Sunday, August 26, 2012

Maori Experience

After Hobbiton, we headed to Rotorua. Until this point we have pretty much followed our itinerary. Today, we veered away from our original plan. We did this because our Aussie friends at Waitomo Cave informed us that our plan for tomorrow (the Tongariro Crossing) was closed due to the volcano that went off earlier this month. Simply put, we now found ourselves with an extra day to play with. Instead of rushing to the National Park, we stopped at the information center in Rotorua to see what they recommended. I highly recommend stopping at these info centers in NZ, they give great advice and will call/book anything you may want. After talking to him, we decided to take our time through New Zealand's geothermal roadway. On urgings of the guy at the info, we chose to go to the indigenous evening experience at Te Puia. Ironically it was the same one our friend Mary did, whose itinerary our trip is based off of.

With a new plan in place, we grabbed a bite to eat, went grocery shopping and headed to our evening activity. The best part about this experience was that we were able to enter Te Puia for the last tour of the day. So not only did we get the Maori experience, we also got a tour of a Maori Village and Cultural Center. The other bonuses were the Kiwi House and the Pohutu Geyser, complete with hot mud pools.

Two really neat things Te Puia does are a wood carving and weaving school. The wood carving school accepts Mauri men from all over New Zealand on scholarship for a three year program. Mauri women are taught at the weaving school on a slightly less structured basis. After the program, the men and women are encouraged to share their newfound craft. This is how they are keeping their culture alive.

This center is also home to some geothermal wonders. On premises are geysers and hot mud pools. It was wild seeing the mud bubbling like a boiling pot of water. The geysers erupt once every hour, but are unpredictable.

The Maori still use the geothermal area to their advantage. One of the interesting aspects of the dinner was feasting on hangi-cooked food. Hangi defines the process of cooking food in the hot mud. Ours was actually cooked on hot stones, wrapped and steamed, but it is a similar process.

After our tour was our evening experience. The main house represents a person. The mask on top is the head, the side poles are the arms, the beam across the top was his back bone, the beams in the ceiling were his ribs and the center pole his heart. This main house was the center of Moari culture, similarly to how our forefathers viewed churches.

The evening started with a welcoming ceremony. When visiting tribes approached, a single warrior would come out and demonstrate his fighting skills before presenting a peace offering, the visiting chief would have to accept the offering before the visitors could enter.

Once inside, we viewed a full kapa haka concert. The performers did a variety of segments giving us a broad view of their culture. We heard traditional song and saw traditional dance. We were showed some of the traditional Maori games as well as weapons. And the even sang us a traditional love song.

We were also invited to take part in the performance. Below is a picture of Jay learning the haka, a dance performed in front of the enemy to intimidate them so they didn't fight you. The movements and gestures represent how a warrior will eat you.

Next it was time to eat! The food was truly delicious and we even got to try a few new things, like eel. There was so much food ranging from the traditional hangi-cooked food to more modern Maori dishes.

Another fun thing about the dinner was our big group tables. Since we are a couple, we got to sit with a bunch of other couples.we met a very nice couple from the UK and an Aussie traveling on his own. As always, it's fun to compare notes about where we have been and where we are going. The couple from the UK asked us what our American perspective was of the Olympics, because being in London they've only been told positive stuff! It was also very interesting comparing vacation time. All I have to say is maybe we need to move, because our British and Aussie counterparts get on average 20-25 days of vacation!

After dinner, we boarded trollies and went back to the geyser to catch one in action while sitting on their naturally heated seats (by the thermal steam) and sipping hot chocolate.

While unplanned, the Maori experience was a great addition to our itinerary. We learned a lot, met more travelers and had an overall great time. This far-exceeded our expectations and is highly recommended to any Kiwi travelers.

Afterward, we headed to Taupo in hopes of getting an hour of driving under our belt. When we arrived in Taupo, all the holiday parks were gated shut with pass codes. We had to laugh, because we had asked the guy at the info center to call the two parks closest to the Maori center to ensure they'd be open. Naturally, we skipped these and tried to get some more mikes under our belts. At this point we were tired and realized we had made a mistake!! We debated about driving another hour to the next holiday park but instead decided to stay in a hotel.

We ended up at a little place owned and run by locals. We got his last room that was actually a family room. He was so nice to give it to us at his normal rate as long as we promised to only use one bed and be clean.

After a week of traveling, it is very nice to stay in a warm hotel room with a warm shower! Off to bed, it's been a looong day.