Māori Words: A Guide for Travellers

Te Reo Māori is one of just two official languages in New Zealand (the other being sign language). Whether you live in Aotearoa or are just visiting, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with its pronunciation and some key Māori words.

This beautiful language is widely used (especially as place names) and distinctly Kiwi.

Learn the basics of Te Reo starting with these useful Māori words.

Did you know? Though English is the most widely spoken language in Aotearoa New Zealand it is not actually an official language? It is a de facto language; this means that it just so happens to be spoken by the majority of Kiwis.

New Zealand was also the first country in the world to recognise sign language as a an official language!

Māori Words – Get to Know the Basics

How to Pronounce Te Reo Māori

Te Reo Māori has five vowel sounds that are pronounced differently to their English counterparts:

  • a (‘a’ like in ‘car’)
  • e (‘e’ like in ‘egg’)
  • i (‘i’ like the ‘ee’ in ‘tee’)
  • o (‘o’ like in ‘four’)
  • u (‘u’ like an ‘o’ in ‘to’)

All vowels can be long or short. A long vowel is signified with a macron above it (or sometimes when written twice – eg. whānau or whaanau).

For example:

  • a, (short vowel) papa (earth)
  • ā, (long vowel) pāpā (father)

There are eight consonants in Te Reo Māori, which sound similar to the English versions — h, k, m, n, p, r, t, and w.

There are also two consonant combinations that make a different sound when joined together – wh and ng.

Many Māori pronounce the wh sound similar to the English ‘f’.

The ng in Te Reo is similar to the ‘ng’ sound in English words like ‘sing’. However, Māori words can actually start with that sound.

Maori hongi

Te Reo Māori Words That Every Kiwi and Traveller Should Learn

Te Reo Māori Greetings

Hello!
  • Kia ora – An informal greeting to one – hello. It can also be used to express gratitude, send love, show thanks or make a connection to someone else. Literally, it means to wish the essence of life upon someone else. You might also say kia ora e hoa (hello friend).
  • Tēnā koe – A formal greeting to one – good day.
  • Kia ora koutou – An informal greeting to three or more people – hello. You could also say kia ora koutou e te whānau (hello to a familiar group of people).
  • Tēnā koutou – A formal greeting to three or more people – good day.
  • Mōrena – Good morning.
  • Ata mārie – Good morning.
  • Kia pai tō rā – Have a good day.
  • Pō mārie – Good evening.
  • Nau mai, haere mai – Welcome.
Goodbye
  • Mā te wā – See you later.
  • Ka kite (anō) – See you (again).
  • Haere rā – Goodbye (said to someone leaving by the person who is staying).
  • E noho rā – Goodbye (said to someone staying by the person leaving).
  • Ngā mihi – Regards/thanks (commonly used to sign off emails/letters).
  • Ngā mihi maioha – Regards/thanks with appreciation.
  • Aroha nui – With deep affection. Much love.
  • Noho ora mai – All the best.

Question Time in Te Reo

  • Kei te pēhea koe? – How are you? When speaking to one person. For two people say kei te pēhea kōrua?, and for three say kei te pēhea koutou?
  • Ka pai – Good.
  • Kei te pai – Fine, good.
  • Tino pai – Very good.
  • Mīharo – Marvellous, amazing.
  • Ka mau te wehi – Amazing, fantastic!
  • Tu meke – Too much! A colloquial phrase showing excitement.

Te Reo Māori Words About People

  • Whānau – A family group or extended family. Also a way to reference a number of people (in a familiar manner).
  • Tāngata – People.
  • Tāne – Man, men, husband.
  • Wahine – Female, woman, wife. Wāhine (plural).
  • Tamariki – Children.
  • Moko – Grandchild.
  • Tīpuna – Ancestors and grandparents.
  • Pākehā – European people.
  • Hapū – Pregnant.
  • E hoa – Friend.
  • Iwi – Tribe. Also a large group of people descended from a common ancestor.
  • Whakawhanaungatanga – Establishing relationships and relating to others.

Te Teo Māori Words Relating to the Land in New Zealand

  • Aotearoa – The Māori name for New Zealand. Loosely translates to ‘land of the long white cloud’.
  • Whenua – Land. Hence Tāngata whenua means ‘people of the land’.
  • Moana – A large body of water, like a sea, ocean or large lake.

Time to Eat!

  • KaiFood.
  • Puku – Stomach, tummy, belly.
  • Pukukai – food-lover/glutton.
  • Kai moana – Seafood.
  • Hāngi – A traditional way to cook food. An earth oven that cooks using steam and heat from heated stones.

Things You Might Do

  • Hikoi – Walk, journey.
  • Moe – Sleep.
  • Kōrero – Talk.
  • Ako – Learn.
  • Titiro – Look.
  • Whakarongo – Listen.
  • Kanikani – Dance.
  • Pakipaki – Clap.

Other Useful Te Reo Māori Words You Might Encounter

  • Āe – Yes.
  • Kāo – No.
  • Aroha mai – Sorry.
  • Kia kaha – Be strong, keep going.
  • Mana – Power, influence, charisma – Māori believe that mana is a supernatural force in a person, place or object. Mana is an enduring, indestructible power and is inherited at birth.
  • Tapu – Sacred.
  • Hongi – A traditional Māori greeting that involves touches noses and exchanging breath.
  • Karakia – A prayer or blessing.
  • Waiata – Song.
  • Waka – A traditional canoe.
  • Haka – A traditional war dance.
  • Mahi – Work.
  • Kaitiakitanga – Guardian.
  • Haurangi – Drunk, mad, deluded.
  • Pākaru – Broken.
  • Aroha – Love. Also affection, sympathy, charity, compassion and empathy.
  • Manaakitanga – Hospitality, kindness, generosity.
  • Awhi – Embrace, cherish.
  • Atawhai – Kindness, care.

Learn Te Reo Māori in the Community

Looking to practise your Te Reo Māori in the community? Have a go at pronouncing place names correctly or through the odd bit of Māori vocab into a sentence.

Is it time for some kai?

Did you get lots of mahi done today?

Don’t be afraid to give it a go – as long as you try your best with your pronunciation and do so with respect, you’ll be celebrated for giving Te Reo Māori a go.

If you’d like to listen to native speakers in person, why not head along to a community event?

Events can be found around the country, such as Te Mākete. This market is held in Auckland once a month, providing a great opportunity to practise this beautiful language in a supportive setting.

Alternatively, turn to TV1 at 4 pm each weekday to catch Te Karere. This programme brings key events and stories of interest to Māori, along with a Māori perspective to the day’s news and current affairs. It is delivered exclusively in Te Reo Māori, with English subtitles and is a great way to listen to correct pronunciation and to pick up on new vocabulary.

We also recommend hopping into Maori 4 Grown Ups and A Māori Phrase a Day on Faceook.

Do you know of other places and opportunities to practise your Te Reo? If so, please leave a comment.

Ka mau te wehi!

4 thoughts on “Māori Words: A Guide for Travellers

  1. Tony says:

    This article is brilliant and such a help for me and my young children. Is it possible for you to make this a sound file? A short YouTube video? Spotify recording? or even a podcast? We need to see and listen to learn here

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