Greetings from steamy Rotorua! and I don't mean steamy because its a sweltering summer down here in the Bay of Plenty but steamy because this part of the North Island is on top of volcanic geo-thermal activity fields so that means smelly, steaming geo thermal pools as per my video diary.....as I disappear into the smoke...
Its been an extremely busy 10 days here in Rotorua as I've been visiting several Maori villages to discover and learn more about the fascinating culture of the native New Zealanders, so I've summed it up here with a lot of cool stuff for you with lots of photos, videos and info from my explorations.......enjoy
Well, first lets introduce you to ROTORUA (meaning 'two lakes' in Maori) and the Maori and Geo-Thermal capital of New Zealand! I've been up to so much cool stuff here that this is a Rotorua special.....
The funny thing now in present day New Zealand is that the dog is now banned from the city of Rotorua, really...banned! as they want to keep it as the cleanest city in New Zealand and owners are fined or their dog imprisoned no!- how whacked is that!
Maori Capital of New Zealand
The Island sitting right here smack bang in the middle of Lake Rotorua is Mokoia Island and has a Maori legend behind it in Rotorua involving two forbidden Maori lovers from different tribes Hinemoa and Tutanekai.
''Hinemoa was a high ranking beautiful young maiden from a tribe living at Owhata on the east of Lake Rotorua - because she was so highly ranked, she was considered sacred and would have a husband chosen for her by her father the chief and the rest of the tribe. Many men wanted to marry her but none gained the approval of the tribe. Tutanekai, a young man from another tribe who's status was much lower than Hinemoa's as he was born as a result of an affair, lived on Mokoia Island and when their two tribes met at a gathering, they instantly fell in love with eachother. Of course, their pairing was disapproved and Tutanekai would sit heart brokenly on the shores of Mokoia Island and play his flute made from the bone marrow of the arm of the man who his father killed for disrespecting his illegitimate birth.
Hinemoa could hear the sweet sound of her loves flute wafting across the lake and tried to canoe across, but they had been pulled onto the shores of Rotorua by her father to stop her. She decided to attach gourds to her to keep her a float and swam to the Mokoia Island. When she arrived ashore naked, she went to bathe in one of the thermal pools by Tutanekai house to warm herself up when his slave came to collect water. Upon asking and hearing he was her loves slave, she smashed the calabash on the side of the pool to make Tutanekai come to the pool himself...hence finally being united with his distant love...... now thats a love story hey.....''
The Te Arawa tribe have endured a tragic and punishing history, when a chief of the North Land Ngapuhi tribe Hongi Hiki came to Roturoa and The Bay of Plenty to avenge the killings from previous encounters of tribal wars by overrunning the North Island with European weapons and the musket, massacring thousands of Maori's. A Te Arawa woman Te Ao Kapurangi who was married to a Ngapuhi chief who travelled down to Rotorua to assist Hongi Hiki in the war, she pleaded for her people to be spared - and was told.....all those who pass through your thighs will be spared....so.....she she ran to the meeting house of her tribe, stripped naked and stood above the doorway and shouted for her people to enter the house 'between her thighs' .....clever lady!
The old 'Bath House' which is now the Rotorua Museum is where during the war, injured New Zealand soldiers would reside here in the themal baths which with its rich minerals in the waters, was thought to help in healing...as do the thermal pools here peppering the town (some have actually been sites of people committing suicide in them - pretty morbid)
Sleeping ducks on Lake Rotorua!
Ha ha ha!
Cameron's Laughing Gas Pool - was a popular community bathing site in Rotorua where the Sulphur waters were said to cure the craving for alcohol and liquor. The Carbon Dioxide and Hydrogen Sulphide given off by the pool would cause bathers to laugh, but was also a bit dangerous as fainting could occur in the waters
Visiting Maori Villages
Throughout my time discovering Rotorua, I have taken many journeys to explore the heart of New Zealand which to me is the Maori, so I've tried to document all my findings and discoveries right here in this blog.
