Dear friends,

You cannot visit New Zealand and not want to learn about the history and culture of the Maori people of New Zealand, and where better to do this than in Rotorua, famous for its geothermal landscape and strong Maori traditions.  The first evening we were in Rotorua we visited Tamaki Village, one of the tourist attractions where you can experience a range of cultural activities and eat food from a ‘hangi’ – an underground cooking pit.

On our arrival, we waited outside the gate of the Marae (village) until were welcomed and invited to enter.

A young warrior performs a Powhiri (challenge & welcome) before we can enter.

Inside the village, a Rangatira (chief) teaches us about the Haka (war dance) and challenges the men to try.

John takes up the challenge with several others and does his best …..

For my part, I joined the women and had a turn with the single short poi.  The poi were first used by men as a means to strengthen their wrists for hand to hand combat and using their clubs and spears, but it is now more common for them to be twirled by the women to accompany their dances and songs. 

I got into the swing of it, and it brought back lovely memories of some forty odd years ago …

I studied the Maori language and culture when I was at University and was the first graduate of Otago University to have Maori as my ‘foreign language’ requirement.  I argued that it would be much more use to me than French as I planned to teach in New Zealand and shouldn’t I know our country’s second (or is it the first) language?  I taught my first year in Ruatoria on the East Coast and it was indeed useful.  My students taught me how to twirl the short poi and that year I first performed with a local group at a ‘hui topu’ a festival bringing performing groups from all over the country.

Flashback to 1972 – performing as a Maori maiden complete with a ‘moko‘ the lips and chin tattoo worn by the women.

The following year I moved to Wellington to teach and joined a newly established group ‘Te Kahui Rangatahi’ with whom I performed for the following year and a half before travelling overseas. In 1974 we were one of eight groups chosen from across the country to perform at Waitangi on New Zealand Day in front of a huge crowd and in the presence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II who was visiting NZ that year. The photos below are of our group.

Flashback to 1974 – There I am, front row 4th from left. We each embroidered our cloak before the big event at Waitangi.

A practice session of the ‘canoe poi’ telling the story of the great migration of the
Maori people to Aotearoa in about the 13th Century. I am the sixth person in the front row. 

But enough of the reminiscing of what seems as another lifetime, now back to 2017, and our visit to Tamaki Village….

An elder of the village watches as her colleagues teach another group a stick game, taught to improve quick reflexes.

An impressive warrior puts fear into the tourists and then instructs on the traditional tattooing patterns and methods.

We gather to watch the opening of the ‘hangi‘ and the unearthing of our food for the evening.

And there it is – a feast of chicken, lamb, and assorted vegetables – kumara, potato, pumpkin and carrots.

While the food was being laid out in the dining room we were treated to a short performance of songs and dance
My camera not fast enough to catch the speed of the poi swung in rhythm with the singing.

The men demonstrated their ferocity in a splendid ‘haka’.

Three generations of the family perform the ‘haka’ together.

The ‘Rangatira’ (chief) thanks us for visiting their marae and invites us to taste the ‘Hangi’.  It was delicious!

The next day we visited ‘Te Puia’ an area of geothermal activity with spouting geysers, boiling mud pools and traditional building and crafts on display such as the woodcarving. In the afternoon we visited the magnificent redwood forest and walked on the pathway high in the trees.  We enjoyed it so much that after dinner in town we returned to do the walk again under the stars and with the specially designed lights shining through the trees.

The Pohutu Geyser at Te Puia.  

Layers of silica forming stalactites below the geyser.

The Pohutu Geyser shooting water and steam high in the air. 

Carving atop a storehouse at Te Puia.

Inside the Meeting House, carvings adorn the walls, interspersed with woven panels each pattern telling a different story.

The Redwood Forest Walk is a new attraction for Rotorua and we loved it. A series of walkways are hung between the giant trees and at every station there is information about the trees as well as the other plants, birds and animals which live there.

The Forest Walk with the wooden lanterns hanging above. The highest platform as 6 metres above the ground. 

A young boy turns to smile at his family as he leads the way along one of the hanging bridges.

Looking upwards, the trees tower above us. 

Looking down, the patterns of the fern leafs are beautiful. 

Some of the wooden lights hung throughout the forest.  Or are they UFO’s ….. ?

A shaft of sunlight catches hanging fern leafs painting them bright green.

John enjoying the walk, posing amid the ferns.

At ground level, we are reminded how huge the redwoods are. These young girls found a great spot to enjoy their ice-creams.

We returned in the evening to do the walk again, and the experience was entirely different but equally enjoyable. The lights along the way made beautiful shadows on the ferns below, and created a magical feeling. In some areas coloured up-lights filtered the forest in greens and red, pink and blue, and although there were several other walkers, everyone respected the quiet of the forest.

The lanterns lit the trees and created patterns in every direction.

The designer of the wooden lamps wanted to replicate the birds wings and feathers – you can see this here. 

These UFO-like lanterns were my favourite – where are we? 

Lights in the forest.

The lanterns hanging high above one of the illuminated walkways.

What magic is this – looking like a stage set from a fairy tale.

There are plenty more lovely things to do in Rotorua, like swimming in the hot pools, or visiting the Agrodome and learning about sheep and sheepdogs, or testing your courage on one of the many extreme sports, some of which originated in Rotorua. However, we had to be on our way again for the last leg of the road trip, to visit Auckland, NZ’s largest city, which will be the subject of the next journal entry.

So, until next time,