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Māoritanga: Keeping The Māori Culture Alive

There’s no visiting the geologically fascinating land of Rotorua without delving into the historically fascinating world of the Māori culture.

Maori new zealand

What is the Māori Tribe?

Going in blind, all I knew of the Māori culture was their intimidating war chant and the face paint (which I learned later are actual face carvings) the men and women would wear. That’s about it. We were eager to learn a bit more. Who are they? How did they come to be? Are they still prominent today? We were eager to know and there was no leaving Rotorua until we did so.

If I were on my own, living in New Zealand for a while, I would get to investigating through the locals I end up befriending. But since I was on my own, with three friends and limited on time, the best way to learn about the Māori culture is to go through one of their special tours. Now I’m usually not a fan of regular ol’ tours, generally speaking, so we made sure to find one that was the most “in your face” as possible. After speaking to a friendly local in a travel center, he suggested we try out Tamaki Māori Village.

The tour would begin hours later in the day with plenty of hours to spare beforehand. What shall we do before?

“Have you guys gone luging yet?” asked the friendly travel guide.

“Luging?” I mumbled perplexed. “What the heck is that?”

Welcome to RotoVegas!

All it took was a simple gesture of a brochure and a recommendation from a local friend of mine who suggested luging to me briefly prior, to decide that it was the thing to do. There is a hill nearby that hosts an attraction called Skyline Luge Rotorua in the heart of the weirdly named RotoVegas. Why is this place called RotoVegas? It doesn’t resemble the real Vegas even in the slightest, but whatever. I was just glad to luge down a hill—something I’ve never done before. Chelsey, Mike, Ryan, and I each bought a ticket for three downhill runs each. One for the beginner, intermediate, and advance course. A gondola and a ski lift was our ticket to the top of the hill.

 

Helmets waited for us at the top. They were color specific according to head size. I immediately went for the orange one, the biggest one for my watermelon noggin.

The courses were straightforward—linear paths down the mountain with a few light turns here, some banks there, and a couple sharp turns painted with yellow Slow Down warnings. Steering the kart was easy to learn too—push forward to accelerate, pull towards your body to brake, and steer by turning the handles.

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We first went down the beginner course, next the intermediate, and finally the advanced. With each course we gained confidence in our steering and thus our speed increased which meant more fun!

Processed with Snapseed.

We took the gondola back down and drove to the Tamaki Māori Village Center our gateway to the Māori.

Enter Tamaki Māori Village

The Tamaki Māori Village Evening Experience, that is what they call it. Compared to other Māori culture tours, this one is completely immersive from start to finish—which is exactly what we wanted. A charter bus whisked us away from the heart of Rotorua into the Tamaki Māori village, huddled in one of the regions many forests. A group of us entered the sacred grounds and greeted fiercely by warriors practicing their ancient ceremony of welcome before entering the main grounds.

maori rotorua

maori rotorua

After the welcoming ceremony, our big group was split into several smaller groups and directed to different parts of the village where we would learn different aspects of the culture. The first area was warrior training where all the men in the group learned a quick series of motions for intimidating the enemy. The poi dance area is the one Chelsey got involved in. Poi dance is the art of swinging spherical weights attached to a small rope in different patterns and circular motions. Of course, Chelsey was a natural.

maori rotorua

maori rotorua

Other areas of the village involved warrior training, games, weaving, and face/body markings (almost like a tattoo).

 

What stuck with me about the markings are that men usually get a permanent face marking called a Ta Mono, carved in a distinct pattern on the skin. The men practically cover their faces while the women mainly get them solely on their chin as not to cover their natural beauty. Captain James Cook, a British explorer who was the first to record a circumnavigation around New Zealand, described the markings as follows:

“The marks in general are spirals drawn with great nicety and even elegance. One side corresponds with the other. The marks on the body resemble foliage in old chased ornaments, convolutions of filigree work, but in these they have such a luxury of forms that of a hundred which at first appeared exactly the same, no two were formed alike on close examination.”

maori rotorua

The markings on the Māori people who hosted us put on a full display when they put on dazzling, yet fearsome performances involving song and dance for the crowd.

maori rotorua

maori rotorua

maori rotorua

The village ended with a giant feast of sorts. Actually, it is called a hangi buffet meal mixed with New Zealand desserts. Since we arrived a little later to the village, we missed the whole process of how our hangi meat has been cooked from beneath the ground. What mattered to me more was eating it rather than learning how it was prepared anyways.

