Māori leaders in Rotorua are welcoming a decision to remove a tongue-in-cheek sign at a top tourist attraction that has been labelled a "grotesque racial stereotype".

The sign at Hell's Gate geothermal park, mud bath and spa shows a tubby, tattooed Māori man eating from a cooking pot containing a Pākehā tied up in rope with the face cut out for photos.

Te Arawa elder and respected educationalist Sir Toby Curtis said the sign sounded gruesome and supported its removal by the park following a complaint this week.

We are Maori owned and operated. That is the last thing we want to do

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He planned to find out what had happened and, if necessary, call a meeting of the people to hear what they have to say.

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For at least 18 years, tourists have been posing for photos through the sign until this week when Māori blogger Moata Tamaira saw a photo of a friend's child pop up in her Facebook feed.

"Everyone else was all 'ha ha' but it made me feel gross. Am I alone in thinking this is just a grotesque racial stereotype played for laughs and that it's actually horribly offensive?," she asked this week on Twitter.

"I'm sending them a wee email," said Tamaira.

Roana Bennett, who runs the Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue education and wellbeing trust in Rotorua, said the sign was the sort of thing seen 50 years ago.

"This is the hub of Māori tourism. There is so much richness in Māori culture and natural humour. We don't need it. That is not how we want to portray ourselves. Good on the park for responding the way they have," she said.

Destination Rotorua chief executive Michelle Tempur said that while she was sure no offence was intended, it was pleasing to see Hell's Gate responding quickly to remove the sign.

Operations manager Paul Rayner said he ordered the sign be taken down following the complaint, the first he knew of in 18 years of working at Hell's Gate.

"We are Māori owned and operated. That is the last thing we want to do... we don't want to cause offence to anybody," said Rayner,

Hells Gate geothermal park and spa Rotorua Sulphur baths. Photo / Rotorua Tourism
Hells Gate geothermal park and spa Rotorua Sulphur baths. Photo / Rotorua Tourism

Tamaira's post drew support for her view that the sign was offensive.

Callum MacEwan said: "It is wrong on so many levels. I guess it was a poor attempt at humour."

And from Fey Hag: "Seems we still have a lot of growing up to do if anyone thinks this is appropriate."

"Cripes", said natural history buff Michael Dickinson.

Ngāti Rangiteaorere iwi, which owns Hell's Gate, did not respond to a request for comment.

Māori have been bathing in the geothermal muds and sulphur waters of Tikitere for more than 700 years and Europeans for more than 150 years. The spot got the name "Hellsgate" from Irish playwright Sir George Bernard Shaw.

A second sign alongside the Māori sign, showing a devil with a three-pronged fork, is still up.