What to expect from a Maori massage

Head to New Zealand’s North Island for a deep, intense and calming traditional Māori massage. Here’s what to expect.

A picture of Champagne pool at Rorotorua, New Zealand.
  • Belinda Luksic
  • July 2018

As a wellness writer, I know my way around a spa menu. I’ve tried shiatsu, ayurvedic, Swedish and Thai massage. I’ve experienced crystal bed therapy, reiki and acupuncture. But until now, I had never received a traditional Māori massage.

Lake Taupo in the morning

This is why I find myself standing nose to nose, touching foreheads – the traditional hongi greeting – with Renee, the masseuse at Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa in Taupō.

The adults-only Māori-owned hot spring on New Zealand’s North Island is one of the few places in town to experience the massage – with the added bonus of a post-massage soak in one of three silica-rich hot thermal springs. For centuries, Māori healers have practiced romiromi – an intense form of massage that includes deep-tissue work and a focus on pressure points, helping to release blocked energy, bring about balance and encourage deep spiritual healing. The gentler, oil-based therapeutic massage mirimiri is another form of traditional Māori healing. The techniques have been passed down through generations to those with healing hands. The esoteric and once- outlawed practice taps into whatumanawa – the spiritual dimension – to integrate and engender change.

My Māori massage begins with the karakia, a beautiful incantation that invokes spiritual guidance and protection. “It’s an invitation to our ancestors to join us in the room for the healing,” Renee says.

Rock carvings at Lake Taupo

Given our location, I’m inclined to believe. Set among tropical gardens, the massages at Wairakei Terraces take place in a traditional meeting house, a tiny red and white hut with a sacred totem pole at its entrance and ancient carvings on its walls.

The one-hour massage combines the long, sweeping strokes of murimuri with the deeply penetrating shiatsu-like pressure of romiromi. At one point, Renee speaks in a low chant near my ear. And later, she presses a pebble into each of my upturned palms. I dutifully breathe into my heart chakra as instructed.

Relaxing sunset over Lake Taupo

Eventually, I drift off to sleep – awoken at the end to another karakia, this time sung to close my energy fields and wave the ancestors from the room.

Having spent a night Googling other people’s illuminating experiences, I had hoped for a more cataclysmic release – a torrent of tears perhaps, or a flash of white light. But, as yet, nothing so profound has occurred.

I don the spa robe and follow the garden path to the springs – a large figure-eight-shaped pool spanned by an arched bridge, with two smaller adjoining pools. As I take to the steaming waters I notice, for the first time, my focused and blissed-out state. There might be something in this healing after all.