Kia Ora said our guide/driver followed by hey and several other Maori words. Maori means life force and boy did he have that. Fr’instnce on the way back to Central Rotorua he had us singing ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’ as he spun the coach four or five times round a deserted roundabout. Childish maybe but it’s an easy way to endear yourself to passengers who are already on your side.
Why were we there? And why on his side? Well the first is easy to answer: we booked on a Maori village experience, a way of enjoying and learning something about Maori culture and history.
The second takes more explaining. I’ve been to a fair few countries and experienced a number of similarly branded experiences and the overriding impression is one of either boredom or, worse, exploitation. The local people are often dirt poor so put on a show for (almost invariably) well off Westerners just to raise a few dollars. You strongly suspect most of the cast will not share equally in the spoils and even if they are paid, they would much rather be somewhere else.
It was with a certain trepidation that the Lawyer and I climbed aboard our coach for Tamaki Village.
On the way we heard a lot about the formalities of a Maori greeting – essentially a challenge and then a gift and acceptance before the famous nose rubs. We had to choose a chief to accept the gift and partake in the greeting – step forward Gunther the German; he seemed suitably bemused throughout but he played his part. Here’s a video of part of the challenge, to give you a flavour.
Once inside the village we circulated amongst groups of Maori in traditional dress explaining weaponry, training of warriors, tattooing and its meaning, weaving with flax and last but not least the ‘Haka’. These are a few photos I took; sorry if the quality is rather poor.
The thing that told me we were in for a different experience came when they group explained the Haka. If you’ve not experienced the Haka as performed by the All Blacks rugby team, or indeed any of the other Pacific island nations you’ve missed an experience. The test: the way it is performed today versus the versions I first saw as a boy back in the 70s.
You see this was why, in microcosm this Maori Experience was a treat. It was because the participants genuinely enjoyed educating us. They were engaged knowledgeable and charming. We were encouraged to try our hands (not the tattooing thank goodness) at each of the crafts and skills to see how difficult they were to master. And they were, believe me.
Back in the 70s the All Blacks, or those with no or no obvious Maori blood clearly didn’t think it was anything to do with them. Racist? You bet. But in the way South Africa has embraced its rainbow nation, in the way we have a Black Cultural Archive in Brixton and many well loved Brits of all sorts of multi-hued ancestries, in the way, heaven forfend America has a Black POTUS. It’s obvious but here, as elsewhere, each group is part of the nation and its roots need to be nurtured and cherished. It’s become a source of national pride; it’s cool goddammit. Sorry this clip seems to have gone sideways; don’t crick your neck; it’s not that good.
So the Maori here in their village can happily show off their culture as might any proud nation or group. No longer is their a stigma, ell not officially. I doubt it’s always as simple as I am making out. But I understand why they smiled, why they engaged with us and put up with our gawps and dumb questions. Why they said ‘snap away, film away’. They wanted to pass on their love, just as I loved showing off London as a volunteer during the London Olympics. My city, my country. It’s fabulous. Let me tell you why…
That’s what I got from these good people. They had a passion and they wanted to share a little with us. This was really brought home at the end when a group of youngsters, ages ranging from I guess six to sixteen, sung to us. It was melodic, it was moving and it was essentially Maori. At the end they performed their Haka like they meant it. Like the rugby team do today, and unlike they did in the 70s. I left warm and glad I wasn’t cynical. And I was happy for Aurorea New Zealand that they are finding an accomodation between all their peoples.
Here’s a clip of the singing
Day nine dawned beautifully bright and bonny. A very slight nip but that would burn off (burn being the operative word hereabouts with the hole in the Ozone layer still a problem – I read somewhere it is closing; I damn well hope so). We breakfasted in Fat Dog a splendid cafe offering humongous portions. We both had porridge as we had a hike planned.
Rotorua, if you haven’t guessed is volcanic. To the north east there is a string of lakes the biggest being Lake Tarawera. The mountain of the same name, back in the 1880s blew its top destroying the eighth wonders of the natural world, the Pink And White Terraces (parts of which have been found at the lake bottom). These are a series of volcanic formations that look like small baths or alien birthing pods. At the top a scalding cauldron filled and exploded cascading hot water down the capsules. Each gush added another layer to the pods and filled them with water. Victorian visitors dipped in the lower cooler pods before venturing up the terraces to see how poached they could get. Here’s a pic I took in the museum.
While it appears the eruption didn’t take out the terraces for good they are essentially invisible now so we only have a few Victorian photos left. What it did do, this volcanic blast was help create today’s lakes (as well as killing in excess of 150 people). There is now a track – or a tramping trail as the locals call them – fifteen kilometres to the Hot Beach. You walk one way and a water taxi takes you back to the start.
It was up and down and the scenery fantastic. Foxgloves and honeysuckle combining with natives forms and toetoe a natural grass species.
We yomped, as we, the Lawyer and I, like to do so completed the track in just about three hours.
The views, the lakeside, the steams and the vegetation were grand but the weird and wonderful beach was something else.
The first intriguing sight was the steaming water.
Then the ‘Danger. burns’ signs. And a warning about amoebic meningitis if you put your head under the water.
The lake looked like any other until you tested the water and then it was layered hot and cold.
Here’s a little video I made; you get to hear my voice too. What a treat! Fraid it’s the old fashioned way for now.
We lay back, enjoyed the Fat Dog’s salad boxes and soaked up the sun and scenery while we awaited our taxi with a group of Austrian women on an eight month travelling extravaganza. Makes our jolly seem like a long weekend.
After we left we stopped at the museum for the buried village of Te Wairoa. Not exactly Pompeii but interesting enough and terrifying for the victims at the time. Two things stood out for me. First the hotel owner, a brave Scot saved many lives and was awarded several medals yet then insurance company refused to pay out for his hotel and he ended bankrupt. Second the village itself was set up by an American missionary called Stevens. He created small homesteads for the Maori and delineated them with poplar fences. After the village was covered in volcanic ash and mud the fence posts grew to enormous poplars. Sadly they began to fall over and were recently cut down. Now their stumps form a sad line but new growth is evident. Life can come from death it seems.
After that we drove to Lake Taupo. A staging post in the middle of the North Island. Tomorrow we head south for the capital Wellington, via Napier. That will be a treat but I won’t spoil it (the above is a little taster). More cultural than the last few redneck days anyway.