Today we were picked up from the Hostel headed to Rotorua (also known as Sulphur City). This stop is rich with Maori culture and geothermal activity. Rotorua is also extremely popular with Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans as it is closely located to the popular Hobbiton. As I am not a big fan of either films (sorry!) I opted to skip the half day trip as it is on the pricier side ($94)
The activity I was really looking forwards to at this stop was the Maori Village Evening Experience with a pick up time from the Hostel of 7:30pm.
During the bus journey to the Village, the driver told us that a male Chief had to be selected from each of the incoming busses and that the Chiefs would be involved in the welcome ritual carried out on arrival. He also explained that the Maori people are very proud of their culture and traditions, therefore, it was extremely important for us not to cause offence by laughing or talking during the routine (which can be slightly overwhelming).
Once at the village, we all gathered at the entrance ready to experience the Maori warriors’ welcome. With the anticipation quickly building up, we patiently stood as the chanting grew louder and the warriors made their way down the river towards us, on a Waka (Canoe). As the Maori men approached the shore the tension was palpable, with the audience quietly and awkwardly shifting from one foot to the other, unsure of what to expect. There are three parts to the welcome performance, these represent the sequence that the warriors would have used in the past to ascertain whether approaching people posed a threat or came in peace.
For the purpose of the performance, the selected Chiefs represented the approaching strangers. The first Warrior moved towards the Chiefs to observe them, almost as if to gather information before reporting back to the other two Warriors. As he retreated, the second Warrior approached the Chiefs posing a ‘Challenge’, he did this by trying to intimidate the ‘intruders’ with a series of sharp aggressive movements, threatening faces (eye bulging and tongue sticking out) and guttural noises. Finally, the third Warrior having witnessed the behaviour of the strangers and decided that the Chiefs did not pose a threat, approached the crowd with a peace offering - a white feather left by the feet of one of the Chiefs. The chosen chief was then asked to collect the feather as a sign of acceptance.
The chiefs all greeted each other in the typical Maori way, which involves the individuals placing their respective right hands on the other’s shoulder and touching each other’s nose tips twice (the Chiefs were asked to practice this before the ceremony to avoid embarrassing head butting or unintentional kissing!). This signalled the end of the ceremony - the Maori People and the Pale Faces (I am pretty sure that is a Native Indian saying and not a Maori one, but let’s just roll with it) were now allies, this meant that the Pale Faces (also known as the bus loads of idiots abroad) were now allowed to enter the Village.
Once inside, we were divided into smaller groups and introduced to different aspects of the Maori culture such as games, combat training, body markings, songs and war dances including the famous Hakka, made widely known by the All Blacks (Just in case you have been living under a rock - The Current Rugby World Champions). Next we were shown how the Maori would typically cook their food using a Hãngi, a big pit oven built into the ground where the food is laid on top of hot volcanic rocks and covered with cloths. This was particularly exciting because the evening experience included a Buffet Dinner where some of the food had been cooked this way.
Whilst the cooks finished preparing our meal, we were treated to typical Maori performances with music, songs and dances. Dinner was served in a large room with plenty of food available for all. You could choose from Lamb or Chicken (cooked in the Hãngi), fish in a white sauce, vegetables, roast potatoes, salad, stuffing and gravy. Everything was replenished every 10 or so minutes and the food was delicious. The meat and vegetables which had been cooked in the hãngi had a strong earthy flavour. It seemed to be an acquired taste for some, but I could literally eat rocks so I definitely enjoyed the feast!
The night ended with a warm goodbye by the Maori team and one last song to send us off *
I had really looked forward to this activity and I am pleased to say that it lived up to my expectations. I find the Maori culture and history really fascinating and I look forwards to learning more about it in the upcoming weeks.
*You also have the option to spend the night at the village. I couldn’t personally excuse the extra cost of the stay, however, a few of the girls that chose this option really enjoyed it. They were able to use the hot tubs, were given comfy beds, clean towels and were really looked after by the lovely people at the village. They were also given breakfast the next day. So budget permitting, staying sounds like a great option!