Tag Archives: Whakarewarewa

Whakarewarewa, Rotorua magic

Whakarewarewa geyser and mudpools
Whakarewarewa geyser and mudpools

After the Tarawera eruption had swept way the homes and livelihood of the local Tuhourangi tribe, the Nagti Wahiao people of Rotorua gifted the survivors a part of their traditional lands at Whakarewarewa, on the southern side of Rotorua.

Whakarewarewatanga o te ope taua o Wahiao (the gathering place of the army of Wahiao) was a landscape of shooting geysers, scalding thermal springs and boiling mud pools – a seemingly inhospitable wasteland. Yet Tuhourangi quickly turned it to their advantage. They built their houses astride steaming crevasses and profited from natural (if somewhat dangerous) central heating. The hot pools served as instant hangis, or earth ovens for cooking. Thermal water from some pools was channelled into baths both for hygienic and therapeutic purposes. Others were used as laundries. Before long, the famous Tuhourangi Guides were showing tourists around their new home, posing for photographs with them and entertaining them with traditional Maori concerts. Whakarewarewa, as we know it today, with its unique way of life, its many incredible attractions and its wealth of fascinating stories was born.

Whakarewarewa is a great place to linger, potter and explore, so set aside a generous amount of time. Be sure, however, to stick to the beaten track. Treading uncharted paths here is a risky business. Remember too, that these quaint little whare and tiny squares of lawn are people’s homes and backyards, so don’t intrude. But, at the same time keep your eyes peeled for amazing sights; like the angrily bubbling pools with names like “murderous ripples” and “grumpy man”, the wharepuni, or sleeping quarters, half sunk in the steaming earth, the baths, the steam box hangi, the minute churches (Anglican and Catholic) the urupa, or cemetery, with its raised stone graves, the carved houses, the carver’s workshop and the ancestral meeting house, Wahiao. Don’t miss the cultural performance or the village kids who dive for coins in the warm waters of the Te Puarenga stream, and do, definitely, sample a Hangi pie at Ned’s cafe.

To get the really good oil on Whakarewarewa, join a tour. Your guide will almost certainly be a descendant of one those great ladies who rowed tourists across Lake Tarawera to the Pink and White Terraces.

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