10 useful Māori words and phrases for travelling in New Zealand
Your essential cheat sheet for speaking like a local.
Planning a trip to New Zealand? Lucky you! Our antipodean neighbour is an amazing country, full of beautiful vistas and welcoming people. There is incredible food to try, delicious wines to sample, and hair-raising experiences (bungy jumping, zip-lining and more) to be had. But there is also a unique culture, influenced heavily by Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.
One of the biggest ways Māori have informed New Zealand life is through language. Many Māori words and phrases are used frequently by the majority of Kiwis, seamlessly integrated into the dominant English tongue. And while we can’t give you a full rundown of these words and phrases, we can certainly start you on the right path.
The most important Māori saying to grasp en route to New Zealand is ‘kia ora’. Translated exactly, kia ora means ‘be well, or be healthy’, however it is used in common New Zealand English as a substitute for many other phrases, including hello, cheers, and thank you.
Below is a list of other words and phrases you might hear as you travel the North and South Island.
Useful Māori words and phrases
- Kia ora: Hello (informal); Cheers; Good health; Thank you. (It’s a very important word!)
- Ae: Yes.
- Kāore: No.
- Tēnā / Koa: Please.
- Haere Mai / Nau Mai: Welcome; Come.
- Ko wai tōu ingoa? What is your name?
- Ko [NAME] ahau: My name is…
- Nō hea koe? Where are you from?
- Nō Australia ahau: I come from Australia.
- Hei kona rā: Goodbye (informal.)
Pronouncing Māori words correctly can be tricky, as some letters have different sound rules to English. The New Zealand Government’s official NZ History site offers the following rough guidelines. There you can also find more information about Māori language and culture, plus other facets of New Zealand life and history.
- a as in far
- e as in desk and the first ‘e’ in where; it should be short and sharp
- i as in fee, me, see
- o as in awe (not ‘oh!’)
- u as in sue, boot
- r should not be rolled. It is pronounced quite close to the sound of ‘l’ in English, with the tongue near the front of the mouth.
- t is pronounced more like ‘d’ than ‘t’, with the tip of the tongue slightly further back from the teeth
- wh counts as a consonant; the standard modern pronunciation is close to the ‘f’ sound. In some districts it is more like an ‘h’; in others more like a ‘w’ without the ‘h’; in others again more like the old aspirated English pronunciation of ‘wh’ (‘huence’ for whence)
- ng counts as a consonant and is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘singer’. It is not pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘finger’, i.e., Whāngārei is pronounced Far-n(g)ah-ray (not Fong-gah-ray); Tauranga is pronounced Tow- (to rhyme with sew) rah-n(g)ah (not Tow-rang-gah).
For help translating Māori words and phrases when you’re in New Zealand, visit the Māori Dictionary and download their app. To read more about Māori people and culture, we recommend starting with New Zealand Now.
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