Thirty years on from te reo Maori being made an official language of New Zealand, Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell wants Rotorua recognised as one of the country's first bilingual cities.

Mr Flavell said discussions had been held with Otaki and Rotorua about becoming bilingual, and Wairoa District Council had also expressed interest.

"Last year I took a delegation to Ireland, we visited Galway and saw the benefits to the promotion of the language by being a bilingual town," he said.

In the 2013 census 37.5 per cent of Rotorua's population identified as Maori, with 29 per cent of Maori speaking te reo.


Mr Flavell has begun discussions with Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick about how the council can adapt to the change.

"It's a three-way partnership between the government, which is where I come in, the council and the people of Rotorua adapting to the change," he said.

"There's no compulsion, there's no te reo Maori police."

Mr Flavell said examples of the changes would be in street signs, posters and on restaurant menus.

"It's people having more chance for Maori interaction," he said.

"It's an exciting opportunity."

Mr Flavell said social and economic benefits for Rotorua in becoming a bilingual city had been identified and he wanted to see this through before the election.

"We've become complacent with our te reo," he said.


"There is a Maori language footprint already across this country and now we need to normalise it."

Te reo Maori is one of New Zealand's three official languages, along with English and New Zealand Sign Language.

Bilingual students at Whakarewarewa School. Photo/Stephen Parker
Bilingual students at Whakarewarewa School. Photo/Stephen Parker

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said, personally, she thought the initiative was wonderful.

"We certainly could do more than we're currently doing but we would want to go to the wider community to see how far they want to take it ... It needs to be community-led so there is that ownership.

"We do say Rotorua is the heartland of Maoridom and do think it's appropriate when telling the story of Rotorua.

"The initiative hasn't gone to full council but I am sure it is something people will be really receptive to."

Mrs Chadwick said the move could signify anything from changing the city's signage to ensuring locals had better pronunciation of te reo.

"Changing the signage would be a relatively easy start and it could go anywhere from there.

"It's a great aspirational goal."

Rotorua's Whakarewarewa School has a 99 per cent Maori cohort and offers what it describe as "dual medium learning" - meaning it offers both full immersion and English class streams.

Whaea Lisa Reweti, who teaches the te reo classroom, said having a bilingual school gave English students a chance to understand Maori culture.

"Being a dual medium school, they are able to transition between the two languages," she said.

"It's a symbolism for the sharing of our cultures and of what it could look like if we became bilingual."

Acting principal Richard Schumacher said any child who learned more than one language was advantaged in terms of their overall linguistic development.

"You're not taking anything away from anybody, you're enhancing things for them," he said.

"This is a language rich and a culturally rich environment, it's quite stunning."

Mr Schumacher said with te reo already an official language of New Zealand the proposal wasn't exactly breaking new ground.

"We're just going with the flow," he said.

Quick statistics
37.5 per cent of Rotorua's population identify as Maori.
14.9 per cent of New Zealand's population identify as Maori.
11.6 per cent of Rotorua's population speak te reo Maori.
3.7 per cent of New Zealand's population speak te reo Maori.
29 per cent of Maori in Rotorua speak te reo.
21.3 per cent of Maori in New Zealand speak te reo.
- 2013 census