Nestled at the lake front, is a sweet little charming active Maori village called Ohinemutu resides with about 500 residents. You can spot it from on top of the hill with the smoking geo-thermal pools steaming from the ground dotted all around the village. Being my curious self and exploring the chance to meet some Maori residents, I took a visit to the village for a look around and see what colour Maori daily life can bring and what encounters might occur....
The main meeting house, the hub of the village. In fact there was a 'tangi' going on a day later, meaning a funeral so a body was inside the meeting house for the three day mourning process. Maori's don't necessary believe the spirit has gone so give the body a hongi breath to try and revive life back into them and stay 24 hours with the body. It is on the third day, the body is then carried away to be buried or cremated - when there is no flag flying, it is a sign that peace needs to be given.
Back in traditional times, if a chief or member of the tribe was a traitor or had disgraced the tribe, they would be buried standing up as a punishment with their head exposed on the surface for the birds and insects to eat - yikes! Traditional times also saw the bodies wrapped in woven flax and strung up on trees for the flesh to decay into bones.
The coffin lid is usually closed if the body was missing its head.......blimey.....
You can see how big the Marae Meeting House is compared to me! I love visiting them and admiring the different carvings and patterns that speaks its own language to the Maori people.
Having a wander around the smoking village.....
The village cemetery for Maori soldiers who died during the world wars, a lovely resting place for the fallen heroes.
Kia Ora! The Maori residents are very friendly if you respect their neighbourhood (you would wouldn't you if you had nosy tourists walking around where you live right?) this nice Maori man Hone from the Te Arawa tribe was using one of the bubbling thermal pools in the village to cook his lunch! He was happy to show me the pot he had covered with woven blankets over the thermal pool where he was boiling meat and then cut up his potatoes and added watercress to the pot and just let it boil! fantastic, no need to pay for gas or electricity, the residents can cook all their food free from nature!
Hone was also happy to show me one of the thermal pools the residents have in a shed in their gardens which they bathe in and its always hot! it trickles in from a thermal spring outside which they block with cloths in the side of the pool - the only thing they have to pay for is in fact the cold water! Pretty nice, own personal thermal spring with all those minerals isn't bad!
After the food was boiled in the pot, I joined the locals for a free lunch - of course only eating the vegetables! or as the Maori's say.....join us for some Kai!
On the Sunday morning, I decided to go to the church service at St Faith's Anglican Church with the locals (Maori and Pakeha) thought it would be interesting to experience it in Maori with the Maori Priests heading the service...at the end of the service, you kneel at the alter and are given a piece of bread and blessed in Maori by the priest and then drink some red wine from the goblet wiped by the priest.....of course it was all so awkward not really knowing the etiquette of these things!
The Lords prayer in Maori
Inside the church is a special stained glass window depicting Jesus wearing a Maori chiefs cloak and instead of walking on the waters of Galilee, he appears to be walking on the waters of Lake Rotorua, as this is how the Christian Maori sees the Messiah....ayyyy.
Whakarewarewa Maori Village
About 30 mins from Rotorua centre lies New Zealand's only living Maori Village set within the geothermal wonders of the Whakarewarewa Valley and home to the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao people. The village is a public domain and has hosted visitors from other lands since the 1800's. The original guides of the village were famous all over New Zealand with descendants from those very Maori guides who showed Alfred Hitchcock, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and even Queen Elizabeth II around their dwelling, now guide visitors today.
Wow, to even think the Queen walked around here is pretty cool....following in the steps of royalty.
Wow, to even think the Queen walked around here is pretty cool....following in the steps of royalty.
Let's give you a look into what's inside the village...
Pretty long name hey for where you live? imagine having that on your drivers licence?
Since the 1800's the village has been hosting visitors and happily taking them around the village of Whakarewarewa teaching them about their unique lifestyle using the mud pools, boiling mineral springs and erupting geysers around the small village.
Now there's a bridge to the village that separates the material world from the spiritual world of the village, but before, the locals would carry the visitors over by piggy-back and then by stepping stones for 'a penny' fee. Today that tradition still carries on with the 'penny divers' who jump off the bank into the cold river and ask vistors to throw over a gold coin which they dive for to collect under the water, with a big Kia Ora! when they surface - can make quite a bit of pocket money there!
