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Day 9 – Exploring Rotorua Part II

October 25, 2012

So after a short rest following our earlier exciting adventure we readied ourselves to visit Te Puia which is described as NZ’s premier Maori culture centre  for arts and crafts and home to the world famous Pohutu geyser. If you want to find out more visit their website at http://www.tepuia.com

We were picked up at 4pm by a very chatty driver who was keen to talk all things Olympic and especially the Triathalon. Later on we picked up some people from Australia so his attention turned to wanting to talk about rugby and of course frequent references to the world champions who are of course NZ’z ‘All Blacks’.

We had chosen to attend Te Po which is an evening cultural experience. It is described in the brochure as a feast of cultural storytelling, entertainment and Maori cuisine – we were not to be disappointed as it ticked all of those boxes in abundance and to a high standard.

Our first guide took us through the Maori legacy of how they arrived in the South Pacific eventually settling in NZ. It was a very insightful and at times intimate experience as he described their heritage and journey through to the modern times. He described how those early settlers needed to adapt very quickly to a different climate, especially the colder seasons.

The Maori tradition is based on a number of God’s described as having heavenly origins and representing their celestial guardian in the Te Arawa culture. In the entrance is Te Heketanga a Rangi which are twelve monumental contemporary carvings reaching skywards and each representing one the celestial guardians.

The aim of Te Puia is provide a feel for everyday life as it was in the past. So we were able to see traditional arts and crafts and typical tools in the context of their daily experience. I was very much taken by the young men who were learning to carve as their ancestors did though aided by using more modern chisels etc. Another fascinating fact our guide told us was the pine timbers that they use do not have the traditional rings that other timbers have so the carvers have to learn to go with the grain – something I recall being told as I was learning my trade as a carpenter.

The Maori’s also devised a method of producing fine thread from flax fibre from which they wove garments and other items of extraordinary beauty. The weaving school trains students in the art and skills of this traditional weaving. What is also fascinating is as these young men and women are learning these crafts they are a being educated. Our guide was a very strong advocate of not learning the theory then applying it. He says the Maroi’s approach has always been different by experiencing it practically then learning the theory. It appears the Education Dept in NZ is beginning to adopt this approach throughout the education system.

We had a rare opportunity to see NZ’s national bird which is the endangered Kiwi. I’m not a great supporter of keeping wild animals in captivity but when you understand the high risk of this bird becoming extinct it is difficult to argue against something being done to protect them. Our guide explained why the Kiwi is held in such high esteem by the Maori’s and that their feathers are prized for the cloaks of chiefs.

So it was on to view the Nga Mokai-a-Koko a boiling mud pool whose name means the pets or play things of Koko who was a notable chief of the Rotowhio Pa!!! This mud pool is the result of acid gases and steam that cause the decomposition of minerals to form a clay called Kaolin. Our guide explained to the females that it is excellent for dealing with wrinkles, though the treatment takes up to 3 weeks!!!

Just around the corner from the mud pool was the world famous Pohutu Geyser. It is the largest of several geysers in the valley and it erupts on average once or twice every hour and can reach heights of 30 metres (100 feet). Later on in the evening after our meal we were taken back to the geyser to view it in all it’s splendour lit up against the darkness of the night – what a spectacular sight.

So it was then on to an indepth experience of the customs and traditions of the Maori which included a traditional powhiri (the welcoming ceremony) where one of our party was elected as our chief and he was to be greeted by a warrior’s challenge. His role was to pick the leaf that had been placed on the ground by a very menacing warrior. If he did this then it showed that we were there in peace and we would be invited by our hosts into their meeting house. Thankfully he did as if he refused to pick it up would have meant we were their to fight and I for one was not up to getting into combat with this warrior!!!

What followed was 30mins of entertainment, which involved dancing, singing of the highest standard – these Maori’s certainly know how to sing. Then it was the Haka – this was the moment I had been waiting for, to be up close as these warriors performed the full Kapa Haka. What a sight and even the Maori women join in and they looked scary with their piercing eyes and menacing looks. Now I know why opposing rugby sides get all wound up as they face the All Blacks – it is very intimidating but for me real theatre as well.

Following this great concert we were taken through to the eating area to what I can only describe as a first-class buffet meal with cuisine that incorporates indigenous ingredients, traditional hangi-cooked food (cooked on hot stones underground. We had seen this earlier on in our tour as they took the food out that had been cooking). There was so much variation of food, meat, fish, seafood, vegetarian salads, a sweet cart that had so many options. All washed down with either local beer of wine. Our hosts were outstanding and at times the waitresses broke into song as they were serving. On one such occasion the whole room fell quiet as one of the ladies sang a typical Maori blessing – a very moving experience.

So our busy day had come to an end and we got back to our camper-van quite tired but still buzzing with the excitement of what we had experienced throughout the day.

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