The World Around Us

Rotorua’s Tamaki Maori Village

Country: New Zealand by Lisette


When I think of Rotorua, North Island, a couple of memories flood back into the active part of my brain. The biggest one is the impressive Tamaki Māori Village and the large population of Māori in town, the second biggest memory is the smell and everything associated with it.

The city is close to the large Lake Rotorua and is part of the active Taupo Volcanic Zone, which is why the city smells like rotten eggs. Rotorua is nicknamed Sulphur City, but I like the actual name because it is a simple representation of Māori language and the volcanic history, with Rotorua meaning Crater Lake (‘roto’) or Second (‘rua’) Lake.

Tourism started more than 200 years ago, as the city became a major destination because it features geysers and hot mud pools. You hear hot springs bubbling everywhere. All this geothermal activity can also have a nasty consequence – as Mt. Tarawera last erupted in 1886 in Waimangu Valley destroying amazing nature and Mt. Ruapehu erupted in 1953 with a mud-lava flow.

black swan

As I walked beside the water, I saw so many black swans and birds like the pukeko pictured below. It is imperative to stay on all paths, for all the bubbly mud pools that are so hot steam is rising up in the air. Even rocks can be misleading. They look tough but are sometimes only a few centimeters thick.


Before tourism started, Māuri of the Te Arawa iwi settled in this area and made this their home for over six hundred years. This fact is corroborated with 35 marae (meeting grounds), which is wonderful as many Māori people are actively keeping their culture and language alive. It is suggested the first European did not arrive until 1828. Consequently, important skirmishes took place here in the 1860s.

83-MaoriOne evening I am devoting to the Tamaki Māori Village. Of course this is lead by a commercial tourist company, yet the experience was remarkable (I remember so many things as I am writing this in 2013!). It was good to see and feel the pride people have in their culture and heritage. It saddened me, again, when I realized not everyone had respect for the unique character of the Māuri warrior culture.

Before entering the village, a formal welcome ceremony – Te Wero and Powhiri – is performed. This means that several warriors with imposing facial tattoos perform haka challenges. As I wrote in an earlier blog post about the Waitangi Treaty, the war dance is mesmerizing and a little unnerving if you ask me.

As all tourists that evening were treated as a tribe, we had to choose one (male) person amongst us to be Chief. When a peace offering is laid on the ground, the appointed Chief accepted this and we were greeted as friends with a welcome cry (Karanga) while the women sang and danced the Powhiri (welcome dance).

In the forest were quite a few houses where several activities were presented, such as carving totem poles, training for speed, etc. In the Meeting House, Wharenui, the tough looking yet soft-spoken Chief and more singing and dancing welcomed us. I was impressed all the women had chin tattoos (to show their lineage).

In the Wharekai (Dining House) we ate yummy traditional food with sweet potatoes, chicken and a variety of vegetables. The hangi had been steaming under the earth on hot rocks for three to four hours. As a result the food had a delicious slightly smoked flavour.

At the end of the evening, the two Chiefs performed an official closing ceremony. The Poroporoaki seals the friendship bond between the two tribes as the Chiefs shake each other’s hands, and “nose” twice while simultaneously saying “Kia Ora!” This means hello as well as best wishes.

In short, I had an amazing opportunity to learn more about the rich Māori culture, even if it was commercial and way to short.