'Black Pete' the controversial Dutch character to appear at Rotorua market

A controversial Dutch character is making its way to Rotorua, with 'Black Pete' to appear at the local feast of St Nicholas on December 5.

The traditional character sees those playing them paint their face black and lips red, then put on a curly black wig and hand out presents and sweets to children.

It's been called racist - even by many in the Netherlands, where the character originates - but Rotorua Netherlands Society member Douwe Visser believes it's just tradition.

He told NZME it will have to change in the future, after some conversations in the community, but not now.

"I think it has to change a little because for some people it's looked at as insulting, but originally it wasn't meant that way," he told NZME.

"I think it will change in the future, but we'll have to talk about it."

Rotorua Multicultural Council president Margriet Theron said she's in two minds about the costumes and will wait to see what the public has to say.

"The old Dutch people are very attached to the tradition but ... I don't think it's going to go down well," she told NZME.

It hasn't gone down well with the NZ Human Rights Commission, who told NZME people need to challenge the perpetuation of racist stereotypes and customs like Black Pete.

"Racism, overt or casual, is not acceptable," a spokesperson said.

Fights in the streets have broken out in the Netherlands over the character.