The central Meeting House of the village, the carvings lining the village walls are spirit guardians to protect you from bad energy whilst in the village - they believe its the comfort of the ancestors who have come and gone
For centuries, the Maori people have learned to live in harmony with Mother Earth and keep the natural order of things. Most of these boiling geo-thermal cooking pools are over 50 degrees centigrade and are still used today to boil vegetables and meat, lowered down by nets and left to cook - the good thing is, you never have to worry about it over cooking and many of the villagers go off to work or do their daily errands and come back to find their food is cooked and ready to eat!
If the Maori people thought the water was polluted to bathe and cook their food in, they would have left the land many years ago...they're clever like that...
A 'steam box' similar concept to a Hangi, placing the food in a wooden box installed over a thermal pool and letting nature take its course - they would generally let food cook for 4 - 5 hours especially if you were cooking meat- they would place Manuka leaves over the top of the food and let the oils from the leaves steam and smother over the food (kai) for flavouring.
The bathing pools, over 35 degrees the locals will bathe in these waters of many rich minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc and sulphur (hence the smell of Rotorua - you're on a cauldron of sulphur!) many of these minerals acting as healing ailments for injured warriors returning from battle.
The cemeteries in Rotorua are pretty unique, the bodies are in tombs above the ground as its too hot to have them buried below!
The Village Anglican Church
Ah the bubbling mud pools of Rotorua! These are interesting as they are formed by rain water forming pools and the geo-thermal activity from the underneath decays the surrounding earth and mixes it with the rainwater to produce the thermal mud - it continues to bubble and burp from the heat underneath. The mud is like cosmetics of the gods, holding rich minerals and contains Calendula to clear the pores to tighten and firm the skin - might bag myself one of those!
You can't however venture to the collect the mud yourself - its like quicksand and the mud pool will be named after you......
....but of course, as Maori hospitality goes, you can't come to a Maori Village and not have a cultural performance
Ta Moko Artist Jason Phillips
The resident Moko (tattoo) artist studio lies here in Whakarewarewa with a fab collecion of gifts and Maori artifacts he has collected over the years. Besides taking readings and forming a Moko tattoo on your genealogy and personal journey through life, Jason can also do art pieces (off the skin) so I decided to go for a visit and he was kind enough to welcome me to watch his process of how he gets a story onto a ta moko
Tamaki and Mitai Maori Villages
Next down on the journey, Tamaki and Mitai Maori Villages ....
When entering a Maori Village, the term 'Maori' meaning 'natural' at first there must be a 'Powhiri' ancient welcome ceremony where the sound of a conch shell can be heard as the Chief and sub chiefs will confront you at the entrance when they sense a foreign visitor to there land. Here at Tamaki, a challenge dance occurs and the Chief or representative of the tribe will 'check you out' and lay down a New Zealand native fern leaf ,which is a sign of peace, in front of you.
If you pick the leaf up, it tells the tribe you come in peace and are then welcomed to follow them into their homeland
The traditional 'Hongi' greeting of pressing of the two noses twice occurs between the two chiefs and you may enter the Tamaki Village to meet the rest of the villagers
Teaching the awkward men the Maori Haka ha!
Maori woman, showing us girls the Poi, which was first used by the male warriors to strengthen their arm for battle but then was taken by the women to mimic the flight of New Zealand native birds - and it is pretty spectacular how they do it so fast.
Progressing on to stick games used by the Maori for hand-eye co-ordination and entertainment, Maori children would be encouraged to do stick games in preparation for using weaponry.
Demonstrations of flax weaving for Maori traditional attire and war clothing
Maori warriors, demonstrating foot work drills used to condition them for combat by stepping over stick ladders to make them more agile
Mitai Maori VillageThe neighbouring Maori Village of Mitai 'people of the four winds' is well known for its glow worms in the forest area about 3km from Rotorua at Rainbow Springs. The term 'Rainbow Springs' comes from a legend of seeing a Rainbow coming out of the sacred spring water as a regular occurence. The water we were drinking at the village came from the Spring itself and is only allowed to be drunk by the Mitai family or visitors to the village.
