We left Hobbiton and arrived in Rotorua for a little bit of everything – a cultural Maori performance, flax weaving, wood carving, a geyser, a redwood forest, and more (and when I say more, I really do mean a little bit more, not in the infomercial sort of more, where they tell you there’s more but there really isn’t :]).
Our first stop was at Te Puia, where a full day of experiencing Maori culture and activities awaited us. We started out watching what was billed as a “traditional Maori cultural celebration.” It was, I must admit, interesting but a bit overdone. HOWEVER, Michael ended up being one of the stars of the show, which definitely upped the enjoyment level for me :). At the beginning of the show a woman came out dressed in traditional Maori costume, and asked for a male volunteer. I teasingly elbowed Michael, encouraging him to volunteer, but didn’t expect him to actually do so. To my surprise, he did! So he ended up playing the role of “chief” in a re-creation of a Maori peace ceremony between another tribe. I got more than I bargained for when the Maori woman asked for his family members (that would be me) to come out and follow right behind as we walked into the longhouse. So it was Michael with his Maori guide, then me, then everyone else who had come to watch the performance, as we walked towards men standing outside of the longhouse in fur loinclothes and holding spears.
Michael was taught and performed the Maori peace signs, which include shaking hands and rubbing noses with the leading members of the opposite tribe. Once inside, we watched the Maori tribe juggling and musical performances, and then they decided to include the audience. First they brought the ladies up and taught them how to do a sort of ball-twirling thing that ended up being much harder than it looked. They followed that up by bringing the men up to the stage and teaching them how to intimidate their opponents with a Maori warrior pose, which includes opening your eyes as wide as they will go and sticking your tongue out. I’m sure in the Maori culture it must be terrifying, but Michael and I found it far more amusing than anything else.
The cultural performance was followed by a tour around the recreated traditional Maori village, complete with signs explaining how the Maori people used to do things. At one point in the tour, I stopped dead in my tracks, totally distracted by a place name on a nearby sign that was 37 letters long – it said Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, which means “the war dance of the war parties of Wahiao.” Apparently the Maori language is known for its exceptionally long place names. In fact, they hold the Guinness world record for the longest place name in the world, Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, an 85 letter word which means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”.
After getting over the enormity of Maori nouns, we continued on our tour to see traditional weavers and woodcutters and work. We were even taught how to weave our own little flowers out of flax leaves! The tour around the village was then followed by a visit to Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. There were even naturally heated seats, where the boiling subterranean waters came so close to the surface that they warmed the rocks above them. It was really very beautiful and ethereal, but honestly it paled somewhat after seeing other places in the world like Yellowstone National Park.
For me, the highlight of this part of the tour actually after we left the geyser and went to lunch. Part of our tour was a “steambox lunch,” which is exactly what it sounds like – our lunch was cooked in a wooden box that was placed in vent of the geyser itself and heated by the steam coming out from the mountain. At the beginning of the tour, we had put raw meat and vegetables into a little aluminum container, and then the chef had bundled our lunches off to put them in the mouth of a steam vent of the geyser. A few hours later, cooked by steam alone and only seasoned by the sulfur in the steam, our lunches were ready. And must I say, they were delicious! I was quite skeptical of the validity of using sulfur as a seasoning, but it really was very tasty. Plus we got to actually watch the chef pull our meals out of the steam vent, so that was an added little bonus there :).
We finished up at Te Puia a little after lunch, and decided to go on a whirlwind tour of the rest of Rotorua before we left the next day. Our handy dandy little guidebook told us that there was a redwood forest only a few minutes away from where we were staying, so we decided to go check that out first. It was really incredible! I never would have thought to find such enormous trees in the middle of New Zealand. The trees stretched up and up and up, and sound came in muted patches from the soft carpet of leaves underfoot. The light was dark and splotchy, clogged up from above by the thick overhead canopy. It was truly an ethereal experience.
After the redwood forest, we had just enough time to quickly swing by the Blue Lake, one of the clearest lakes in New Zealand, and the buried village, which is exactly what it sounds like – a village that is now nothing more than rooftops sticking out of the ground. And then darkness came, and we enjoyed a night of playing cards in front of a very effective space heater that was truly glorious after the frigid temperatures in Otorohanga. Next stop, the Coromandel Peninsula!