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

Lavender, whiskey & glaciers

Thursday Feb 9th | Alexandra 🍒 – Wanaka 🤷🏻‍♀️ | 188 km 🚘

Friday February 10th | Wanaka ☀️ – Frank Josef 🏔 | 328 km 🚙

Sarah fed us croissants for breakfast and off we went to Wanaka. We couldn’t leave stone-fruit country without stopping at a roadside stand for some cherries and peaches!  Next we stopped to see the Clyde hydro damn. It’s the biggest concrete gravity damn in New Zealand. Although it is important for supplying power to the central Otago region it is very controversial. In 1992, 13 years after construction began, Lake Dunstan was created behind the damn and flooded much of the neighbouring town Cromwell. The town saved some of the old buildings and created a heritage street right on the waterfront which was interesting to see.  

Clyde Damn

Just before you get to Wanaka there is a beautiful lavender farm. There are rows and rows of the sweet-smelling flower as well as a colourful garden to visit. It wasn’t lunchtime yet so we didn’t eat in the cafe but we did browse the gift shop and I sampled their delicious honey.

Wanaka Lavender Farm

The town of Wanaka is situated on Lake Wanaka. We browsed the shops and I found a pair of thick merino-possum slipper-socks to keep my feet warm during the rest of the cold nights on our camping trip. After lunch we headed out to the family-run Cardrona Distillery that is the only distillery in New Zealand. It began production last year and now has single malt vodka (The Reid), gin (The Source) and orange liqueur (Rose Rabbit) for sale. They’re all delicious … ask me how I know. Their single malt whiskey (The Cardrona) was put into oak casks in 2015 and will be ready in just over eight years – that seems like a good time for a return visit! 
Cardrona Distillery

Beside the Distillery is “Bradrona”: a fence covered with bras and a donation box for breast cancer.  Random but interesting.  No, we didn’t contribute to the fence.

Bradrona Fence
The last thing on our must-do list for Wanaka was Puzzleworld. They have a very difficult and frustrating maze (tip: always keep left in a maze and you’ll get out eventually … saw that tidbit on TV once), an optical illusion room, and a room of games. The best part was the sloping room but I really enjoyed the whole place. 
The Great Maze
The Leaning Tower of Wanaka
My new merino-possum socks are so warm I woke up halfway through the night and had to take them off!  We left Wanaka early and headed North stopping at a couple waterfalls on our way.  There are so many Falls with crystal clear water everywhere here.

Thunder Creek Falls

The west coast of New Zealand is a temperate rainforest and it rained off and on the whole way to Fox Glacier.  Luckily for us it cleared once we reached the car park and began the hour return walk to the glacier.  It was amazing to see what such a large mass of ice can create and how much it has retreated over the last century (there are signs indicating where it’s face was during specific years).  The only safe way to get onto the glacier is via helicopter so we just admired it from afar.

Fox Glacier

We wanted to stop at Lake Matheson as it is a mirror Lake and on a clear day you can see Mt Cook reflected perfectly in the water but the weather wasn’t cooperating and we decided it was too cloudy.  We did, however, see a pukeko! Pukekos are blue birds with a red beak and legs that prefer to run rather than fly.

A pukeko

Finally we ended our day in Franz Josef at the Franz Josef Montrose Hostel with a chicken stir fry for supper and a trip to the hot springs pools.

Franz Josef Montrose Hostel
Lavender, whiskey & glaciers

Fit for a Queen

Wednesday February 8th | Queenstown 🚠 – Alexandra 🍷 | 139 km 🚙 + 8 km 🏎 + 1.5 km ⛰

You have two options when you are rudely awoken by the cold: stay in your sleeping bag and hope that your body heat is contained and you warm up or get out of bed and venture into the five degree Celsius morning and have a hot shower.  I chose the latter.  I thought summer in New Zealand would be warmer than this! 

On our way up the gondola
View from the top of the gondola
We ate breakfast then struck camp and headed to the Skyline Gondola. The view of Queenstown and The Remarkables mountain range was great!  There is a restaurant, a bar, a Jelly Belly art gallery & store, walking paths, bungee jumping and paragliding at the top as well as the luge.  We decided it was too early for booze or any extreme sports so did the luge: a 1.6km downhill track to a chairlift that takes you back to the start so you can do it all over again.  It was invented in New Zealand in 1985.  The luge was a lot of fun and I’m pretty sure I beat Val down three out of five times. After taking the gondola back down the mountain we had a quick look around the shops.  The Remarkable Sweet Shop was my favourite for a few reasons: it’s name is a fun play on words, it is a “sweet shop” and not a “candy store”, it sold fudge and jaffas – my new favourite treat.

