Whakarewarewa: The Living Maori Village

Whakarewarewa is the shortened name for the thermal village of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao and means “The uprising of the war armies of Wahiao”.  The village is located near Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand: 86% of the Māori population lives on the North Island. 

The Māori language was never originally written but now Te Reo is recognized as an official language of New Zealand. The alphabet consists of only 13 letters, 5 vowels and 2 diagraphs (a diagraph is the combination of two letters to make one sound like when PH = F in English).  Knowing this helps to pronounce Whakarewarewa: fak-a-ray-wa-ray-wa.  


Māori culture is full of fascinating myths and legends. According to these tales, Whakarewarewa was created when the goddesses of fire, Te Hoata and and Te Pupu, traveled from Hawaiki to relieve their brothers chills creating mud pools, volcanoes and hot springs along the way.

We planned our time in the village strategically.  At 10am there would be a one hour tour followed by a thirty minute cultural performance starting at 11:15 and the morning would conclude with a traditional hangi lunch at noon. 

Upon entering the thermal village it’s hard not to scrunch your nose up at the offensive sulphur smell omitted from the pools. Although unpleasant, the odour is harmless and is only noticed in the city of Rotorua when there is a lot of cloud cover and the steam can’t escape.  

Sulphur-smelling mist from hot pools
Our guide had a great sense of humour and very easy-going personality. He, like most of the guides, lives in Whaka alongside 21 families.  The families are of the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people who have inhabited Whaka since 1325.  Each home has a kitchen and bathroom but many of the residents prefer to continue the cultural practises of their ancestors by cooking and bathing communally. 

The hot spring are a constant 100 degrees Celsius
Whaka contains a lot of hot spring pools. The pools are at a constant temperature of 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit).  Water is diverted from these pools to the communal bathing area where washing takes place twice daily.  The last person out pulls the plug, the vats are cleaned and fresh water is allowed to flow back in and cool before the next bathing time.

Because of the consistent boiling temperature, vegetables and seafood can be cooked in the pools in mere minutes. Another form of cooking is hangi. These are pits or boxes with hot stones in them.  The slowest cooking food is placed on the bottom and the quickest cooking food on top. Ten chickens could be cooked from frozen in one hour (I think it was 10?!) it was definitely a lot. 

Hangi box

We opted to try the hangi lunch which was all prepared using traditional methods. Everything was cooked perfectly and tasted delicious: beef, chicken, potato, kumara, carrots, cabbage, corn and steamed pudding for dessert. The hangi method of cooking leaves everything very tender and the sulphur doesn’t impact the taste at all.

Hangi lunch
Steamed pudding

The Maori have sacred Ancestral Meeting Houses where the entire village gathers for all kinds of occasions, celebrations and some religious ceremonies (the meeting places are not religious buildings, churches are also found in the village).   The carvings outside represent men: there to protect the building. The carvings inside are meant to symbolize women. It is easy to tell the difference as the male carvings have tongues whereas the females do not. 
Carvings on the outside of the Ancestral Home
The main pole in the middle is very significant. The point of the gable represents the head. The diagonal boards represent arms. The backbone is represented by the ridges and the rafters are the ribs. 
The body, specifically the head, is very sacred to the Māori. When performing any type of dance, all body parts must be engaged. This is why you will see enlarged eyes and protruding tongues during the haka (war dance). After our tour we watched a half hour cultural performance which included singing, dancing and a haka. 

Haka performance
If you’re ever in Rotorua, the Thermal Village is a must-see. You get to learn about the culture from a Māori guide whilst visiting their home. Nothing could be more authentic. 

