Getting the ¨Hangi¨of Rotorua
Trip Start Aug 11, 2005
150Trip End May 22, 2006
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Five hours of driving brought us to Rotorua. This is another very active geo-thermal area with many geysers, gurgling hot mud pools, and hot springs. In addition, it is generally regarded as the cultural center of New Zealand. The Maori population has various museums and villages open to the public.
Gerald's head cold forced him to bed as soon as we arrived. I looked into a mud bath spa treatment, but was unwilling to pay over $200 just to be slathered with hot mud. Instead, we'll pick up some of the products made locally. In the end, I quite enjoyed a quiet afternoon and took the opportunity to write our journal.
Dinner helped Gerald to feel better. We barbecued the rainbow trout he caught yesterday. With corn, potatoes and salad, we went to bed a little while later quite stuffed
February 20 - Rotorua
Again we found an internet café with Skype. Good timing, too. I was able to call my brother, Darren to wish him a happy birthday. Gerald still wasn't feeling too well, so he returned to the room to rest.
I, on the other hand, took a quick trip to Te Whakarewarewa (fa-ka-re-wa-re-wa) is short for Te Whakarewarewatanga o te Ope Taua a Wahiao meaning: "The Gathering Together of the War Party of Wahiao." or simple known as Whaka. This is the largest and best-known thermal reserve and Maori cultural area on ancient Maori ground.
With only a couple of hours to spend here, I was very efficient in my visit. The place is really quite spread out. They have a woodworking workshop set up here. I had the chance to see six men carving huge pillars into tall Maori figures. Here and there around New Zealand, we've seen these pillars. A little too big for my backpack unfortunately.
Next, I headed outside to make a bee-line for the Pohutu Geyser. It erupts once an hour. No one can say when exactly, but about once an hour. I was hoping for a sign indicating the last eruption, but no luck. I followed the walking path around through the park getting a good, up-close view of some mud pools
Finally, I reached the geyser area. I was surprised to find quite a few vents spewing steam into the air. Again, the rotten egg smell was prevalent. A small crowd had gathered and I took this as a sign that it had been a while since Pohutu last erupted. I wandered around taking pictures of different steam vents and patiently waited for the geyser to blow its lid.
About forty minutes later, I could hear some bubbling and gurgling coming from the direction of the geyser. A few spurts of water jumped out. About a metre high or so. Cool. I hoped for a bit bigger. Patience rewarded me. The water shot about four to five metres high. I was clicking away, hoping for the best shot.
Having read that the geyser typically gushes for about five minutes, I wasn't missing a second. Once it had been going for at least seven minutes, I contemplated heading off. Boy am I glad that I didn't. The geyser picked up more and more force and before I knew it the water spout was at least fifteen metres high. FANTASTIC! I had read that Pohutu was a Maori word meaning "Big Splash" or "Explosion". To think, I was happy with the big splash, but was treated to an explosion. As you can imagine, I took more photos again
There is a nocturnal room in which they've housed some Kiwi birds. I stood in it for a few minutes, but didn't catch a glimpse of one at all. My final stop was to check out the weavers in the marae, a traditional Maori village. The most beautiful building was definitely the main meeting house. Each beam on the wall was intricately carved and each ceiling beam had a beautiful white design painted on it. Here and there would be inlaid weaved mats. The sign at the door asked to remain quiet in respect of the importance of this building. As soon as I walked through the doors, I could feel the power of the building.
This evening we headed off for New Zealand's version of a luau, a "hangi". This is a traditional celebration feast. We were sure glad that it was more authentic than the disappointing luau we went to a few years ago in Hawaii. In his welcoming speech, the MC explained how this land has been in the Mitai family for hundreds of years and had many sacred spots. He then went on to ask where we were all from. People called out their home country, he'd ask those also from that country to raise their hands. This was fun to see how many people were from each country, but what was more amazing was the MC's reply
He named our tent Tribe of Fourteen Nations and asked for a volunteer to be named chief. An Indian man became our chief. We then went to the performance tent where we were joined by the other dining tent. Both chiefs stood on stage while Maori warriors, and finally the Maori chief, greeted our chiefs with dancing, grunting, brandishing of weapons, and many scary faces including a lot of sticking out of tongues. It is believed that by sticking out the tongue, they looked fiercer and would scare their attackers and/or visitors. So frightening is the tongue, that masks with tongues sticking out are placed at the entrance of homes to scare off evil spirits and protect the house.
Two "peace" offerings were laid down by the warriors that our chiefs picked up. The Maori chief finally approached our chiefs and as a sign of welcome he brought his nose right up to each chief's nose. This is called "hongi" and it is the sharing of breath. It is believed that sharing breath creates a bond and unites people together.
For about another hour, the Maori chief narrated us through some traditional songs and dances
The men wore straw short skirts, but their buttocks were bare. Well, not exactly bare. They had co-centric circles painted on each cheek. Why round? "Cuz bums are round!" explained the chief. All of the men had their upper legs either painted or tattooed with very intricate designs making it almost look like they were wearing black shorts.
Both the men and women had face makeup. Years and years ago, these patterns would have been tattoos. The women have a pattern on their chins and when we looked closely we could see an abstract picture of an owl. The meaning of this is that owls are said to see very well and to be wise. The men had various types of designs reminding us of masks. Unfortunately, the performers were rarely still making it so difficult to get good photos.
As with all good performances, we were invited to participate having to shout out a Maori phrase meaning welcome, "Ha Waka"
While eating, a couple family members played a few songs for us. The finale was a short bushwalk through a forest. At one point, we all turned off our flashlights to see tiny green lights here and there. These are glow worms. Very neat! The walk ended at their natural spring. The water was so clear and we thought that it was about two or three metres deep. Were we ever surprised that it was between ten and fifteen metres deep. No wonder there were four eels living in the small pool.
What an informative, fun, and relaxing evening. This culture is still going strong and is a strong force in the New Zealand community. Unlike so many countries, this indigenous group is well represented in all areas of society including the government. Families have tried to preserve their language and customs with about 40% of families still using the Maori language as their first language at home and Maori immersion schools are also on the rise. Good on ya!