It had warmed up substantially since our brisk start so we drove down to Lake Wakatipu to eat our picnic lunch and I changed into shorts before my afternoon hike up Queenstown Hill.  Actually that’s not totally true – we typed Queenstown Hill in to our map app and it took us out here … so if you plan to do the Queenstown Hill Walk I suggest you type that full sentence in to your GPS. 

The hill is not an easy climb as there’s lots of steep sections.  It took me about half an hour to walk to the Basket of Dreams which was erected to signify the millennium.  The view from this point is beautiful so if you don’t feel like going any further you can still say you climbed the hill. Since I wasn’t raised a quitter I decided to hike the extra 15 minutes to the peak where I was rewarded with the most spectacular panorama of Queenstown and surrounding area.  It was absolutely stunning.  I stood in awe admiring the view for a few minutes (or was I catching my breath?) and then trekked back down to the car.  If you’re ever in Queenstown and are physically able (moderate to high level of fitness) you should really plan to hike the hill.  I did it in 90 minutes but I was really pushing myself. 

Excited to hike Queenstown Hill

Panoramic view from the peak of Queenstown Hill

On the way down, some guys offered me a beer.  In hindsight I should’ve accepted it but I was really looking forward to going for an infamous Ferg Burger.  The lineup was surprisingly short so we each ordered a Tropical Swine Burger … whomever came up with the idea of putting pineapple on a burger is a friggen genius.  The picture doesn’t do it justice – bacon, pineapple, cheese, tomato relish and aioli on a mouthwatering beef burger: perfection.

Tropical Swine Ferg Burger
The drive to Clyde was beautiful.  Clare’s sister Sarah and her partner Marc own and operate a boutique vineyard and winery here.  Check out Dunstan Road Wines or find them on a Facebook. Not only were they nice enough to let us pitch our tent in their yard, they shared three delicious bottles of wine with us that night so I can tell you firsthand that it is delicious.  I bought a bottle of rosé to take home with me (if it makes it that far!)

Apparently an old gold miner looked upon Queenstown and stated that it would be fit for Queen Victoria but if you ask me, a day filled with hiking, burgers and wine is fit for this queen

Fit for a Queen

The Start of Something New

At the beginning of the month I decided I wanted to write a blog.  Now, as January comes to an end and with only two days until I fly to New Zealand, I thought this would be the perfect time to start.  

It seems surreal that I will arrive in New Zealand on Saturday. (Saturday their time… Friday with Manitoba).  I don’t think that the excitement will really hit me until I begin my journey on Thursday.  I booked my flights three months ago – October 19th to be exact.  I’d been throwing around the idea of visiting my sister and the stars just lined up. Val is working on a dairy farm and nannying four kids with a family near Invercargill. Her six month term with them is up at the end of January and then she has five weeks off before returning to live and work at the same farm for another six months. As fate would have it, I have to be in Vancouver for a few days of business meetings so I would have one less flight to pay for and a few less flight-hours to suffer through in one shot. There’s no ideal time for me to be away from my work territory but I decided that this opportunity would never present itself again and I should just go for it.  Credit card in hand I called FlightCentre and, half an hour later, everything was booked.  

The flight is relatively inexpensive compared to some that I’ve heard of. FlightCentre is a great company to work with – they’re very reputable and will match and beat any other price you can find.  I challenged myself to sell all the “stuff” in my house that I no longer needed to offset this last-minute decision which I hadn’t been saving for. I came very close – I think I ended up short $150 – so I would consider that a great success. Plus Mike was happy because I got rid of a lot of things we didn’t need.

Over the last three months things have been slowly coming together. Val bought herself a little car which will be perfect for us to road trip in. She has either borrowed or bought everything we might need for camping including a tent, sleeping bags, stove, camping chairs, cooking utensils, pots, etc. We made a rough plan of things we want to do any places we want to see; the amount we accomplish will be limited only by time or money. 

I spent Saturday in Brandon getting some last minute things and, after enjoying a delicious supper with Mike at The Dock, I spent an hour trying to strategically pack everything I thought I might need (and probably more!) into a 75L backpack that was last used when I went to Sweden 15 years ago.

On Sunday morning I took Mike for brunch (breakfast quasedillas are my new fave 👌🏻), and said goodbye to Manitoba for four weeks. I plan to post every couple of days so follow along if you want to see what we’re up to! 

The Start of Something New