Cultural immersion at Te Puia

Te Puia, The New Zealand Institute of Maori Arts and Crafts, at Whakarewarewa, is one of Rotorua’s most visited tourist attractions. With its thermal park, Marae, (community meeting place) whare whakairo (carved meeting house), huge carved waka (canoe) stunning modern information centre, weaving school, carving school, kiwi house, Maori concerts, as well as its shop full of exquisite art, artefacts and souvenirs, there is a great deal to experience.

Maori Concert at Te Puia
Maori Concert at Te Puia

Our Te Puia experience began with a Kapa Haka (cultural performance) in the Whare Whakairo.

We joined the throng at the Marae gate and waited for the karanga, or call to the visitors, that opens any traditional powhiri, or welcome to a Marae. Under normal circumstances, we would then walk slowly through the gate, across the courtyard to the Meeting house and take our seats outside for the whaikorero (speeches of welcome) and waiata (songs) from the tangata whenua (people of the Marae) followed by the speeches and songs of response from the manuhiri (visitors) But, unfortunately, on this occasion it was raining so heavily that, after we had removed our shoes on the verandah,  our hosts took us directly into the whare whakairo.

The whare whakairo at Te Puia is a monument to the work of all the very best of Whakarewarewa’s carvers, weavers and artists. Carved figures stand along each side, interspersed with panels of tukutuku (reed weaving) Scroll-patterned and carved beams reach up from either wall to the ridgepole which runs the length of the ceiling thus joining the ancestors of one side of the house to the other. A large central beam, forms the pou tokomanawa or heart of the house. There is a distinctive smell of wood and reed and flax in every whare whakairo (carved house) that is warm, rich and absolutely unforgettable. There was, I swear, when we entered, an audible collective gasp.

Despite the break with protocol, the welcome we received inside the whare was warm and informative.

The concert at Te Puia is always excellent. The tangata whenua of Whakarewarewa are polished and experienced performers. They know their culture well and are proud to share it. They explained and then demonstrated waiata-a-ringa (action-songs) haka (posture dances) taiaha (weaponry, ti-rakau (stick-games) poi (song and dances accompanied by twirling flax balls on strings) and love songs. The explanations were accompanied by local stories, legends and anecdotes. Quite uncharacteristically, photos were permitted during the show and afterwards, the performers posed graciously for endless snaps.

Unfortunately, it was all over too soon but we lingered as long as we could with the echo of the stamp of the haka, the soft tap of the poi, the click of the piupiu and sweet smell of wood and flax.

Te Puia offers three daytime cultural performances at 10.15, 12.15 and 3.15.

Te Puia is located at Hemo Road Tihiotonga, Rotorua, New Zealand, Phone (07) 348 9047

Rotovegas

Rotorua is often jokingly called Rotovegas, because, like Los Vegas USA, Rotorua is a show town.

The click of the piupiu
The click of the piupiu

Many of the country’s stars, like the great, now departed, Sir Howard Morrison, got their start playing the summer concerts down at the Soundshell on the lake front, in the old Tama dance hall at Ohinemsutu or the city’s many tourist hotels.

Some of the country’s greatest Kapa Haka, or Maori Concert Parties, call Rotorua home.

A Maori concert is a not-to-be-missed Rotorua experience. You’ll quake at the force and energy of the haka, or posture dance, marvel at the skill and beauty of the twirling pois, at the dexterity of the waiata-a-ringa or action songs and at the magical harmonies of a mass of golden voices. Then there’s the rhythmic click of the swinging piupiu, or flax skirts.

You can catch some the of best Kapa Haka performances nightly at any one of the hotels around the city and at lunch time at Te Puia Village.