Realising the cultural tourism of the Waikato

5 March 2019



  • Tourism: Tourism is our country’s biggest export industry, contributing 21 percent of New Zealand’s foreign exchange earnings – earning around $34 billion to the country’s economy every year. [1]
  • Our tourism industry, directly and indirectly employs 14.5 percent of our workforce in Aotearoa.
  • While it is hard to ring-fence the economic value of Māori tourism we do know there are some indigenous rock-stars in the industry and plenty of scope for Māori tourism to grow.
  • A recent report showed that while we welcome three-million tourists to our shores every year only 54% of them report have had a unique Māori experience.
  • Tourism as a way to tell our own stories: Tourism ventures owned and operated by Māori are a powerful means of rangatiratanga. They enable Māori to tell their own stories in their own way and on their own terms to ensure authenticity and accuracy in how Māori stories are conveyed.
  • An example of this is Te Puia and the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua. I was honored to be present when the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute Vesting Bill had its first reading in Parliament in December last year.
  • This Bill will see the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley Lands be removed from the Te Pūmautanga o Te Arawa Treaty Settlement legislation and, together with the assets and liabilities of NZMACI, will be vested in the Te Puia NZMACI Limited Partnership under the kaitiakitanga of Ngāti Whakaue and Tūhourangi Ngāti Wahiao.
  • Sir Apirana Ngata established NZMACI’s predecessor, Te Ao Mārama, as a way of preserving mātauranga-ā-iwi, which paved the way for the future establishment of NZMACI as a national institute for the development of Māori arts and crafts. The pairing of tourism with cultural development at NZMACI has played a big part in enabling Māori culture and Māori identity to flourish and find new forms of expression.
  • Te Puia has helped change the way Māori arts and crafts are viewed and this has had far-reaching benefits for our tourism industry and trading markets. It has also had an impact on the way Aotearoa is seen internationally. So Te Puia and NZMACI are great examples of how Māori can take control of telling their own story in their own way.


  • Regional / Community development and whānau enterprise: Tourism in particular provides great opportunities for regional and community development. Tourism ventures in the regions provide employment opportunities for local communities, help to retain young talent in the regions and contribute to local economies.
  • It also provides an opportunity for tourists to get off the beaten tourist track into the regions to get a taste of regional grassroots New Zealand and to connect with our whānau, hapū and iwi communities on a more personal level. In a day where discerning international visitors are seeking more of a personal touch, this presents opportunities for our Māori tourism providers to be innovative and creative in their approach.
  • We all know that provincial New Zealand is the economic engine room of Aotearoa. Much of New Zealand’s economy rests on the success of the regions, with tourism, forestry and the primary industries all contributing to New Zealand’s export economy. However, some regions are challenged with higher unemployment, lower productivity, difficulty finding skilled workers and poverty.
  • Despite these challenges, the Government is keen to ensure that people living all over New Zealand can reach their full potential by helping to build a regional economy that is sustainable, inclusive and productive. For this purpose, the Government has allocated three billion dollars over a three-year term to invest in regional economic development through the Provincial Growth Fund.
  • Its priorities are to enhance economic development opportunities, create sustainable jobs, enable Māori to reach their full potential, boost social inclusion and participation, build resilient communities, and help meet New Zealand’s climate change targets. I encourage you to get in touch with MBIE to discuss how the Provincial Growth Fund might be able to assist you in developing your tourism business.
  • The importance of collaboration: I would also like to highlight the importance of collaboration in order to realise cultural tourism opportunities. We want visitors to leave New Zealand having had a great experience so that they can tell others about their time in New Zealand. In order to achieve this, we need to work together with all relevant stakeholders including iwi, councils, whānau, businesses and tertiary and training institutes. We all play our important and unique roles in enabling the growth of tourism in New Zealand.
  • One of the biggest factors that will contribute to the success of the tourism industry, and any other industry for that matter, is whether or not we are able to work together as a team. New Zealand faces stiff competition from other countries for the tourist market and it has become extremely important to be innovative, collective and creative in our approach in order to improve productivity and promote growth in the industry.
  • Māori Economy: While tourism is on the rise, so too is the Māori economy. The Māori economy is estimated to be worth $39 billion. It has a young workforce and a long-term inter-generational approach.
  • That inter-generational approach is a stand-out feature of indigenous economies and supports sustainable economic growth. This is particularly important for regional economic development where boom-bust industries have been common in the past.
  • Twenty years after the first Treaty of Waitangi settlements, many iwi now have significant asset base to leverage off and many are choosing to invest in long-term sustainable tourism ventures.
  • Alongside this has been a proliferation of small to medium Māori tourism enterprises – many of which start of small and are initiated by whānau or family groups.
  • In a survey conducted by Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development in 2014, more than 100 Māori tourism operators indicated their desire to expand their business and to look to future markets so they could understand what they need to do to develop and grow. [2]
  • I am pleased to see that New Zealand Māori Tourism provides a range of advice for Māori tourism operators from start-ups to those who are export ready. It is important that we recognise where businesses are at and tailor support accordingly.[3]
  • We also recognise that this growth requires a new partnership approach by Government where we work with the private sector and Māori to create high-value exports, greater productivity and better skills and wages.


