Kia ora. After our tour, we were dropped off in the town of Rotorua, where we shortly met our bus driver, Jared, and he drove us to the Tamaki Maori Village for our fully immersive and cultural overnight experience. Rotorua is the heart of Maori culture in New Zealand. There are two different versions of the Maori Village that you can choose from. Originally I had only booked the entertainment show and hangi dinner from Peterpans in Auckland, however, Jared, really pushed the overnight stay while we were driving into town and I ended up upgrading. The additional activities that were included in the overnight stay far outweighed the price and were actually a huge part of what made the experience so noteworthy.
When we arrived to the village, we were welcomed by our host, Maha, and told we needed to perform a series of rituals before we would be allowed to walk on the tribe’s sacred lands. First, we were led to the dining area where they had an assortment of cookies and cakes with afternoon tea and coffee. One of the treats was a sort of biscuit that was deep fried like a donut and delicious with butter and cream. Part of the greetings included a song by our hosts, followed by a speech from both parties and then we had to sing a song back. We did not prepare a song to sing prior to arriving to the village so we chose Don’t Stop Believing at the last minute and it was nearly a disaster but all great fun.
After having our fill, we were taken to the gate of the fortified village and our chosen chiefs accepted a peace offering from the warriors and led us into the village. Once inside, there were several houses, each representing a different cultural activity that we were taught and had a brief demonstration at each, including the Maori haka.
The haka is a traditional war dance used to intimidate the tribe’s competitors. It is still performed today, as I saw firsthand during my first Lions vs. Crusaders rugby game viewing at the bar the night before. It is an intense and beautiful tradition to watch. After our short time in the village, we went into an auditorium and watched the entertainment show, which consisted of more traditional songs and dances and a longer haka.
For dinner we were served a traditional hangi, which is a buffet-style dinner where the food is cooked by digging a deep hole into the ground, heating volcanic rocks, then placing baskets of meat and vegetables on top and covering with dirt and moist sacks to essentially steam the food underground. It is a traditional method of cooking that the Maoris used to prepare huge feasts for celebrations and bereavements.
At dinner, we were part of the “show” and performed a song that we had slightly rehearsed in Maori that had to meaning but helped us learn their phonetic alphabet. We also attempted the haka, which was a disaster. After dinner, Maha took us to the sleeping quarters and told us a story about the tribe’s ancestors by using the wooden carvings on the wall of the room. Then, we went back outside to play another team-building game and ended the night at the bar and soaking in the hot tubs.
We had the opportunity to ask questions and speak to our hosts during the evening. I honestly learned so much about the Maori culture and was fascinated by all the stories and history. The Tamaki Maori Village is a peek at what life was hundreds of years ago. Since then, the tribe has assimilated into modern culture but they still hold onto their traditions and teach visitors about their culture with so much pride.