Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, New Zealand

Whakarewarewa is located in Rotorua and is the site of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and Thermal Area. We arrived early as they have two performances per day of the Maori war dances and we wanted to get tickets for the earlier one. Even though we were there shortly after opening, there already were several empty buses in the parking lot and more buses pulling in. Good thing we arrived early.

Free guided tours are offered and they are well worth the time. Our guide is a Maori gentleman, very pleasant and very knowledgeable. He takes us through the museum, and the craft workshop. We work our way around the various buildings, with explanations of what they are called and what they are used for. There is also a kiwi house. Kiwis are extremely endangered and they have two. We were lucky to see one very active. The tour lasted about an hour and it was a very good overview of Maori life and culture.

You can wander through the Whakarewarewa thermal area on your own. We were very fortunate to see the Pohutu geyser in full force. I had never seen a geyser before so I was fascinated.

Heading towards the Maori performance area, the ticket holders are lined up outside the gates to the sacred area. A tourist was selected to be our ‘chief'. One of the Maori male dancers came forward, making appropriate threatening gestures. When it was apparent our ‘chief' came in peace, an offering was placed upon the ground, accepted, and then we could all enter the Marae, the sacred house, after removing our shoes, of course. There are many opportunities, in New Zealand, to see a performance of the Maori war dances and seeing at least one should be a ‘must do' on everyone's list.

It is now close to noon and we had been told about the availability of a hangi lunch in the café. Hangi is the traditional way the Maoris cook their food. They dig a pit and put in hot rocks, the food and then cover it all up. A very big deal in Rotorua is evening hangi dinners/performances, which can be quite expensive. We just wanted to taste the food so opted for the (much less expensive) lunch.

At the café, we got the last hangi platters. I was glad we tried it but it did leave something to be desired. Basically it was steamed chicken, kumaru (sweet potato), white potato, squash, and some other vegetables. We were glad we didn't spend big bucks for an evening performance.

After lunch we wandered back into the thermal area and got to see the Pohutu geyser going off again. We walked around for another hour, amazed at how much time we were spending watching steam come out of the ground. We were glad we had put Whakarewarewa on our itinerary.