  • He piko, he taniwha: In the Waikato, our signature whakatauki – “He piko, he taniwha, he piko, he taniwha” - and its translation – “At every bend, is a leader” – represents the correlation between people and resource and the ceaseless, perpetual connection between the Waikato people and our river.  
  • Our villages and pā faced the river and the rhythms of our traditional life were integrated in its ebb and flow.  We acknowledged its mauri and life-force as a critical connection to the divine.  As such it was the scene of many rituals and spiritual practices.
  •  It was a source of food, and an arterial route for transport enabling trade and commerce with other hapū and iwi living along the river.  In later years it would further enable my people to transport their produce, grown along its banks, to more distant markets.  In 1859, scientist Ferdinand Hochstetter called it “the Mississippi of the Māoris.”   
  • The Waikato River:  As Minister for Māori Development, Local Government, Māori MP for Hauraki Waikato, and descendant of Waikato iwi, I know that the greatest asset in this rohe, is the Waikato River.  Because everyone who lives here, regardless of their ethnicity, their colour, religion or faith, recognises the river as central to this region’s identity.  That collective acknowledgement could act as a unifying springboard, driving greater economic well-being for the wider region. 
  • In my role as Minister of Local Government I am encouraging local authorities to consider how they can reflect local story telling in their role as place makers. Local government and iwi have an opportunity to work together to reflect what is special to their rohe.
  • I am progressing work to consider how local choice and voice is reflected by local government through our Local Governance for Community Well-being work programme. Recognising our uniqueness is important to the well-being of our communities now and in the future and will be a key consideration of this work.
  • Tainui Waka Tourism: Tainui Waka Tourism is the entity here that supports cultural tourism ventures here in the Waikato.  And it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the role they play in leading this mahi here.
  • The Waikato River Festival, in which they bring together a range of Māori experiences from all iwi along the Waikato is precisely the kind of smorgasbord of offerings that we should be collectively embarking on.  Its an exciting space and I fear this festival doesn’t receive the recognition that it deserves.  This is something that Te Waka could perhaps pick up on but I’ll get to that later.
  • River Riders Ltd:  A tourism venture in Ngaruawahia providing e-bikes and cycle tours along the Waikato River.  Owned by Dan and Dynell Tairaki, they do not subscribe to the myth that Hamilton is a black hole for tourism saying the region is “emerging as a tourism destination.”

“International visitors have done Auckland.  They’ve been to Rotorua and Queenstown.  So they are back for their third or fourth visit and they want to do something different.  Hamilton is the gateway to the central North Island.”

  • Rangiriri Cultural Tourism:  Waikato-Tainui are also at feasibility study stage, working with local iwi to create an experience involving the Battle of Rangiriri pā site combined with other Māori offerings in the area around marae and haka etc.
  • Te Waka cultural tourism package: Te Waka, want to create a cultural tourism package for the Waikato region.  Central to the success of this tourism offering is ensuring that the experience is authentic, adequately supported and appropriately funded.  It should not be constrained by prescribed approaches, but allowed to pioneer new ways of working, so we break the ceiling and raise the standard on cultural tourism success.  In undertaking this work, Te Waka needs to show, not just leadership, but brave leadership.  I commend Te Waka for their willingness and vision and encourage them to embrace the expertise in the rohe, within the iwi and collectives like Tainui Waka Tourism, to assist in these endeavours.
  • Utilising land to realise cultural tourism opportunities: It is important that whānau are able to use their whenua according to their aspirations, and this includes any cultural tourism opportunities based on whenua.
  • We are therefore committed to ensuring that whānau can take advantage of opportunities for land development.
  • The Whenua Māori Fund supports owners and trustees of Māori freehold land with pre-commercial activities, including to explore new ways to boost land productivity. This funding can therefore help owners understand what options are available to them.
  • More recently, the Government has allocated $100 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to help unlock the potential of whenua Māori. This funding will be used for initiatives that are ready for investment and will therefore complement funding provided through the Whenua Māori Fund.
  • The PGF funding will help to directly address a key issue for Māori land owners, which is access to capital for development. I am excited by what can be achieved through this funding package.
  • To further support whānau, the Government has established a new cross-government Whenua Māori Programme which aims to stimulate opportunities for whānau.
  • This programme will include:
    • Targeted legislative amendments
    • New on-the-ground advisory services for Māori land owners; and
    • Technology improvements
  • The advisory service will provide whānau with support including establishing land interests and governance through to investment and growth opportunities, including those available through the Provincial Growth Fund.
  • I am aware that this event supports a proposal for a regional collaborative funding application to the PGF focussed on cultural tourism development along the Waikato River. I am sure there are many opportunities like this and I look forward to hearing about progress on this exciting initiative in the future.
  • Maihi Karauna: The fight to have te reo Māori recognised as a taonga which is valued and protected in Aotearoa New Zealand is a long one, and is the result of tireless efforts by many. It has been punctuated by important historic moments such as the passing of Te Ture mō Te Reo Māori 2016, and the subsequent development of the Maihi Karauna which is the Crown’s commitment to the revitalisation of our reo. 
  • The Maihi Karauna was launched recently at Te Matatini ki te Ao, a fitting setting because of its importance within te ao Māori and that it is one of our biggest celebrations of te reo me ngā tikanga Māori.
  • In conjunction with the Maihi Māori, the Maihi Karauna will help to ensure that te reo is a thriving, living language, and a normal part of New Zealand culture and society.
  • Tourism is important to giving effect to this strategy because it is a key way in which we share our reo and tikanga both domestically and on the world stage. It protects te reo me ngā tikanga Māori as a taonga of Māori, and all New Zealanders.
  • At the heart of the Maihi Karauna is for te reo to be shared and used, everywhere, in every way, by everyone, every day. Kia māhorahora te reo: ki ngā wahi katoa mā ngā huarahi katoa, mō ngā tāngata katoa, I ngā rā katoa.
  • As we tell our stories and history through our tourism, we shape our national identity with te reo me ngā tikanga Māori as a valued part of that, which is a central goal of the Maihi Karauna.

[1] Source: Stats NZ, 2017

[2] Source: Māori Tourism Capability Assessment Report (2014)

[3] Source: NZTM website