I often remember a day spent in Rotorua, New Zealand—a not to be missed learning experience at the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village; a living Maori village bordered by hot thermal springs, bubbling mud pools and steaming vapor discharged through vents. Guides welcome us with the story of Rangi, their sky father, and Papatuanuki, the earth mother and relate the tribe’s history. For me, a writer, I listen to their stories as eager as a child.
Several guides talk of a personal genealogical past that goes back 25 generations. Forty thousand years ago, the Maori of WhakarewarewaValley believed that here the Goddesses of fire, Te Pupu and Te Hoa rose from the center of the earth. As they drew and exhaled breath, geysers, mud pools and hot springs were born. Seven, amongst the approximately 65 vents are active and there are at least 500-mud pools. Visitors are impressed with Po Hutu which sometimes erupts to 98.3 feet. Residents use the hot steam from Roturua’s thermal wonderland to heat homes, cook, warm hot tubs, and immerse themselves in geothermal mud baths for a relaxing beauty treatment.
Te Puia, adjacent to Whakarewarewa, presents three Maori Cultural Performances a day. Stories are told through song and movement with the beguiling Poi dance, a war dance—Haka—and games performed with sticks where the dexterous performer dances with eight high flying rods.
Conservation is of major importance at Te Puia; in 1976, the Kiwi House opened—the house became a sanctuary for injured birds and by 1999, a breeding program was introduced. Te Puia is committed to the survival of New Zealand’s national symbol as well as other birds that live and thrive in this sheltered and natural environment.
Ancient arts and crafts are taught at Te Puia to insure the preservation of Maori traditions for future generations. Masters teach a three-year course in carving to 12 full-time students from all over New Zealand; the School of Weaving offers practical hands on teaching. Designs that stem from each tribe’s history are often employed and the work is exhibited all over the world. The shop offers artwork that ranges from carved wall hangings to serving bowls to woven art. The crafts are all beautifully fashioned by students and graduates.
A perfect day in Rotorua, 220 miles S.E. of Auckland, New Zealand in the heart of the Taupo Volcanic zone, was drawing to an end for two happy travelers. My husband and I finish a superb dinner at Zanellis, accompanied by a refreshingly different New Zealand fruit wine. The restaurant has appealed to hungry diners in downtown Rotorua for over twenty years. Satisfied, we stroll through the square—stop and enjoy line dancing performed by a group of Maori women to the strains of Begin the Beguine. The sound of a jazz band beckons us to the far corner of the square—the music is irresistible and we join the locals dancing in the street.