Tag Archives: Te Puia

Te Rito, dedicated to the art of weaving

At Te Rito, Te Puia’s weaving school, you can watch craftspeople at work and see the skill and artistry that goes into producing traditional Maori clothing.

A waever at work at Te Puia
A weaver at work at Te Puia

When the first Maoris arrived in Aotearoa, they found a place much harsher and colder than mild, warm Hawaiki. In their homeland clothes had been mainly a matter of personal adornment. Now they were a necessity.

Materials for clothing came from the forest and the land. Cloaks were fashioned from the skins of native dogs and from the feathers of birds, particularly kiwi. The hardy and abundant flax plant was an especially important resource. The fibres were separated from the leaves and the fine thread woven into warm and supple garments and into bags, nets, blankets and wall coverings. Patterns and designs of great beauty and significance evolved.

Although, with the arrival of the Pakeha, Maori embraced a range of new materials like cotton and wool, they retained traditional designs and methods of weaving.

Te Rito, the weaving school at Te Puia opened in 1969. Its first Director was Emily Schuster, daughter of a master carver and niece Rotorua’s legendary Guide Rangi. She worked at the school, teaching and promoting women’s crafts until her death in 1997.

Te Rito trains students in traditional methods of weaving, including, taniko (macramé), tukutuku (reed panels), harakeke (flax weaving) piupiu . It offers day and night courses as well as training sessions and workshops on Marae around the country.

Visitors to Te Rito can observe and photograph students as they learn and practise the ancient traditions of weaving.

Some of the works produced in Te Rito can be bought at the Taonga Gallery and Gift Shop.

When walking Te Puia’s thermal wonderland, follow the guide

Although you can browse in Te Puia’s information galleries and wander perfectly safe pathways through the thermal park, it’s really worthwhile joining one of the free guided tours.

A Te Puia mudpool
A Te Puia mudpool

Guiding people around this treacherous thermal region has been a tradition among the Tuhourangi Iwi (tribe) of Whakarewarewa since the first tourists began to trickle into the country in 1880s.  Many great tales lie behind the explanations and theories about the origins of the Te Arawa Iwi and the Tuhourangi people and about how, when and why they arrived in this spot, and how they have lived ever since.  Although they’re brilliantly outlined on the galleries’ story boards, Te Puia’s guides have much colourful detail to add.

Similary, Te Puia’s thermal attractions are well signposted and their stories summarised on maps. But as you grope your way along, with mud-pools belching rudely on one side, a boiling geyser shooting skywards on another and your fellow travellers lost in a cloud of steam ahead, you might just be glad of the reassuring, if disembodied, voice of your guide. Again, here too, the guides have some entertaining anecdotes and some useful information about the beauty benefits of Te Puia’s thermal water and mud.

The Te Puia’s guided tour ends at the Kiwi house. The kiwi, Aotearoa’s iconic bird, is not only flightless but nocturnal, timid and endangered. So to see them means a plunge into darkness and silence. When your eyes adjust, you find yourself peering through a window into the night-time bush. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a couple of these long-beaked, hunch-backed birds, pottering about, hunting grubs or sleeping, curled up like little balls of feathers. Fascinating!

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