''A tragedy and a disgusting appropriation.''

That is the response from Tauranga Moana Iwi leader Buddy Mikaere after a ''pantomime pōwhiri" performed by staff members on the Golden Princess cruise ship for its guests yesterday.

And Mikaere is not alone in his criticism with leaders in Tauranga and Rotorua speaking out. The stunt has been branded as ''blatant racism'' and resulted in an apology from the cruise line, which said "no offence was ever intended".

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

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

The photos show the men standing next to a gazebo with Princess Cruises written across it, whose ship Golden Princess arrived at the port at 6.30am on Monday.

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Tauranga Moana Iwi leader Buddy Mikaere says the
Tauranga Moana Iwi leader Buddy Mikaere says the "pantomime pōwhiri" was disgusting and not acceptable. Photo / File

Mikaere said the stunt was unacceptable and a giant step backwards and he had complained to Tourism Bay of Plenty, saying it should give the cruise line ''a serve''.

''What are these people thinking?''

Mikaere said in his view the cruise line should have done it properly with ''due respect to the culture''.

Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said the incident was an insult to Tauranga Moana iwi. Photo / File
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said the incident was an insult to Tauranga Moana iwi. Photo / File

Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said the incident was an insult to Tauranga Moana iwi.

"If the facts are as stated, this shows a complete lack of cultural awareness and is an insult to Tauranga Moana iwi."

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The city council's Māori engagement team would work with Ngāi Te Rangi and the cruise ship company to ensure the correct tikanga was in place, Powell said.

Rotorua tourism leader June Grant said Māori culture was not just for show. "I'm surprised they think it is something you can just roll out like a circus''.

"Manaakitanga is the basis of our hospitality but it is also the basis of our culture, so nobody should be getting a false welcome."

Mana whenua Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley says it was ''really disappointing. Photo / File
Mana whenua Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley says it was ''really disappointing. Photo / File

Mana whenua Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said it was ''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."

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."

Tourism Bay of Plenty and Ngāi Te Rangi said in a written statement it "condemned" the appropriation of Māori culture but hoped to work with Princess Cruises and tangata whenua to ensure this "never happens again".

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

Tourism Bay of Plenty confirmed it had received Mikaere's message and had been in touch with the New Zealand Cruise Association and Princess Cruises.

Rotorua Lakes Council cultural advisor Trevor Maxwell labelled the stunt a "cheap shot".

"Not only is it silly to do it just undermines the effort of manaakitanga.

"There is a role for them (cruise ships) to play but not by trying to mimic and gimmick something which, to us, is quite special."

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon said it was important iwi were represented genuinely and it was disappointing to see guests ''tricked''.

''Maori culture must not be abused as it sends the wrong impression''.

A Princess Cruises spokesperson said the company was "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 about how the situation came about.

Meanwhile, a Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said while the port was not responsible for tourism activities, what happened yesterday morning was "not acceptable".

Cruise ship activity brings significant benefits to the Bay of Plenty including the $90.3m boost the economy received during the 2018-2019 season this newspaper reported last month.

Tourism Bay of Plenty said at the time: "Last season Tauranga had the second-largest total spending by port in New Zealand."

This season the region will welcome about 306,460 passengers and crew from 112 ships including 25 double ship days, one triple ship day, and four overnight stays.