Every country works towards development and progress, but very few can retain their unique character without losing hold over their roots. New Zealand is one such country. Its faith and respect in values add an incredible character to the culture that the people represent. New Zealand has held on to its values because it takes immense pride in its origin and ancestors from whom they inherit this way of life.
We first got a detailed understanding of the history of the Māoris at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, this got us interested in knowing furthermore about the original inhabitants of this land.
To understand their roots better, we were invited to Te Puia during our stay in Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand.
Te Puia: The Māori Village
Kia Ora from Te Puia!
Te Puia is a Māori village in the North Island, where visitors can explore, experience and understand the Māori way of life. Te Puia is located in the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley and is also home to the Pōhutu Geyser and is home to the Kiwis and Māori legacy.
Of course, we had read about the Māori tribe before visiting New Zealand. The Māoris are said to be the oldest inhabitants of New Zealand. Until the English colonized New Zealand and sent immigrants and refugees to settle in what can be considered the end of the earth, Māoris not just ruled the land, but also worshipped it and protected it as their own.
After all these years, after all the development, globalization, industrialization and the events of nature, it was interesting to know the story that this tribe had to tell.
We decided to spend some time and get a comprehensive experience of the Māori culture. After reaching Te Puia, we grabbed ourselves a smoothie from the canteen while marveling at the many carvings at the entrance.
We were signed up for the Te Ra+Te Po experience- the Day Pass and indigenous evening experience.
Te Ra: Tour of Te Puia
It was only when our first tour began when we were told that the entrance, Heketanga-ā-Rangi translated as ‘Heavenly Origins’ with 12 plus carvings at the entrance are the 12 gods/ spiritual realms worshipped by the Māoris. The Māoris were big believers of the forces of nature and their role in our day to day lives. Since ancient times, it was these elements of nature that the Māoris worshipped. The sea, the skies, the water, the earth, the fire, the wind, the mountains were all worshipped by this tribe.
Te Puia is home to not just the Māori tribe but also a hot spot for the geothermal activity in the region. The Māori tribe has adapted their lifestyle and habits according to this activity, making use of it in their daily lives. For example, cooking with the help of the geothermal energy, using mud from the mud pools to cure skin related ailments.
As visitors, we got to see the renowned Pōhutu Geyser in all its element, as the steam sprung up during the course of our visit. Pōhutu means constant splashing in Māori, this geyser erupts once every one to two hours making it the largest geyser in the Southern hemisphere. The eruptions could go as high up as 100 feet, lasting for few minutes to much longer making it a spectacular visual.
Watching the geyser through the duration of our visit was truly a sight to behold!
There are also other smaller or inactive geysers in the area like the Papakura Geyser, Te Horu Geyser, Ngāraratuatara, Ngā mōkai-ā-Koko, Te Tohu Geyser which are open for viewing.
As a result of the geothermal activity in the region, mud pools are created. The produce from these natural mud pools is used to create a range of beauty and medicinal products. While the mud is sold to various companies to further manufacture relevant products, some of it is also sold in its purest form at the Te Puia Gift Shop.
Kiwi Conservation Centre
After getting a good view of the Pōhutu Geyser, we went to the Kiwi conservation center. The Kiwi bird is said to be the first bird that the Māori’s found when they found New Zealand and made it their home, making the bird the first inhabitant of the land as per the tribe. Today, it is an endangered bird, nearing extinction thanks to human activities and climate change.
The Māoris have created a special Kiwi Conservation Centre where a favorable environment is created for the Kiwi bird, who is taken care of and its eggs are further conserved for the breeding of the species.
We got to get a glimpse of the Kiwi right here, at the Kiwi Conservation Centre.
Māori School of Arts & Culture
Fun Fact: The Māori language was not a written language originally. All the teachings, arts and culture were passed on verbally from one generation to another and it continues to be so even today.
The Māori School of Arts and Culture is a center of learning for select Māori decedents who excel in carving, sculpturing and more.
The fees from Te Puia and the government grant is used to fund education in the Māori Arts and culture for these kids, who have the huge responsibility to carry forward the knowledge and culture of the tribe.
Te Puia Pā
The tour continued as we got a glimpse of the Māori architecture, at the Te Puia Pā, the fortified village where we were to be welcomed later. The Māori architecture was a reflection of stories and artistry of the tribe. There were also artifacts and more accumulated over the years at Te Puia as a part of the Māori pride.