This Waka taua (war canoe) at Mitai was not constructed in the traditional way but actually made as a prop for the 1993 movie 'The Piano' which was the waka that brought in the piano in the movie (if you've seen it of course) but now resides permanently at Mitai.
Phoebe, my Maori guide is wearing a 'ta moko' tattoo on her chin which only women could have, men full face moko represented the fathers energy on the right and the mothers energy on the left so they were not always symmetrical on the male face. The 'moko' on the female chin usually represents the 'night owl' who is the guardian of the night and women are therefore the guardian of the children, the curls representing the eyes and feathers of the owl.
Best tasting food in the world - unveiling the 'hangi' being cooked in the ground using heated rocks from burning wood
The traditional village dwellings were built on high lands so they could see the enemy coming and stakes surrounding the village were made from 'iron wood' which held lots of moisture so it was impossible to burn down the villages. Slain enemies heads would be put on a stake of iron wood as an act of defiance post-battle for all the village to see.
The sacred Rainbow Spring, alive with glow worms once darkness falls. Maori believe if you took you partner to conceive a baby here in the silver fern forest by the springs and glow worms they would produce strong and beautiful children which many Maori of the area still believe today.
Deeper into the forest....the distant call of the conch shell and singing...
Mitai Warriors on a Waka paddling down stream!, the war canoes were intentionally built slim and narrow to be paddled down narrow streams in the forest, the circular leaf reefs at the bow to catch any bad energy that was heading their way...
And so you enter, the pathway to the main whare to enjoy the cultural performance of the village. It is here where the 'powhiri' welcome ceremony is performed on the elected chiefs of the visiting tribe - in our case 22 countries were visiting the village so the silver fern was laid for the chiefs to take as a sign of peaceful intent.
The cultural experience at Mitai is probably the best one I'd seen in New Zealand - the setting is in a traditional Maori village which gave it a really cool sense of authenticity...as they sung welcome songs and karakia's and a mass participation in learning the haka - even us girls!
Anyway you can see for yourself....
The light shaking of the hands or 'ringas' is called the 'wittle' which keeps the rhythm of song for the Maori whilst they are singing
Video Clips of the Poi Dance and Haka
The 'poi' was originally made from a rock and then wrapped in bull rush leaves attached to a piece of rope, then it went to newspaper and now made from foam wrapped in plastic which the ladies use to imitate the flight of birds, the winds, the waves of the ocean....
Te Pui Maori Cultural Centre
'Te Pui' is the name of Rotorua and New Zealands central Maori Cultural Centre to learn everything indigenous about New Zealand marvel at the natural phenomenon of the surrounding natural Geysers...
Getting a fair sprinkle from the main Geyser Pohuta which is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere erupting once or twice an hour and can reach for heights over 30 metres - which can sprinkle pretty much the entire site - awesome display of natural energy.
The Manuka Tree and Tea Tree are precious to the Maori as they have made honey and been used for antiseptic purposes for centuries.....Manuka trees only grow to 5 metres high and blooms white flowers in the summer so the bees have to do overtime to harvest the pollen and honey!
Later that day......
Te Pui Weaving SchoolWeaving is such a significant part of traditional Maori culture and you'll find most of the traditional homes and dress has been made from flax or as the Maori call it 'Harekeke'. Flax is a plentiful crop throughout Aotearoa and it is said that when Maori Chiefs were told by the English that flax didn't grow in England, they were perplexed at how it was possible to live in a land without flax? obviously because flax is very important to the cultural traditions and lifestyle of the Maori that they couldn't fathom life without it.
It's very clever how the flax is woven - they first take the thick green flax leaf and use the sharp edge of a mussel shell to strip the leaf away in certain intervals to reveal a pattern of the stringy flax fibres.
Then, they are dipped into the boiling thermal pools to make them curl into cylinder straws and 'bleach them'. Once attached together as a skirt, it is then left to soak in the tea from boiled tea tree leaves to colour the exposed stringy flax fibres this light brown as an undercoat.
Then depending what colour you want the patterns on the skirt, it is then dipped in mud, ochre, grounded seeds to dye it the colour you want! wow!