Whakarewarewa: The Living Maori Village

Rainy Rotorua

Wednesday February 15th – Thursday February 16th | Rotorua 🌳 – Palmerston North 🌧 | 649 Km 🚙

Apparently skydiving makes you pretty hungry so we went to BurgerFuel in Taupo for lunch. I had a Thunderbird chicken burger: chicken breast, aioli, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato and, quite possibly the best burger topping ever, pineapple.  This place could definitely rival FergBurger. The burgers even came with a Doofer to hold it together while eating it. Genius!  Val and I also shared an order of kumara fries which are similar to sweet potato fries but better. The main difference (I think) is that a kumara has purple skin and is a little more fluffier in texture. 

From there we drove out to Huka Falls. Huka Falls are located on the Waikato river which produces approximately 15% of New Zealand’s power. The river system supplies eight hydroelectric stations and provides cooling water for two geothermal and one thermal power station. All of the waterfalls we’ve seen in New Zealand have been stunning: pristine water in beautiful shades of blue surrounded by luscious, green vegetation and Huka Falls were no exception. 

Waikato River just before Huka Falls

Around 200,000 litres of water plunges over the face of the falls every second and creates a huge amount of white water. It almost looks like foam created in a washing machine which explains why Huka Falls are named as such. Huka means foam in Maori. I wondered if anyone would be crazy enough to whitewater raft here and we found out later that yes, some of the locals do attempt it even with kayaks. 

The face of Huka Falls

We drove back up to Rotorua to the Redwoods Treewalk. The grove of redwoods were planted here in 1901 and the tallest tree is 72 meters high and has a diameter of 2 meters – apparently that’s enough wood to build 3.5 houses! It was a really nice walk through the trees which housed 22 different platforms to stop on to learn about the forest and admire the views. 

We spent Wednesday evening at the Tews home again before departing Thursday morning to the Living Maori Village at Whakarewarewa just outside of Rotorua. It was very interesting and deserves its own post so I’ll get to that later. 

The drive from Rotorua to Palmerston North was uneventful. Our boredom was interrupted only by two super cool roadside attractions. The first was a gigantic gumboot statue in Taihape. Taihape hosts an annual gumboot day (unfortunately we’ll miss it) including gumboot throwing competitions and a human dog barking competition.  Maybe next time …

Taihape: The Gumboot Capital of the World

The second was the town of Bulls. They have a massive, black bull welcoming you to town and the rubbish buns are shaped like milk crates. I also need to be friends with whomever came up with the witty slogans in this place. 


Herd of Bulls?  A town like no udder. 

Scrap-a-bull scrap booking store. 

Constabull – police station

Forgiveabull – church

Cureabull – hospital 

We didn’t spot the sign but apparently there’s one in town that points you to all of the different places. I’m sad we missed it.  Here’s a pic I took from their Facebook page. 

A few hours later we arrived in Palmerston North where we had booked a cabin for the night though I’m beginning to think we might need an ark at this rate … 

Rainy Rotorua


Wednesday February 15th | Rotorua 😎 – Taupo 🎒 | … Km + 15,000 feet 🛩

She’s a good girl, loves her mama

I guess that’s why I didn’t tell her I jumped out of a plane until after I was safely on the ground. Because mums worry and I’m considerate like that …

Holy shit. 

Ian shared some delicious, warm hot cross buns with us for breakfast, Carol was kind enough to let us do a load of laundry then we hit the road to Taupo. I had planned to skydive at 12:50pm but we figured it would be a good idea to check it was all good before we ate lunch so went straight to the airport. The guy said I could jump right away, if I wanted, so twenty minutes later I was in a jumpsuit ready to go. Ready. I use that word lightly.

Joel was my tandem skydive partner master.  Partner implies I did some of the work but he was the sole contributor to the jump and I was just along for the ride. I suited up and was strapped into a harness. We hopped into the plane with five other tandem divers and began our ascent to 15,000 feet.  Joel immediately clipped me to him which made me feel a lot more secure knowing that, should anything bad happen, I was attached to a pro. I also had a life jacket strapped to my waist … I wouldn’t need it but the lake is pretty big so better safe than sorry.

