The final part of our Trilogy Experience package (the others being Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves) was the Maori cultural experience called Te Puia, in Rotorua. Rotorua is extremely volcanically active, with steam vents, hot springs, boiling mud pools and volcanic rocks everywhere you look.
The full name of the valley, in which Te Puia and Rotorua are located, is worthy of a Welsh village...
Te Puia has become something of a home or deposit for the Maori culture, preserving skills and techniques for carving and weaving that would otherwise be lost. They provide full scholarships for students – including training, accommodation, and food – to come and spend three years learning these crafts, with the idea that they go back to their tribes, and teach others as they have been taught themselves.
The first thing we did was attend a ‘cultural experience’ which involved a Maori welcoming ceremony, and then a performance of skill and song – at the end of which was a haka, and they invited the audience to take part. I was dragged up to do exactly that...
Afterwards we had a guided tour, which ended with a steambox lunch – that is, a lunch cooked over an active steam vent for a couple of hours. We made our own packed lunch boxes, which were then taken away to be cooked.
There are steam vents and geysers all over the park – as you can see here:
We were also taught how to do simple weaving, using the flax plant which grows abundantly all over New Zealand, making simple flowers.
The bubbling mud pool is something we’ve not seen before, and looks faintly disgusting, like the world’s biggest and most disgusting cow pat. Apparently people try to swim in it, because the mud has beneficial properties (rich in silica, sulphur, etc) – despite the fact it is clearly boiling hot!
Te Puia is clearly and unashamedly set up for tourists – there is a real Maori village right next to it, and a number of the residents help run Te Puia – but actually that was ok, because we are tourists! Our guides were really helpful, and answered all our questions. For example, in Maori clans, descent is recorded not only through the father’s line, but the mother’s as well – and it isn’t forbidden to marry outside the tribe.