One of the best places in New Zealand to explore the nation’s history of its indigenous Maori people is at the Te Puia Thermal Valley on the outskirts of the resort city of Rotorua. Te Puia is Maori land that was first opened to the public in 1998 and is half a Maori cultural experience and half a thermal wonderland with the valley’s various geysers, pools, and thermal vents.
Finding Te Puia is easy considering it is on the edge of Rotorua and if you drive by it you cannot miss this massive gate that represents the entrance to the valley:
This picture of me in front of the gate should give everyone some idea how impressive this gate was:
Just inside the entrance are large totem poles with impressive Maori artwork:
In the vicinity of these totem poles is where hourly guided tours begin. The Maori guide my wife and I had was excellent and we really gained a better understanding of the Maori culture from his tour.
The heart of the Maori experience at Te Puia is without a doubt the Meeting House:
Meeting houses are used by Maori tribes as obviously a meeting place for the tribe or as a meeting place for other tribal leaders. The meeting house can also be used for recreational purposes as well.
The inside of the meeting house is quite exquisite and used as a place today to put on Maori cultural performances in:
On the right side of the meeting house is a smaller building that is the example of a Maori food storage building:
The storage building is built on stilts to prevent mice and other critters from getting in and spoiling the food. The narrow opening is used to funnel air into the building and keep the food as cool as possible.
On the left side of the meeting house is a building for private meetings with village elders:
I liked this little wood carved totem in front of the building:
Inside the building there are some really fascinating pictures of various Maoris from years past:
In the pictures you can see the facial tattoos that are still worn even today by many Maoris. A short walk from the meeting house is a Maori museum which has many artifacts from Maori culture:
The coolest part of the museum for me was looking at the various Maori weapons:
Their weapons were very primitive considering how war like the Maori were:
Before the British colonists arrived the Maori fought many wars among the various tribes in New Zealand. After the colonists began arriving on New Zealand in the 1790’s and not really in earnest until the 1800’s the Maori soon gained access to muskets. The Maori tribes began to fight each other with muskets in what became known as the Musket Wars. Once all the tribes gained access to muskets the battles over land and power stalemated until some tribes sided with the British during the New Zealand Land Wars beginning in the 1870’s, which ended with the British crown gaining much land at the expense of the defeated Maori tribes.
A short walk from the museum visitors can also see what some of the traditional Maori homes looked like:
These homes are very primitive and small and shows the tough living conditions the early Maoris had to learn to live with. Another Maori cultural area of interest is the cemetery:
The cemetery is not too large, but it is interesting to see how the Maoris over the decades have adopted western burial practices. Finally the best Maori cultural activity that anyone visiting Te Puia needs to see is the Maori concert. The concert plays at set times every day. People attending the concert meet in front of the meeting house where before entering the Maori entertainers give the visitors a traditional Maori welcome:
The welcoming is actually quite intimidating because the Maori when doing the welcoming ritual are trying to determine whether a visitor is an enemy or not. Once satisfied the people they are meeting are not enemies, they will then escort everyone into the meeting house.
Once inside the meeting house the concert begins with an official Maori welcoming song:
The entertainers are really quite good and do various traditional Maori tricks with some of their props while singing:
One of the songs is known as a Huka which is the traditional Maori intimidation dance:
The facial expressions the Maori make are really quite impressive at times:
The Huka dance is actually used by New Zealand’s national ruby team, the All Blacks before playing any games. It is actually pretty intimidating and the original purpose of the dance was to dissuade potential enemies from attacking by threatening them with the Huka dance.
The last song the Maori band plays though is a reenactment of New Zealand’s own Romeo & Juliet story:
Truly a fantastic performance and something that should not be missed when visiting Te Puia or even Rotorua in general. Anyone visiting Rotorua and not taking the time to experience a little bit of traditional Maori culture is really missing out. So don’t miss out and take the time to experience the wonderful Maori culture at Te Puia.
Note: You can view video of the Maori concert by clicking here.
Next Posting: The Te Puia Thermal Valley
Prior Posting: Waimangu Volcanic Valley
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