Our guide, Ary was kind enough to show us around and tell us all about her culture in detail, solving any query we had. It was heartwarming to see her enthusiasm and pride blended with humility while telling us about the history and culture of her tribe. She was extremely patient and well versed beyond the abilities of a tour guide. One could tell that she had lived it all and was more than happy to share the knowledge about her community with the world.
Te Po: Interacting with the Māoris
After learning about the ways and works of the Māori tribe, we headed back to the Pohutu Geyser to catch the sunset. Afterward, we patiently waited for the next part of our tour- the interaction with Māori Culture.
The culture at Te Puia encourages the tribe to welcome, guide, feed and entertain visitors, treating them like ‘whanau’ (family).
The first part of our interaction was a welcome ritual at Te Puia’s Rotowhio marae. Parichay volunteered to be the Chief of the visitor’s tribe and was to go and meet the Chief of the Māori tribe to accept the peace proposal.
Pōwhiri: The Māori Welcome
The Māoris believed in testing the intentions of the visitors. So, the first part of pōwhiri or the Māori welcome involved wero or a challenge from a male Māori warrior and a welcome call from the female host. Parichay, who had volunteered to be the chief of the visitor’s tribe responded to the challenge by stepping forward and picking up the fern, which was a symbol of peace. This was followed by a welcome speech in Māori language and songs welcoming the visitors. Before retreating inside, the Maori Warrior and Parichay pressed their noses together in a traditional Māori greeting called hongi.
Haka by Māoris
The Māori culture is big on expression and art forms, dance and music being key art forms. At the welcome program, we had the Māori men and women put up a special performance of the traditional dance and music- Haka to welcome us. They even invited us on stage to participate and learn it. Some of us joined in and attempted the new teachings of the Māori culture.
The interaction continued with a special dinner.
Since ancient times, the Māoris cooked their food by storing it in the ground for hours and covering it with sand. The heat and pressure from all sides would result and thoroughly cooked, delicious meal hours later.
We too were introduced to our Hāngi dinner which included cooked potatoes, eggs, chicken and lamb. This, along with an elaborate menu of vegetables, meats and fish was served to us at dinner at Te Puia after reciting a Māori prayer to food.
Night Sky & Thermal Activity
Post dinner, we sat in a buggy and reached the Pōhutu Geyser which was lit up at night, making the thermal activity in the background look more impactful. We grabbed our cup of hot chocolate and sat under the stars, watching the steam go up in the lights and looking up further to catch the stars in the dark sky.
Our Māori hosts were there to answer our questions and to enlighten us one last time about the traditions and stories of the Māori community.
Dos & Don’ts
- Remember, when visiting Te Puia, you are visiting the home of an entire tribe. You may not be able to wrap your head around their customs and rituals, but do not disrespect the knowledge shared with you during your time at Te Puia. Pay attention to what your guide has to tell, ask questions, be sensitive and respectful. You’re being welcomed in someone’s home, don’t demean them.
- Take interest in their culture, rituals, art and more.
- The Māori tattoo is a symbol of pride and stands for the many things that the community values. You can find tattoo artists at Te Puia who can make the authentic Māori style tattoos for you. But it’s best to consider your reasons and get through the process respectfully than doing it for the sake of fashion
- Read up about the Māori’s before you take this tour. It will help you get a better perspective of things when you actually go through the experience.
- Always opt for the guided tours provided by members pf the community, to get the best understanding of the culture and modern-day functionality.
- Don’t waste food at dinner, start by taking less. PS. They do have vegetarian options on the menu.
- Always opt for the pick-up and drop services from your stay if you don’t have your own vehicle since the bus timings in Rotorua can fluctuate as per season.
Te Puia: The Experience That Was
Te Puia was indeed a beautiful experience, which not just gave us knowledge of the Māori community but also made us feel like whanau (family). The experience left us moved, the impact would last for a long time. This was not just another tourist attraction, this felt like someone welcomed us into their home and made us a part of their family.
There was also a sense of oneness as we discussed the commonalities of the culture of worshipping elements of nature in our culture while chatting with Ary. Who says this is a big big world? We are all united by the little things that make us human and all things common which make this universe a small world for all of us!
This extremely special experience in New Zealand continues to be one of our most memorable experiences from the trip. And we’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting this beautiful country!
Please make time to add Rotorua to your itinerary, to visit and experience the Māori way of life at Te Puia!
Book your tickets for this exquisite experience here- https://ecommerce.tepuia.com/wp.dll?Axis/TePuiaTours
Cost & Duration: Half a day/ Depending on your tour package