Rotorua is literally sitting on a hot bed of geothermal activity. As we entered the town, a stiff wall of sulfur hit my nose, and it was easy to notice steam pockets lacing the city in very random places. A good deal of the Maori population (37%) live here, and I was excited to join in on the cultural overnight stay at the Tamaki Maori Village. This isn't cheap, but there's a lot of value in the experience, something I highly recommend.
The warm accommodation was a welcomed change from some of the impersonal hostel stays. The property is beautiful, and one large marae (home) hosted about 15 of us. From the moment we arrived, the experience had begun...in the cold rain.
We chose our own chief from our group, and then sat down for afternoon tea. From there, we entered the ornate marae to hear a detailed description of the wall carvings, thoughtful craftsmanship of the building and other cultural facts, such as women being more highly regarded than men because of their ability to bear children.
Then came a flax-weaving course, where we learned to remove the fibers from the leaf. Once the fibers are clean, they're incredibly strong and can form tapestries and clothing. We wove in our fibers into an ongoing Kiwi Experience braid hanging from the posts.
From there, it was one incredible performance of song and dance after another, along with the uncovering of our dinner from the Hangi.
The Hangi is an underground oven where heated stones and soil are layered within the baskets of food and left for several hours. The tasty feast revealed chicken, potatoes, and lamb, just a portion of the massive meal prepared for us.
Here's a more modern rectangular hangi at the geothermal park.
The rich Maori culture was generously shared with us, not only through their presentations, but by teaching us "A Haka Mana." It's a children's song set to the tune of "Stupid Cupid" -- a fun and easy way for kids to learn the alphabet. We then presented the song (along with hand gestures) to the entire dining room, after an elaborate meal resembling Thanksgiving.
Next came the relaxing hot tubs in the light rain, near a covered shelter and fireplace. The stay concluded with a continental breakfast to prepare us for our journey to Taupo.
Before leaving Rotorua, we had just enough time to choose from 3 activities – the Luge, Redwood Forest walk, or the Te Puia Geothermal Valley. I chose the Geothermal Valley option, to include a bit more of the local culture and unique surroundings.
Up-close views of wood carving, flax weaving, and bubbling mud pools are the main attraction there.
Careful where you sit! I decided to rest on a rock, but the heat from the cracks quickly caused me to jump right back up to a standing position!
The kiwi bird living there is in a nocturnal setting, so don't get your hopes up.
Next, the bus continues onto Taupo, where I hurl myself out of a plane.
Places worth visiting in Rotorua:
Tamaki Maori Village for a really special over-night cultural stay.
Te Puia Geothermal Valley for more Maori culture and up-close views of the bubbling geysers.
Luge/Gondola area for beauty and speed.
Whakarewarewa Forest to use those legs.
The Rotorua bathhouse for a relaxing mud bath.
Tongariro crossing for one of the best walks in NZ, so I've been told.