Creating Awareness

The Māori are settlers from Polynesia who arrived by canoes between 1250 and 1300 CE. Today, most of the Māori people live in New Zealand with much lesser populations living in Australia, the U.K, United States, and Canada among others. A popular expression in New Zealand is “kia ora” , which is of a Māori language known as Te Reo, literally means “be well/healthy” or can also be translated as an informal “hello”. We’ve been saying “kia ora” all over the place in New Zealand, which indicates a certain respect for the Māori culture exists to this day. With advancements in human resource and technology, invading age-old systematic, the Māori culture has been in a state of decline involving matters of economy and social sustainability. However, strong recognition in the importance of the Māori culture and it’s relevance to New Zealand as a whole is of value and efforts have taken place to preserve their unique and mythological culture by creating awareness such as the Tamaki Māori tour, which I highly recommend!

maori rotorua

We ended the night with full bellies and an eagerness to explore more of the North Island. We could have stayed a few extra days in the sulphuric odorous region of Rotorua with plenty more to do, but other areas of interests peaked our curiosity. The area that peaked the apex of my curiosity in New Zealand takes place in Waitomo, an area to the west known for its many glowworm caves. Inside those caves is something that I have been hankering to do since 2011 that I’ve heard about from another traveler while in Peru.

Get ready, it’s legendary and it’s item number four on my A.T.L.A.S.

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The Smelliest, Muddiest Day of Our Lives: Rotorua, New Zealand

“Alright, who farted?!”

Chelsey uttered suddenly as she covered her nose with the top of her sweater.

To be fair, it could have been any of us guys. We’ve been torturing her during our whole drive in New Zealand so far, but none of us made claim to this particular accusation. If any of us farted, we’d definitely admit it. However minutes later as we drove on, the smell still lingered and soon realized that none of us were the culprit. It was Rotorua in all her sulfuric glory.

Rotorua smells like freakin’ rotten eggs!

Seriously it reeks!

“How come no one warned us about this?” I gagged, mistakenly inhaling a big gulp of air in my mouth.

Even Chelsey, the group appointed New Zealand expert (she’s been happily reading her New Zealand Lonely Planet Guidebook for months), wasn’t aware. Ryan said that this was the worst smell he’s ever smelt in his young life. The smell grew worse once we checked into Four Canoes, our pseudo hostel/hotel hybrid. There were pockets in the vicinity that smelt like absolute death. The people who live here must have noses of steel.



What To Do In Rotorua?

Appropriately nicknamed Sulphur City and less appropriately RotoVegas, Rotorua is the epicenter of volcanic activity in the North Island. What attracted us here were two things: the Maori Culture (which we’ll get to later) and Champagne Lake. What is Champagne Lake? A boiling multi-colored lake hidden somewhere in the region with edges of orange, turquoise, and green fuming with toxic gases. We had to see it for ourselves, but where was it? We researched on google and found that Champagne Lake resides in a place called Wai-O-Tapu National Park.

We had the day all planned out. Wai-O-Tapu–> Kerosene Creek–> Mud Baths, with bits of stuff in between. Since we were booked solid, we departed early in the morning to Wai-O-Tapu–so early that we were the very first to arrive. We parked the car and stepped out into what felt like the set of the original Jurassic Park. I’ve never been in an environment quite like this. We could have swore we heard a Dilophosaurus and a few Velociraptors in the distance. FYI, a Dilophosaurus is that small dinosaur that sprung opened its frills and shot its poisonous gunk into that fat guy’s deserving face. Yup, we heard those. Even the trees felt prehistoric in front of the vaporous backdrop.

Were we at the right place? 

