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Tamaki Māori Experience

After the amazing afternoon we had at the Ohinemutu Village learning about the indigenous people of this country we were all very excited to have a chance to be immersed in their culture and learn even more. Tonight we headed to the Tamaki Maori Village where we were treated to an evening of great food, fun, education and culture.

It all started as we boarded a bus in town that took us to the Tamaki Maori Village. During the 20 minute drive our driver kept us well entertained as he prepared us for the evening to come. During the trip we were tasked with choosing a “Chief” for our tribe. It should come as no surprise that Dan was voted in for this job. I may or may not have had a little something to do with it as when we were getting on the bus I happened to casually mention to the driver that he should watch out for Dan…you know, being a retired law enforcement officer he is likely to be a bit unruly. The next thing you know Dan was dubbed Chief of the Takahan tribe.

Upon our arrival at the village our driver took a moment to teach Dan the proper way to greet the village Chief. In Māori tradition the greeting is to touch noses and foreheads while shaking hands and saying “Kia Ora”. As you’d expect, Dan followed his instructions to the letter.

We disembarked and headed into the entrance of the village where all of the other tribes were gathered. The six Chiefs were called to the front and given instructions as to what to do when the village warriors and the Village Chief arrived. The crowd was instructed that during the welcoming ceremony we were not to smile, laugh, talk or move about. Any of that would be considered disrespectful to the villagers and you could be asked to leave.

Before we knew it there were village men coming out doing their traditional war like dances while swinging sticks and making that well known face that includes sticking their tongue out and down. Then there was a distant chanting that grew louder and louder. Off the the right is a small stream and soon we saw a traditional waka, “war canoe”, come into view with several more village warriors.

They all came on shore and began their traditional dance. One of the warriors placed ferns on the ground in front of each of our Chiefs. This is a symbol of friendship and is to be taken very seriously. In fact the Chiefs were told that if at any time this peace offering were to touch the ground it would be seen as an act of war. At least that’s how it would have been back in the day.

The Chiefs were then asked, one at a time to come forward and take the fern. They had been instructed not to turn their back when they walked away and to remain very stoic. The whole gist of this big ceremony is for the villagers to intimidate their guests so you don’t want to look frightened, rather equally tough.

After the presenting of the fern the Tamaki Village Chief came out to greet the tribes. This is where the greeting of tapping foreheads and noses came into play. It appears a bit strange when you first see this but we’ve seen this happen all over New Zealand. It’s not just an ancient tradition, it’s one the Māori people still do today.

Next came the real fun, the Haka! A haka is a ceremonial war dance that is really pretty cool. The point again is to intimidate your opponents. To see one of the coolest hakas ever you should click here to watch the Māori All Blacks rugby team do theirs. It’s actually known as the best haka in the world.

After the haka we were invited into the village. Each tribe was instructed to go to a different station. At each station we were told about different aspects of Māori village life. One place spoke of their history, another of living conditions, one had women illustrating the use of the poi (pronounced poo ē), another station taught the men of the group how to do a haka. Each spot was a wonderful learning experience where they allowed us to participate. It was really very interesting.

As we reached the end of the village tour we were taken to the area where they had prepared the evening’s meal. The meal was prepared in the traditional way in an underground oven called and umu. They heat lava rocks and place them in the bottom of the pit. Then they lower the food down in large baskets. This included potatoes, Kumara (sweet potatoes), onions, carrots, chicken, lamb and beef. They cover the food up and allow it to cook for many hours. The result is very tasty, smoked meat and vegetables.

While they were moving the food into the fale (meeting house) we were treated to a wonderful dance performance by the villagers. They performed several dances and sang some of their traditional songs. It was definitely quite a treat and since Dan was on of the honorary Chiefs of the evening we got a front row seat for the performance. Yes, it pays to know someone high up.

From there it was off to the fale to have a wonderful dinner. The food was served buffet style and it very good. After dinner they had a going away ceremony for one of the village women. She had just taken a job with Disney World and would be leaving the following day. They performed a special haka just for her. It was very moving to watch as she teared up at the gesture.

After that it was time to get back on the bus for the ride back to town. Along the way Dan gave a speech to the tribe, we can 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and the bus driver regaled us with jokes and stories. He even drove around one round about three times just for fun!

We certainly enjoyed our evening greatly. To be honest, it was not a cheap evening out. It was $130 NZD per person. That’s approximately $90 USD. No, not an inexpensive evening but certainly one we will remember for a lifetime and that is what it was all about. We highly recommend this experience if you are ever in Rotorua. You won’t regret getting a chance to meet the amazing people of Tamaki!

We’ve one more day of exploring here in Rotorua so check back in a day or two for more of our adventures here.


Jilly & Dan

Click Here To Watch A Video of Our Tamaki Village Experience

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Day #2 – Exploring Rotorua

This city on New Zealand’s north island is nestled in a huge, ancient caldera that is about 20 km across at its widest and around 16 km across at its narrowest point. Lake Rotorua is close to 300 meters above seal level and is at the heart of the endearing place.