Ready to go up in the plane

I think I had a bit of a death grip on the handle for the first couple of minutes but relaxed pretty quickly.  I asked Joel how long it would take before we hit the ground. He joked that he hoped we wouldn’t hit it but would land around five and a half minutes after jumping … Or one and a half if we didn’t pull the chute. I appreciate a witty sense of humour so lightened up after that. 

Oxygen on around 12,000 feet

Around 12,000 feet up Joel gave me an oxygen mask, pulled the very un-stylish brown hat onto my head and cinched the goggles tightly to my face. It wasn’t long before we reached altitude and all of a sudden I found myself perched on the edge of the plane ready to jump be pushed. 

Perched and ready to dive

Holy fucking shit. 

I wanna free fall, out into nothin’ // Gonna leave this, world for awhile

Sitting with my legs dangling out of the plane looking down at a large patchwork of vibrant green grass, deep blue Lake Taupo, and the miniature houses of town was definitely the scariest part. It felt like eternity but in all reality was more like five seconds. Joel catapulted us out of the bright, yellow plane and we began our freefall. 


It took a few seconds for my mind to catch up to what my body was doing. I had my thumbs tucked into my harness, elbows down by my side and legs back between Joel’s knees … I was supposed to arch myself like a banana but that’s a bit of an ask when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying. 

The view from the freefall

We were in freefall for approximately a minute and reached a speed of around 200km/h. All you can hear up there when you’re going that fast is noise and all you can feel is the goggles digging into your cheeks from the pressure, the cool air and a bit of dry mouth. But what you can see is spectacular: the curvature of the earth, the miniature green-wrapped silage bales that look like tiny marshmallows, the ant sized cars scurrying through town and the beautiful expanse of Lake Taupo.  It was unreal. 

Sixty seconds later Joel pulled the cord and I felt a small upward jolt as our chute released. The next few minutes was my favourite part. We soared through the air so effortlessly: turning here and gliding there like a giant bird. The view was phenomenal.  Joel loosened up my harness so I could sit a little more comfortably and enjoy the descent back to earth. This was definitely my favourite part.

Back on solid ground

The landing was a lot smoother than I anticipated. Basically I had to lift my legs up and we landed on our butts. I was unhooked and the jump was over. 

Pumped up from the skydive!

Since this was a bucket list item of mine I decided to purchase the selfie video and photos that were all taken from a Go-Pro attached to Joels wrist.  Sky diving isn’t cheap but it was so worth it. It was a great adrenaline rush, a little scary but fun as hell. I would highly recommend you add it to your list of must-dos and if you’re in Taupo definitely go with Taupo Tandem Skydiving. The guys there are a lot of fun and absolute pros. 


Black Water Rafting

Sunday February 12th – Monday February 14th | Greymouth 🥞 – Picton ⛴ – Ohakune 💤 |  753 km 🚙 + 90 km ⛴

The last few days have been pretty uneventful.  The most interesting thing we saw on the way to Greymouth was a one-lane car bridge with a railway track on it. Most bridges in New Zealand are one-lane only with a sign indicating whether you have the right of way or not. This train/car bridge was the first of its kind we have seen and tops the roundabout with a train track running through the middle of it which I thought was going to win the prize for weirdest road sighting. 

On Sunday we left Greymouth and drove to Picton.  Just north of Greymouth is Punakaiki Marine Reserve and the Pancake Rocks.  These are really cool limestone rock formations that, as the name suggests, look like a stack of pancakes piled on top of one another.  Scientists know that they formed under the sea 35 million years ago but are unable to explain exactly how they came to be in layers.  

Pancake Rocks

We carried on our drive to Picton and arrived at Waikawa Bay Holiday Park around 5:30pm. Supper was my long, lost favourite meal from Scotland: mince pie with Heinz beans … the can with the little sausages in them! It was a beautiful evening so I changed into shorts (first opportunity in a while), we set up our tent and played cards until bedtime while enjoying a bottle of New Zealand wine.  There was a lot of rocks with cute little sayings on them dotted throughout the campsite but my favourite has to be:

The bad news is time flies. 

