Review of Te Puia, Rotorua – largest geyser in southern hemisphere and learning about Maori culture
Rotorua has it’s fair share of stunning landscape features that draws in tourists from all over the world. With it’s abundance of thermal springs, mineral rich mud ‘spas’, volcanic activities alongside with a rich Māori history of the Te Arawa people, it is no surprise that this region of New Zealand is a tourist destination hotpsot. On our last trip we made it just to Wai-O-Tapu and that was very unique indeed!
We wanted to explore more natural features during our 5 day campervan trip around Rotorua, but it was difficult to choose which cultural activity and tour to go with for experiencing a Haka performance and learn about Maori history and culture. There are several Māori villages based here all providing a variation of Haka dance and cultural show, the famous Hangi meal, seeing a working village and its arts and crafts and possibly some geothermal activity on site.
Te Puia stood out amongst the others as it was also home to the Pohutu Geyser, largest geyser in the southern hemisphere and ranked amongst the top 5 geysers in the world by Lonely Planet. There were other active geysers in this 60 hectares geothermal valley. Te Puia is located just 5 minutes from central Rotorua so it is quite convenient to get to. Its is situated in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley home to more than 500 geothermal wonders. There is an Arts and Crafts centre here where you could learn about traditional weaving and wood carving. As part of the guided tour, you get to walk around several of the natural areas of interest, see the bursting geysers which goes off several times a day, you get to visit the weaving and wood carving schools, learn about meeting house, visit the Kiwi enclosure and enjoy an authentic Haka dance and cultural performance.
There are different tours you can book where you combine tour and performance or you can have just tour or add in a traditional Hangi meal cooked using ancient geothermal techniques. We booked the Te Rā + Haka which was the tour plus performance. When we entered the place, you immediately see the 12 carved spiritual guardians of the local Te Arawa tribe along with the stone in the middle which symbolizes the Earth and its Mauri – life force – which Māori believes exists in all things.
We met our tour guide shortly after we arrived. The tour lasts 60-90 minutes and you are free to roam the grounds before and after the tour as well. We didn’t think too highly of the actual tour, mostly because we felt we didn’t learn anymore than what we would have on our own just reading the signs. Our guide was very friendly and nice but we felt she took too long explain what the tour would include whilst standing in one spot rather than doing the tour itself! We felt it started off too slow and got rushed at the end. The guide was great for answering any questions and making sure we covered all grounds, but as far as the learning, we enjoyed it far more once the actual tour was done and we could explore at our own leisure.
Whakarewareware Geothermal Valley is close to a zone of active volcanoes so its grounds are heated by magma below the surface. Walking around this active geothermal landscape – bursting geysers, hotsprings, mudpools and unique vegetation – was just stunning, we have never experienced anything like it. Even the stones we sat at to watch the bursting geysers were warm! It’s hard to get good pictures of the geysers itself as it was a cold day and the steam all around was really dense. It was amazing to experience it all though 🙂
The Arts and Crafts centre was very interesting as well. We learnt about the fibre used to make Maori cothing, how most of it is obtained from what is commonly known as flax (harakeke). We saw a cool demonstration by this guy who was working at the weaving school on how he took a piece of the plant, scraped it and turned it into strong fibre.
The wood carving school was really interesting as well. Carving is a very integral part of Māori culture as carvings were used to record and preserve the history and culture. You had master wood carvers here who took on students that are carefully selected so that different iwi (tribes) throughout the country are represented.
We went to the Marae (meeting house) Te aronui a rua next. Our guide explained to us about the importance of the meeting house, how these houses always have names, sometimes the name of a famous ancestor or sometimes a figure from Māori mythology. They are the centre of any cultural, or family affair which is relevant to the tribe (iwi).
Once the tour was done we walked around some more exploring the mudpools and other natural features of the land. We also visited the Kiwi House but could only see the kiwi on the live camera inside their house.
At 3:30 we went into for the ceremonial entrance to the meeting house for our concert and cultural performance. It was all really interesting and enjoyable, the kids and adults enjoyed it just as much. Details of the actual performance and its history can be found here. The best part for us was when the boy (Ashique, Shahaar and our friend Arun) got on stage to learn the Haka from the warriors! I need to learn how to upload videos on the blog so can show a snippet of their fun performance. The other part that was extra special for us was the Poi performance. It was like going back to our roots, seeing where the beginnings of NAUR started 🙂
Just a sidenote, Ashique and I started and performed in a fire spinning troupe where we spun with Poi. We know Poi spinning originated here and I had always wanted to see such a performance.
Overall it was a really great experience which both the adults and children in our group enjoyed. A nice mix of cultural experience, being outdoors and enjoying the wonders of nature. We left Te Puia after nearly 5 hours here. In the following picture near the entrance is the longest word I have ever seen. Our guide actually read it aloud, what a mouthful!
We received press discounts during our visit to Te Puia but all opinions are strictly our own. We would highly recommend this tour if in the Rotorua area.
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