There are tons of things to do here including boating, helicopter tours, hiking, biking, fishing, museums and so much more. This place is also known the world over for its geothermal activity which includes hot mud pools and ponds of boiling water. Yes, Rotorua is definitely a tourist haven but we found it to be warm and welcoming and not overly crowded.

This morning we spent exploring the city at the edge of Lake Rotorua. There’s a huge park and governmental gardens that run along the lake. It’s really beautiful here. As we walked the shores we saw flowers and ducks; swans and beautiful vistas.

Along the way we came across Te Awara Waka Taua. Waka Taua means “a vessel for the convenance of a war party”. This beautiful piece of craftsmanship is 20 metres in length and weighs approximately 2.5 tons! She’s constructed completely by hand using old world techniques and tools.

Hundreds of years ago the Māori people would greet strangers entering their harbors in wakas such as this one. Huge war parties would enter the harbor to intercept and intimidate the intruders. Today they are used in competitions and ceremonial events.

We met some other tourists during our walk who suggested that we keep walking along the lake until we reached St. Faith’s Church located in the Māori Village of Ohinemutu. They said we’d be happy we made the trip so we kept walking and they were right….what a treat we found there.

This quaint Māori Village houses the magnificent Tamatekapua meeting house which is named after the paramount Chief and Captain of the Te Arawa canoe. The carvings on the large house are absolutely exquisite and each is adored with hundreds of inlaid, shiny Pua shells. We weren’t allowed inside but it was a pure treat just to see the outside and relish in the beauty and workmanship that makes this place so special.

Note the steam in the background. This is coming from the mud pools and boiling water just below the surface.

In the village they house the oldest bust of Queen Victoria in the world. It’s a wooden bust commissioned by Agent-General Isaac Featherston in 1873. It is said to have been given to Te Arawa in 1875 to honour the tribe’s efforts as an ally of the British Empire during the New Zealand Wars. The bust stands atop of a pillar about 10′ in the air. We were encouraged to have a photo taken with it as there is currently much political conversation regarding it and they fear it may not rest here much longer.

There are other ornate Māori statues, panels and benches around the open square. Along the village edge we saw hot steam rising from the thermal mud pools that bubble just under the earth’s surface. There are even pools of boiling water at the edge of the lake that the villagers still cook in today.

The highlight of our day came when we ran into a wonderful young man named Shaloh Mitchell. Shaloh’s family has lived in the village for hundreds of years. He is an anthropologist and spokesperson for the village and his tribe. Dan & Jack were standing in the square chatting as Shaloh came by. They struck up a conversation asking him questions about the village. Before they knew it he was giving them a history lesson on the Māori people and their culture.

I was in the church with Mary and we came out to find out if the guys were going to join us. As we approached them we could hear there was great information and wisdom being shared. The man speaking was shirtless and tan and had a strong and handsome face with a square jaw. His dark brown eyes set apart by his flat, broad nose that is so characteristic of the Māori people. He had a smile that was contagious with bright white teeth that shone every so brightly next to his darkened skin. He spoke with great passion and it was easy to see how much he loves and admires his people and their traditions. He just seemed to exude pride with each and every word. It was such a joy to listen to him.

Shaloh told us that they were in the process of cataloging hundreds of anthropological finds in their meeting house. He said he had been up until the wee hours of the morning that day working on just that.

We are so grateful to Shaloh for the time he spent with us. It was like spending time with an entire village and we certainly will not forget the wonderful moments we shared. On the way out he even gave Mary and I each a feather from a 500 year old Kiwi bird they had cataloged the night before!

After we returned from the day we did some research on Shaloh. It turns out he’s really quite something. He’s not just a tribal member, rather he’s one of THE main advocates and spokespeople and quite high up in the community of Rotorua. In fact, when Prince Harry & Megan visited the area in the Fall of 2018, he and his family were an integral part of the festivities as well part of the welcoming committee. They had an entire event for the Royals in the very spot where he was speaking to us. Shaloh even has published articles regarding his tribe and their anthropological finds. We found it to be rather awesome that a man of his stature would greet us, shirtless, and spend so much time enthusiastically teaching us about his people. It just goes to show that you never know who you are talking to and what you can learn from them. Whakawhetai koe Shaloh!

Our final stop in the Ohinemutu Village was at St. Faith’s Church. For a small donation you can enter this absolutely beautiful tudor style church built in 1914. There are many wood carvings, panels and beautiful stained glass depicting scenes of the bible as well as scenes of the world. They even have a stained glass image of Jesus wearing a Māori cloak that makes Him appear as if He’s walking across Lake Rotorua. Unfortunately it was cracked and now has tape on it to hold it together but it was still a wonderful sight to see.

Behind the church is a cemetery that holds the remains of Māori soldiers who went to war and never returned. It sits right at the edge of Lake Rotorua and even has a small covered area with benches for one to sit and ponder life.

We all are thrilled that we walked the extra few blocks to spend some time in this village getting know more about the Māori people and their culture and very grateful for our chance meeting with Shaloh. For now we are headed back to the house to get ready for a very special evening at the Tamaki Māori Village where we will have a chance to truly be immersed in the culture of these amazing people. With all that we learned today we’re certain this should be an incredible experience for us.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan