Rotorua is to Aotearoa New Zealand as Florence is to Italy – a centre and show case of art and culture.
Generations of Rotorua crafts people have kept the traditional arts of carving and weaving alive and brought them to the high art that they are today. A long-established and robust tourist industry has created an environment where they can flourish.
At Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa and Ohinemutu traditional Maori architecture, design and decoration are at their most beautiful and authentic. But around the city too, inside and outside buildings, on gateposts on shop fronts and churches there are beautiful, unexpected and easily overlooked examples of whakairo (carving) kowhaiwhai (scroll-pattern painting) and tukutuku (reed weaving)
To see carvers and weavers at work, be sure to visit Te Rito, the weaving school and Te Wananga Whakairo 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.
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