For an educational Maori experience in Rotorua including fun and games, a haka demonstration, talks on carving and tattooing techniques, and the famous hangi meal, look no further than Tamaki Maori Village.
From the moment you board the bus to Tamaki Village, you will be immersed in Maori culture and encouraged to learn a few words of the language. Waka is the name of the canoes used by the Maori people to cross the sea on their first migration to New Zealand.
Along with learning from your driver about this great journey and imagining you are on a waka yourselves, your coach will need to appoint one male passenger as its Chief. His responsibility will be to represent you and accept a peace offering when you arrive.
Te Wero means ‘the welcome’. Your first encounter with the Maori people is quite intimidating. With the Chiefs of each bus standing in a line and everyone else in a semi-circle at the gates to the village, a welcome ceremony is performed.
Men from the village run forward brandishing spears and chanting, before laying a peace offering on the ground in front of the ‘chosen’ Chief.
His acceptance of this offering signifies that you mean no harm and everyone is invited in to learn more about village life (te marae).
Split into smaller groups, you work your way around small village huts learning various skills and traditional games.
The Maori process of tattooing the skin to portray a person’s life story, using a sharp chisel and filling the cuts with ink, is fascinating.
Many of the demonstrations involve audience participation. You can learn to perform the Haka, test your rhythm swinging poi, or challenge your friends to a traditional game, designed to help develop your motorneurone skills…
Sticks: Each of you holds a stick upright with its bottom end resting on the ground. When someone shouts ‘left’ or ‘right’ – in Maori of course – you have to dash in that direction and catch the stick the last person was supporting before it falls to the ground. The last one standing is the winner, and it gets particularly interesting when there are only two of you left!
The ladder: With sticks positioned on the floor to form a ladder shape, the idea of this game is to move as quickly as you can from one side to the other stepping only in the gaps. If you touch a stick, you’re out.
Big kid games out of the way, you’re shown to the hangi pit – a large oven in the earth where your evening meal is being cooked.
As your appointed chiefs lift meat, potatoes and stuffing out of the steaming ground, the Maori hosts tell you about the origin of the hangi and provide details on how the food is prepared.
Wharenui is the name of the sacred meeting house, where you will be shown a short, informative video on the history of Maori culture and how the Maori people have adapted to colonisation by European settlers.
The village hosts then perform story-telling love songs and dances interwoven with poi swinging and spear jabs.
After running around sticks in the cold evening air and taking on so much information, you will be more than ready for a delicious hangi meal. You will already have been allocated a table when you bought your ticket and service is buffet style, one table at a time.
There’s a bar if you fancy a bottle of wine, beer or soft drink to go with your delicious meal.
Towards the end of the hangi feast, the bus drivers like to play some live music and try to get you singing. This is to warm up your voices in preparation for the journey home…
On your drive to the village, your driver may have told you he was expecting you to sing a song from your country to entertain him on his way home! A word of warning – he’s not joking. It pays to think of a good one in advance or you’ll be cajoled into taking on a request.
There may also be a treat in store for you involving a roundabout if you’re lucky!
GETTING TO ROTORUA
If you have a car, it’s a fairly easy drive to Rotorua from nearby Waitomo or Taupo in just a few hours. Intercity Buses provide services to Rotorua from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Taupo (1 hour); Hamilton (1.5 hours); Auckland (3.5 hours); Gisborne (4.5 hours); or Wellington (8 hours +). Further transfers are available from these locations. Search for journeys using the tool below, or click through to the Intercity website for bus pass and tour options.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Rotorua Downtown Backpackers, which is very close to the iSITE tourism centre and main bus terminal. There are parking spaces at the front, cooking facilities and a communal area with a mean selection of DVDs. The staff go out of their way to offer advice and can arrange virtually any trip or discount combo in the area.
I was a guest of Tamaki Maori Village. They did not request that I write a favourable review and all of the opinions expressed here are my own.