A Visitor’s Guide to Te Reo Māori

Table of Contents

    From the greetings when you first touch down (‘kia ora’ or ‘hello’) to place names such as Aotearoa (‘Land of the long white cloud’ a.k.a. New Zealand) to a national anthem sung in two languages, Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) is a part of everyday life in New Zealand.

    It is not as widely spoken as English, but Te Reo is one of NZ’s official languages and it’s well worth learning a few words and phrases when you visit. Māori culture is an integral part of New Zealand’s identity and history, and you will see and hear that influence throughout the country when you visit.

    This guide will not make you a Te Reo expert, but it will introduce you to the basics so you know your ‘kia ora’ from your ‘ka pai’ and ‘kai moana.’

    Without getting too complex, Te Reo is largely a phonetic language, meaning what you see is what you say and hear. This is because it wasn’t a written language until the arrival of Europeans, who then began writing based on what they heard.

    The biggest difference for English speakers is the use of ‘ng’ and ‘wh’, which are used as consonants.

    • ‘Ng’ is pronounced like in the word ‘singer’ and tends to have a nasal sound to non-Māori speakers.
    • ‘Wh’ is pronounced as a soft ‘f’ sound. Visitors tend to get a chuckle when they realise how to correctly pronounce words like ‘whakapapa’ as it sounds very naughty in English.

    When saying words, syllables are formed by pronouncing vowels on their own or a consonant followed by a vowel.

    For example: Aotearoa = a-o-te-a-ro-a


    Key words and phrases:

    Greetings & GoodbyesVisitor's guide to te reo Maori phrases

    Kia ora (key-or-a) – Hello, goodbye, thank you
    Haere mai (high-reh-my) – Welcome
    Mōrena (more-en-a)- Good morning
    Haere rā (high-reh-rah) – Goodbye, farewell
    Ka kite anō (Kah-key-te-ah-no) — Until I see you again (goodbye to one person); incorrect phrase, but commonly used – the full correct phrase is Ka kite anō au i a koe


    Iwi (Eee-wee) – Tribe
    Whānau (far-no) – Family, including extended family and those considered close
    Wāhine (wa-he-ney– Woman
    Tāne (ta-ney) – Man
    Pākehā (pa-key-ha) – Europeans

    Other Things You’re Likely to Hear

    Marae (ma-rye) – Courtyard in front of a meeting house, but often includes the surrounding buildings too
    Haka (ha-kah) – war dance or ceremonial dance
    Hāngi (hung-ee) – Feast
    Waka (wah-kah) – canoe
    Kai (kai) – Food
    Kai moana (kai moe-ahn-ah) – Seafood
    Mana (ma-nah) – Honour, respect, authority
    Tapu (ta-poo) – Sacred, has spiritual significance, taboo
    Aroha (ah-row-ha) – Love
    Ka Pai! (kah pai)- Good, well done
    Hui (who-eee) – meeting or gathering
    Koha (ko-hah) – gift, donation

    Disclaimer: This is a quick reference guide for foreign visitors. Te Reo is a beautiful and fascinating language that is impossible to fully cover in a quick-read article. We encourage everyone who’s keen to learn more!

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    Kirra Crew

    Kirra Crew

    We have been creating memorable New Zealand experiences since 1968. Our passion for this country is displayed through our unique itineraries. And we love to blog about exploring New Zealand and the many things to do & see here. Check out our articles and experience New Zealand your way.
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