The three stages of weaving a Polynesian flax grass skirt.
Maori Marae Greeting
Video clips from inside the Meeting House...
The Maori say....'The door is for the living, the window is for the dead'....
The traditional way the Maori would have dried and smoked fish and meat
Pre-European Meeting House for discussions, debates and other cultural occasions
Traditional store house for food, kinda like a modern day pantry
A Maori young man steaming corn on the cob over a thermal steam box - really the taste is the best you'll ever taste
Te Pui Maori Centre and New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute
This was a fantastic opportunity I was offered when I met a Maori man from Air New Zealand with roots from Rotorua whilst out sailing on the Haunui Waka back from my days in Auckland.
He knew the managing director of the Maori Culture Centre 'Te Pui' just outside of the city and invited me to come and visit the Maori Arts and Crafts institute to see first hand Maori Wood Carving at work by the students there. The nice thing is, the institute is fully funded by tourist visits - as they are not asking the government for money or funding, they have complete control on how they run the centre and ensures everything is kept the Maori way...
Scholarships are offered to young Maori men between the age of 18-30 who have an interest in learning the craft of wood carving. Over 200 applicants apply every year and only 4 or 5 are actually chosen for the scholarship so they are a special bunch of young men.
They have to have a special criteria, they must know their genealogy blood line or 'whakapapa' and show commitment to the school and to their Maori Culture in their private life. Also, the school has to consider the balance of tribes accepted so one isn't favoured over the other....
Having seen all these incredible carvings on the Maraes and all through my travels of New Zealand so far, it would be a great opportunity to see where they came from and how they were made...
The Carving School at the moment is working or a big totem pole of Totara wood that is going to be shipped to Turkey. From what I gathered, one side is depicting the god of war and the other side the god of peace with his basket of Kumara sweet potato, symbolising cultivation and agriculture.....cool hey! It has taken a couple of months already to do what has been done with 10 carvers working on it, but by god what a work of art!
I got the chance to meet and talk with the young Maori students and masters themselves...
The students have a three year scholarship where they are given a fair few chisels which they get to keep on completion of their scholarship and sharpen with special Arkansas Stones which is a delicate task it itself .
Alot of them are doing pieces of work for their modules and coursework and some are doing custom made pieces on commission - on the left, the student is carving the stern of a waka from Manuka wood and on the right, the student is experimenting with a piece of pine to make a female head for a Triathlon Trophy - no pressure! The wood is generally from Totara, Manuka or Kauri trees and is milled first and glued together (laminated) to try and hold the moisture in and prevent splitting. These guys are well into their scholarship and know what they're doing!
This nice Maori young man Pene was finishing off his course work of a Maori Warrior made from Manuka wood and was happy to show and tell me his magnificent work. This had taken him over two months to do and showed me the language of the inscriptions and grooves which tell the story of the piece - his was a warrior kneeling down (the stance of the Maori God of War) who was also a skilled fisherman, there are many things as with all artists, which don't seem right to their eye and needs improving but to me as the beholder I just loved it....not for sale though...
He even let me hold it! He reckoned it would retail at $500 but graduates and masters work are worth well over $1,000 - bit out of my budget but I have Pene's contact if I did want a personal carving of my own!
The students are tutored by the 'masters' who could pretty much punch out these statues in 1 - 3 days! This man had been a master tutor at the Institute for over 50 years when it first started and had a fair few chisels to his name!
Here's some of his masterpieces he's been working on that the students were using as templates for their own work - incredible detail...only by the eye of the experienced
On the left, is an incredible carving of his ancestors on a walking stick he is making for himself (I'm surprised he even let me touch it!) and would probably retail at $1,500! The small carving of the chief with mokos is actually a foot stand for his walking stick! I wouldn't even dream of standing on it!
Either way, I just adore this work and made sure they knew it ha!
Of course when you come to New Zealand, it would be a sin not to seek out and see a national treasure of the country - the cute little Kiwi...its on everything, and shops selling everything New Zealand are known as 'Kiwianas' in homage to their little bird.
Encountering the Kiwi....
