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.  

Whakarewarewa

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. 

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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. 

Examples:

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