In the excitement of planning a trip to a foreign country, it can be easy to overlook a little something that can make a big difference – learning the language.

Communicating with the locals can present new opportunities or experiences. While you don’t need to be fluent or have perfect pronunciation, learning a few key phrases in your destination’s language makes a great impression and can also make your travel much smoother. 

There are three official languages of New Zealand – English, Sign Language, and Te Reo Māori. A majority of New Zealanders will speak fluent English, but here are a few basic Māori phrases that are guaranteed to earn you a smile from the locals.

Kia ora! – Hello! Cheers! Good luck! Best wishes!

“Kia ora” is an everyday basic Māori greeting you’d use to say “hello”. Literally translated it means to “be well or healthy”. These days you see and hear “kia ora” all over New Zealand and it is considered one of the most important words every kiwi should know.

Ka kite! – Goodbye! Farewell!

Sharing a heartfelt farewell with someone is just as important as the first greeting. “Ka kite” is a light hearted goodbye appropriate for everyday casual encounters. Go an extra step further by saying “ka kite ano” meaning “See you again soon.”

Koa / Tēnā Koe – Please and Thank You

In all cultures – manners are very important. The word “please” is not as commonly used in Māori as it is in other languages such as the spanish “por favor” or the french “s’il vous plaît”, but travellers can use “koa” to soften their requests and make them more polite. 

Practice and Practice some more...

Practice makes perfect and you will find many people impressed by the effort you are giving, more so than the accuracy of the phrase. If you are interested in getting a deeper understanding of Te Re Māori, sign up for a language class with Whangarei local, Shaquille Shortland. Matua Shaquille will take you through a Te Reo 101 where you can learn all the basics of the indigenous language of New Zealand.

Aroha mai / Mō taku hē – I’m sorry

Whether you’ve accidentally bumped into someone, said the wrong thing or made a mistake, being able to apologise is essential. You can use “aroha mai” for more casual encounters: “Aroha mai, I’m running late” or “aroha mai, I think I’m lost. Can you help me please?”

Where as “Mō taku hē” holds more direct ownership and accountability. Rather than just meaning “I’m sorry” it translates as “ I apologise, the fault is mine.”

Kei hea… te whare paku? – Where is… the toilet?

It is always important to know how to ask where something is, particularly the toilet. “Kei hea” can be used to ask the location of something, whether that be a physical place or even an item. For example: “Kei hea toku hu?”, “Where are my shoes?”

Save yourself from sheepishly bouncing around the subject or holding it in until you get home by mastering the phrase “kei hea te wharepaku”.

Koa / Tēnā Koe – Please and Thank You

In all cultures – manners are very important. The word “please” is not as commonly used in Māori as it is in other languages such as the spanish “por favor” or the french “s’il vous plaît”, but travellers can use “koa” to soften their requests and make them more polite. 


Expressing our gratitude is second nature to Māori, so by making the small effort to replace “thank you” with “tēnā koe” you will certainly gain nods of appreciation and respect.