hours.
Journey south with an artsy stop in Auckland. See traditional and modern taonga (treasures) at Auckland Art Gallery/Toi o Tamaki. It’s home to New Zealand art’s largest permanent collection, including the wow-worthy Ralph Hotere’s 60-foot mural!
If you prefer a more fantastical arts experience, the hype is real with the new Weta Workshop Unleashed. This is the all-ages insiders’ guide to everything that has made Weta Workshop famous across the movie industry.
- Getting there: Head from Waipoua Forest to Central Auckland via Dargaville for a change of scenery: 3.5 hours.
While Rotorua may attract visitors for its bubbling mud pools and 30-metre-high geyser, it has long been an access point connecting visitors to Māori arts. In part, this is thanks to the Māori Art and Crafts Institute, where traditional crafts – like whakairo (carving) – been kept alive.
- Getting there: The drive is under three hours from Auckland, but if you choose to drive the SH27 route, allow some time to take a break in Matamata at the Hobbiton Movie Set.
From traditional carvers in Rotorua to contemporary rock carvings at Lake Taupō, travel to the impressive Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings. These 14-metre-high carvings are only reachable by boat so sail, kayak, or take a scenic cruise to appreciate the 4-tribe hapū (lineage) depicted in this distinctive work of art.
- Getting there: An easy, breezy, 1-hour drive from Rotorua.
Wehi: Mount Hikurangi
Head east and stand in wehi (awe) of New Zealand’s first sunrise from Mount Hikurangi in Tairāwhiti. Appreciate the cultural and spiritual significance of Maunga (Mount) Hikurangi on a dawn tour with inspiring local guides.
- Getting there: Stock up on road-trip snacks for this 4.5-hour drive from Taupõ to Tairāwhiti.
Go deep into Aotearoa’s tuakiri (identity) at the national museum, Te Papa. Along with significant artworks reflecting the people, culture, and environment, this national museum is also guardian to the largest museum-curated Māori art collection.
- Getting there: It’s seven hours to reach New Zealand’s capital from Tairāwhiti.
Continue your cultural roadie across the Cook Strait to the South Island. First up, Nelson’s art trail. The whānau (family) spirit is strong here through the collaborations and creativity seen at local artist studios on the Ruby Coasts Art Trail or Moutere Artisans Trail.
- Getting there: Including the ferry crossing, travel time from Wellington to Nelson is under six hours.
Once the emergency centre of the 2011 earthquakes, the Christchurch Art Gallery – Te Puna O Waiwhetu demonstrated the core Māori principle of aroha (love). It’s now fully returned to its place as an art gallery, city landmark, and contemporary architectural statement.
Experience Christchurch city centre’s post-earthquake transformation on the mesmerising street art trail with a whopping 50 major street murals.
- Getting there: The stunning scenery on this 5-hour drive from Nelson to Christchurch makes the time fly.
Want to see the original NZ graffiti? Take it back to whence it all began at Te Ana Māori Rock Art in Timaru. Dating back to the arrival of Māori to the South Island 700-1000 years ago, these tapu (sacred) rock art drawings are from the Ngāi Tahu tribe.
- Getting there: With the drive from Christchurch to Timaru at only two hours today, you can probably only fit one petrol station pie stop in
Conclude your Kiwi cultural tour with the beautifully preserved heritage buildings of New Zealand’s first city. Don’t miss the iconic Larnach Castle and Dunedin Railway Station. Nor the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum and Olveston Historic House. Add to this a comfortable 2-hour hīkoi (walk) around the world’s greatest small city to see the Art Trail’s 28 locally-inspired artworks.
Finish up your day with star-gazing with Horizon Tours. Enjoy Māori manaakitanga (hospitality) as you view the southern sky, while learning the stories and songs about how Māori view the night sky.
- Getting there: Timaru to Dunedin is a sweet-as 3.5-hour drive. Return home by flying out of Christchurch, with a 5-hour trip to the airport from Dunedin. If departing from Auckland International Airport, a domestic flight from Dunedin, plus a one-way car rental fee is sweeter than a mammoth 21-hour roadie back to AKL.
A cultural tour of New Zealand goes beyond the manaakitanga (respect for guests) that is extended to every visitor. Learn more here or show New Zealand some aroha by using the customisable, themed videos, digital banners, newsletters, and social posts found in the Marketing Hub.
Keen to learn more Te Reo (Māori language)? This dictionary is our go-to guide to practice the basics.
Feature Image: Whakatane, Bay of Plenty. Credit: Graeme Murray
This article is brought to you by:
Share this story