Whakarewarewa is home to the indigenous people of New Zealand, who came from Hawaiki over 1000 years ago. Making up 14% of the New Zealand population, the Maori cultures and beliefs are very much integral to New Zealand’s identity and respected by the Kiwis even today.
The full name of the village is stated on the red sign. I won’t bother spelling it, nor pronouncing it, but it translates to “The Gathering Place of the Army of Wahiao”. Today, the name is shortened to Whakarewarewa, and already, it’s such a mouthful. 😛
At Whakarewarewa where we went, they have guided tours and cultural performances daily to provide insight into the lives of the traditional Maori people. Some of these customs include carving, weaving, kapa haka (group performance), whaikorero (oratory) and moko (tattoo). Maori tattoo is a unique expression of cultural heritage and identity. The designs reflect the individual’s ancestry and personal history.
Traditional ways of conduct have been handed through history and visitors to New Zealand ought to familiarise themselves with and respect them. For instance:
- Many Maori sites such as burial grounds should not be touched or approached without permission.
- Places for food preparation (tables, benches) are not for sitting on or for leaving clothes on.
- The head is the most sacred part of the body, so you would have to ask permission before touching one’s head or sitting on their pillow.
- Footwear is usually removed before entering the meeting house, for meeting houses are considered sacred.
The Maori people would first greet their guests with a hongi – the ceremonial touching of noses twice. Waiata (songs) may also be sung in their language.
This area is the locality of many hot springs (I went to Polynesian Spa for hot springs in Rotorua, New Zealand!), with a surface water temperature of ~110 degrees. The residents of the village would utilise this heat resource for daily cooking, bathing and keeping warm.
By trapping heat from the ground, they could cook food from steam boxes, which is not surprisingly their traditional way of cooking here. Pictured is the steam box hangi from where they steam and cook their food from. They claim their sweet corn tastes different because of how it is steamed with the natural geothermal steam box. Believe it or not, you can pass your own verdict by tasting their geothermal-heated food at their cafe next door!
The village supports traditional communal lifestyle and the sustainability of the village, hence this garden which stores and grows food raised from the ground.
Communal bathing traditionally takes place twice a day. The oily texture and mineral deposits within the water that they use to bathe in were said to treat ailments such as arthritis and rheumatism.
Along the way, we would pass by pools of bubbling water and rising steam. Some of these pools were used to sterilise linen and cook. The Champagne Pool, so named because of how the pool pulsates and bubbles rise to the surface, is used for cooking leaf and root vegetables and seafood.
Two of New Zealand’s most active geysers can also be witnessed from a vantage point within the village. On average, they erupt at least once every hour, reaching to heights ranging from 10 to 40 metres.
Don’t be fooled by this mud. This mud pool is renowned for healing arthritis, lumbago and rheumatism and is also said to give your skin a more youthful look. Temperature of the mud ranges between 80-90 degrees, and has the consistency like quick sand. A thought crossed our mind: we wondered if, like in the movies, people would sink if they stepped on the mud!
If time is on your side, there are easy walking tracks available around the village worth exploring. You can find colourful steaming lakes, thermal pools and nature that are unique to Whakarewarewa.
Here’s a preview of the Maori cultural performance we caught while we were there. Two 30-minute shows at 11.15am and 2pm are run daily. In the 30 minutes, you can witness the war dance, action songs, long and short stick games and Poi dancing.
As you watch the video, notice their facial expressions. 😛 I’ll explain more about it below.
Does it resemble this?
This is an expression shown to scare off spirits, with their bulging eyes and tongue sticking out. The flexed muscles and guttural sounds they make are part of haka (war dance) to intimidate evil spirits.
I like to watch movies/ read novels related to wherever I was going to visit, like “In Bruges” (trailer here) before I visited Bruges, or reading “Inferno” (synopsis here) before visiting Florence. It gives me a better understanding of the city, and makes me anticipate the city more after hearing about it.
So this time, prior to learning about the Maori culture, I watched this movie “Whale Rider”. Watch the trailer here:
It really is a fantastic show to set you up prior to visiting the real Maori village, and allows for cultural immersion. Visiting this village really made me marvel at Mother Nature’s work of art and how the forces of nature and mankind intertwine so perfectly together.
You can learn more about the Maori culture wherever you are in New Zealand:
- Whakarewarewa, Rotorua
- Te Puia, Rotorua
- Tamaki Village, Rotorua
- Rotorua Museum, Rotorua
- Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland
- Te Papa Museum, Wellington
- Waitangi Treaty House, Bay of Islands
Special thanks to Wharewarewa for arranging this tour for us!
13 May 2016, Friday
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