The good news is you’re the pilot. 

Wine 🍷

Monday morning was wet! It started to rain halfway through the night, began pouring in the morning and didn’t seem to want to quit so we browsed through the shops on the high street until the sun came our around 11am and we could take the tent down.  Oh! I almost forgot about the pantless breakfast dude. Some guy came in to the kitchen to retrieve his food from the fridge.  He had a jacket on, since it was raining, but no trousers!  Val thought that he didn’t have any undies on either as you could see his white ass but from my viewpoint I could see them wedged up there … lovely breakfast sight…

The Interislander

We boarded the Interislander ferry around 1:45pm, departed the South Island at 2:15pm and relaxed until we reached Wellington three and a half hours later.  The ferry was quite nice.  There were a couple different cafes, a bar, live music, two movie theatres, a kids play area and two lounges you could pay a small fee to upgrade in to.  The first movie option was Why Him.  I’d already seen it (hilarious, by the way) so went with Assassins Creed instead.  The cinema was basically a big-ish TV on the wall in front of ten rows of six theatre-style chair but it was a good way to kill time (and brain cells… it was a dumb movie).

Windy Wellington sure lived up to its name. It might been worse than Lethbridge.  While trying to decide what to pick up for a quick supper Val made the ultimate dad-joke and suggested we stop at “Wendy’s in Windy Wellington”; pronouncing Wendy like Windy.  The apple really doesn’t fall too farm from the tree.  Instead we made a quick pit stop at New World Supermarket for some eats.

Three hours later we arrived in Ohakune.  We stayed at LKNZ.  This is the nicest hostel I’ve ever been in.  It was modern with what looked like brand new kitchens, a large private bathroom that housed a shower with a door (that’s luxury right now … most hostels have small showers with curtains), and a very comfortable bed.  Okahune is a big ski town so it was very quiet at this time of year but apparently it is hopping in winter. 

Tuesday February 14th | Ohakune 🚿 – Waitomo 🌌 – Rotorua 🌋 | 369 km

We aren’t haven’t very good luck with weather on this trip.  It rained almost all morning on Tuesday as we made the drive to the Waitomo Caves.  The restaurants there are very expensive (tourism at its finest!) so, since we’re cheap Scots and had a tonne of time to kill, we made our way back to Te Kuiti for lunch.  There was a little cafe called Tiffany’s (yes you could have breakfast there) where we each had a curry and then shared a delicious cookie.  I can’t remember the name of it but I have to find the recipe! I think it was Cornflakes, nuts, cherries and honey mixed together and baked then dipped in chocolate.  

At three o’clock we checked in to Cave World. We donned our wetsuits (it is REALLY difficult to put on an already-wet wetsuit and I felt like I was wearing a soiled diaper… really gross but it’s my blog and I can write whatever I want …), a wetsuit jacket, and boots and hopped in the van to take us to the beginning of our adventure.  The caves are made of limestone that was pushed up out of the sea bed around 30 million years ago during a massive earthquake that raised the ocean floor up approximately 40 meters.  Over time water eroded through the limestone creating nearly 350 caves within a 50km radius of Waitomo.  The tour involved some walking, a (slightly scary) story (one of those ones where you know something is going to happen but even the anticipation of the outcome doesn’t stop you from screaming), floating in our tube, and a sweet water slide at the end.  It was amazing to see the glowworm dotted all over the ceiling of the cave.  They’re such a magnificent shade of turquoise it really is quite a magical experience.   

The Glowworms

After a quick shower and hot chocolate to warm up we headed off to stay with some friends relatives, the Tews.  They own Off Road NZ, an adventure experience company near Rotorua.  They were so welcoming and invited us in to their home with supper, drinks and a warm bed for two nights.  They were also being visited by a couple of Kingdons from Minnedosa – small world!

Black Water Rafting