Wai-o-tapu

We walked around as awestruck as we were, to the parks entrance. We were definitely the first ones there which meant complete freedom to explore and take photos without anyone else to stand in our way. What we didn’t fully anticipate to see was how completely unique this park was compared to any other place we’ve been in the world. This place was the primary source of that rotten egg smell, from all the toxic pools and gaseous ponds releasing fumes into the air. None of it felt real.

Wai-o-tapu

Wai-o-tapu

Wai-o-tapu

To complete the entire circuit of the park would take about 75 minutes according to the guide map we received. The length of the trail is about 3km and highlights 25 different hot spots to see. The hot spots were all completely unique but the one that caught my eye first was hot spot number 25: Devil’s Bath, a giant bowl of boiling neon green liquid. The color is the result of excess water from the nearby Champagne Pool mixing with the ferrous salts and sulfur.

Wai-o-tapu, devil's bath

The Champagne Pool is what attracted us to Wai-O-Tapu in the first place and it too also captured my attention.

Wai-o-tapu

It was large and smokey, about 65m in diameter and 62m deep! You could feel the heat from the never-ending spouts of gas erupting from the center of the pool. The edge of the pool is lined with palettes of oranges, reds, yellows, silvers, and browns. The ledges are plates resulting from earthquake activity. There was a silly little rope that blocked park guests from getting too close to the pool. The blockade, if that’s what you want to call it, was so laughable that it was practically asking me to trespass and get as close to the pool as possible. And so I did. We all did.

Wai-o-tapu

No one else was around, except for a couple of tourists who happened to show up and caught us being bad. They were so impressed that they copied what we just did. No harm done though. We just wanted a few cool shots.

We split our time at the park in half. After Champagne Pool, we high tailed it Lady Knox, a nearby geyser that was set to erupt at 10:15am. How can they predict when a geyser will erupt on a daily basis? Turns out all you need is some environmentally friendly soap to break up the surface tension to cause a chemical reaction which results in a giant continuous spout of sudsy liquid! A few of us were sprinkled with speckles of the geysers fury, but thankfully it smelt like soap and not eggs.


We went back to the park to continue our walk through one of the most geologically fascinating places on Earth.

Wai-o-tapu

Hofstetter, one of our dive masters in Paihia, tipped us about a creek nearby we could swim in that produced hot water. It’s called Kerosene Creek and was super close to the park, so we made our way there.

We secured our valuables and walked a few minutes through a muddy forest to find other people in the creek that we were looking for. A small waterfall delivered the warm water we desired as we lolled in the creek for a bit.



We planned on hiking up Rainbow Mountain, but time had other plans for us. We were scheduled to go to Hell’s Gate, a geothermal reserve park, for a proper mud bathing. The place was just a bit north of Four Canoes and time only allotted us to bath in some mud for about 20 minutes.

It was hot to the touch at first. Sinking your feet in the mud Jacuzzi was the hottest part, but once your body settled into the gray ooze, you became one with the mud. Giant clumps were placed in boxes on the rim on the baths that we could use to smother ourselves. It’s said that the mud has age-defying properties ( I feel like every mud spa says that). We put it literally everywhere on our body except above our eyes as we were warned. We were also warned that the smell of the mud would take a couple days to wear off and not to put any mud in our ears. I put mud in my ears before I read that particular warning and suffered dirty consequences the next few days.

Once our 20 minutes were up, we rinsed off the mud and entered a boiling pool of sulphur to relax in. It was definitely soothing but extremely hot and pungent. I still had mud lodged in my nose and crammed deep in my ears, so I got the heck out of there and into the showers after about ten minutes of bathing in the sulphur.

The warning heeds correctly. I soaped and scrubbed my body to the max, yet I still reeked of foul mud. When I woke up the next day, all I could breathe was the smell of mud all over my face, hands, and now my pillow and blanket. Throw in the smell of Rotorua’s ruthless rotten egg stench, I was a stink. But there was nothing I could do about it. Not for the next couple of days since we decided to extend our stay in Rotorua based on how absolutely fun today was. Queenstown may be the adventure capital of the South Island but Rotorua is absolutely the adventure capital of the North, and yet we had so much more to see!

We were beginning to embrace the rotten egg stench of Rotorua that paralleled a world full of unique recreation.