So here in Rotorua is New Zealand's Kiwi Conservation Centre at Rainbow Springs, where I went to take a behind the scenes tour of what goes on when it comes to conserving this strange and fascinating famous bird of New Zealand...
Kiwi in an All Blacks Rugby Kit ha!
Short Video Diary....complete with sun cream (a con about a lone traveller - no one to tell you've rubbed all your suncream in grrr!)
The New Zealand 'Save The Kiwi Trust' operate from sponsors and charitable donations to the Kiwi Conservation Centre, so the fee for the tour was 100% profit to the centre, so was a great cause.
But Kiwi's are funky birds, well....they call them birds but they've actually been labelled 'honorary mammals' as alot of their characteristics are more like mammals....years ago, Kiwis were abundant in their millions as the isolation of New Zealand with no predators to prey on them made them plentiful. But, as soon as the Europeans introduced the stoat, dog and cats to fend off rabbit epidemics, the poor Kiwi's population now is about 70,000 due to being hunted.
There are 6 species of Kiwi found across New Zealand but the Conservation Centre just house the North Island Brown Kiwi
Funky Kiwi Facts
*Kiwi's are nocturnal birds so sleep approximately 18 hours a day and then go to forage for food when darkness falls
*The Kiwi cannot fly! they have no wings, but little stubs underneath their plummage which are naked. They also don't have a V shaped breastbone that flying birds do so they are flat breast boned and cannot defend their front - they are therefore part of the RATITE group which is related to the Ostrich.
*The Kiwi is a solitary bird and has one mate for life - they don't stay with eachother, but seek eachother out if they want to mate again
* Kiwi's don't have very good eyesight, they look like they have a mouse's head with whiskers but have excellent hearing, they survive in the forest by their acute hearing and strong sense of smell with their nostrils at the end of their 12 cm long beak
*When foraging for worms and insects, they constantly snort the dirt from their nostrils as they dig their beak deep into the earthy soil
* They are very fast runners with their pear shaped bodies! and their strong legs of bone marrow (just like ours) houses very sharp claws, so they are not afraid to fight. They are in fact very bold and territorial!
* When Kiwis are scared, they freeze and camouflage into their forest surroundings
* The Kiwi is deemed to be sacred to the Maori's - as the Kiwi is flightless and survives from the earth, they closely associate the bird to goddess Papatuanuku, the 'Earth Mother'
* When she is carrying the egg, it takes up most of her body mass and compresses her stomach to make room for the egg ( look at the photo - woah!) that when she lays her egg, she's starving and wastes no time in leaving the male to incubate the egg. In fact, once she lays on egg, its not too long before the next Kiwi egg comes along from her second ovary - woah!
* Yep you heard it, the MALE is left to hatch the egg, he does the 'pancake' affect by digging a burrow out under a tree or log and spreading himself out on the eggs for at most 120 days - tough job for dad hey!
You couldn't take any photos behind the scenes in the hatchery but here's a video online of one hatching....they pierce the air pocket with their beak and away they go...
The cool thing about the Kiwi chick is that it is instinctively wired to know how to survive - using its little head and big feet to push themselves out of the egg. The parents don't bond with their young and leave them after hatching to fend for themselves - self sufficient and independent from day one! The yolk inside the egg has actually been ingested by the chick so they could pretty much live on it for about 2 weeks! They then start foraging for food on the forest floor and start swallowing stones to help with their indigestion! how do they know how to do that?!?! I think its so crazy its cool.....
Here it is - the famous Kiwi!.....no flash photography as it will stress them, but you can just make out the brown plummage and long beak...cute! Here she (the females tend to be bigger than the males) is foraging for food
There you have it, I've finally met a real Kiwi! and to finish off my explorations of smelly Rotorua, keeping in Kiwi spirit, I'll leave you with a funny video of a Kiwi in action rocking a treadmill :)
Kia Ora and Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed my blog from one of my favourite places in Aotearoa
And if you ask a Maori....what is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, He tangata, He tangata - It is people, it is people, it is people.....
Ka Pai 'All Good'
Roturua, Bay of Plenty