Cruise ship guests have been welcomed to the Port of Tauranga with a "pantomime pōwhiri" slammed as "blatant racism".

Photos taken this morning show guests from the Golden Princess cruise ship posing with several non-Māori men in crude skirts with "scribbles" across their faces.

A video shows the men appearing to be pretending to perform a pōwhiri, the traditional Māori welcoming ceremony.

Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said the display was
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said the display was "silly, frustrating and insulting, all at the same time". Photo / File

The photos show the men standing next to a gazebo with Princess Cruises written across it, whose ship Golden Princess arrived at the Port of Tauranga at 6.30am today.

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Mana whenua Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said he was shocked at the photos, and had done his own background checks to confirm the incident took place.

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"It is really disappointing. Silly, frustrating and insulting, all at the same time."

Stanley said there were plenty of local operators who could perform culturally appropriate pōwhiri.

"Our plea to the cruise liner is, just stop. Think about what you are doing.

"Get in touch with us and we can put you in touch with people who can do a far better, and appropriate, job."

Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said the display was
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said the display was "silly, frustrating and insulting, all at the same time". Photo / File

Along with the offence caused to Māori, Stanley said it was a terrible way to greet international guests.

"For the manuhiri to be treated with a pantomime pōwhiri like this beggars belief, and further perpetuates racist myths.

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"The cruise industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, they've got some responsibility to do the right thing."

Stanley said he would be following the incident up with the Port of Tauranga to ensure proper processes were in place to educate cruise ship operators.

Māori cultural advisor Karaitiana Taiuru said the social media posts were so bad he thought they were a hoax.

"It is blatant racism and exploitation of Māori culture and of staff by the company.

"It is derogatory and there is no excuse for such behaviour in today's age where other actions have been in the media and criticised."

People were generally becoming more aware of cultural appropriation and the offence it causes, which made this situation all the more outrageous, Taiuru said.

"Anyone with a basic understanding of the English language with access to any sort of media, whether it is a newspaper, radio or the internet should be aware of the offensiveness.

"Those who continue to practice this behaviour perpetuate disturbing and racist behaviour.

"There is absolutely no excuse for an international company to operate like this in New Zealand."

A spokeswoman for Princess Cruises confirmed to the Herald the welcoming was organised by their cruise ship Golden Princess.

She said they were "very disappointed" the situation had occurred.

"We give a complete assurance that no offence was ever intended and we apologise unreservedly for what has happened.

"We took immediate steps to address this sensitive situation.

"After being made aware of the situation, the ship's management team took action to withdraw the ship photographers from the area to prevent any further possibility of cultural insensitivity."

The company did not answer further questions posed by the Herald about how the situation came about.

A Tourism Bay of Plenty spokeswoman said they were "saddened and offended by the incident".

"Tourism Bay of Plenty condemns the appropriation of Māori culture and we are disappointed to see this happen in Tauranga Moana."

They supported the right of local iwi and hapū to manaaki (welcome) cruise visitors, and worked closely with Ngāi Te Rangi to develop local tourism opportunities that were authentic and culturally appropriate.

They acknowledged Princess Cruises' "unreserved apology" and hoped to work with them and tangata whenua to ensure this never happened again.

"We hope Princess Cruises can use the community's reaction as a cultural guideline for future engagement with tangata whenua in Aotearoa and abroad."

A Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said while they were not responsible for tourism activities, what happened this morning was "not acceptable".

In 2010 Tauranga tour operator came under fire for hiring foreign workers to wear traditional Māori dress.

Other recent instances of cultural appropriation include last year, when Hawera Mt View Lions Club used blackface as part of its Christmas parade, and the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival which ran an advertisement featuring a woman wearing Māori designs and a native American head dress.

The most infamous, though, could be the University of Auckland School of Engineering's "haka party", where students performed their own version of Ka Mate while drunk, with obscenities painted on their bodies and wearing hard hats, boots and grass skirts.

The last "haka" occurred in 1979, after the protest group He Taua confronted the students, resulting in hospital admissions, stitches and broken bones.