Filled with Culture

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03/01/08
Hi friends! ActiveSteve here again. Well, you might start thinking that I’m getting lazy with all these days off, but you know what? I came here to experience New Zealand, not just thrash myself biking all around it, so that’s just what I’m doing in Rotorua. Today was my day full of cultural experiences of the Maori civilization. It actually started a little last night with a self-guided city walking tour I went on that took me to a Maori village in town. Today, I continued that theme by going to Te Whakarewarewa Marori village, the Rotorua Museum, which had oodles of Maori stuff, as well as my evening at Mitai Maori Village for a concert, nature walk, and traditional Hangi meal cooked by Maoris. Although I’ll probably keep the post relatively short, the experiences were nothing short of remarkable, and memorable. Or at least I hope they’ll be. Tomorrow, I’m sticking around, and planning to do some serious mountain biking in Whaka forest, where the Worlds were this year. After that, off to Taupo. Check the map and read on for more.

I let myself sleep in a little bit, but not very long. I wanted to be at the tourist center shortly after 8am to book my Maori Hangi and concert ticket for the night, and I knew the center gets very busy in the day. So I threw on some clothes, walked over and booked my ticket before breakfast. The bonus of booking at the i-Site was that I got a free admission to the Rotorua museum which I planned to attend anyway. Bonus! Back at the hostel, I grabbed some breakfast, loaded up a daypack, and stripped my bike down a bit for some local riding. First stop of the day was supposed to be Te Puia, a Maori Village.

When I got there, I was informed it was 50NZD to get in, in spite of the fact that LP told me it was 25NZD. Of well, Lying Planet strikes again. It struck a few times here in Rotorua. Mitai was listed as 75, but cost me 92. The Rotorua Museum was supposed to include the Blue Baths museum, but now that’s a separate 5 charge. Now this. Curses. Luckily, the ticket person told me about another place to check out. Whakarewarewa Village, just down the road, with the same geysers, and only 25NZD. Sold. Hopped back on the bike and headed over.

Included with admission was a guided tour if you wanted, and Maori dancing and show. I decided to tour mostly alone, but now and again, would be close to tour groups, and would listen to the various stories they told. That way, I avoided the big groups, but got a lot of the information. I also caught a bunch of the show, and watched the main attraction, Pohuto, a giant geyser that goes off 20+ times a day, a couple times. It was really cool. I also took a couple nature walks which took me around several more hot baths, and mud pools, as well as some of the main hot water sources for the area. I even ran into Ralph, my Dutch friend again there. Too funny. Once again, however, we had slightly different itineraries and only talked briefly. We’re both planning on doing some MTB tomorrow here as well, so I’m sure I’ll have the one in a million possibility of seeing him in the network of trails in the woods here.

After the Village, I headed back to town for the Rotorua museum, which had a great 20 minute active movie about the history of Rotorua, including shaking seats, stars in the cieiling, etc. etc. It was quite well done, and gave me a lot of the background about how Rotorua was a tourist spot for a long time, particularly for it’s renowned baths, which were a hit in the early 1900s, but very difficult to maintain due to the minerals in the water. The museum was also the actual site of the baths, so I got to look into some of the inner workings of the baths, such as the pipes in the basement, and the original bath fittings for some of the rooms. It was very interesting to see what passed for ‘vacations’ back in those days. Like 3 weeks of having treatments 5 times a day such as electro-shock baths. Craziness!

I spent probably 2 hours in the museum before heading back towards the hostel, grabbing a Shawarma on my way so that my stomach wouldn’t be empty before the Hangi later that night. I had a quick shower, then was whisked away by bus to the Maori Village of Mitai up the road from Rotorua. This experience was very unique, as the villagers welcomed us to their lands, explained their various dances and rituals, including the description of the Moka, their tatoos. They also took us on forest walks, and treated us to a recreation of their warriors arriving by Whaka (canoe) to the village. We also saw glowworms. Of course, the main point of the trip was the Hangi, a traditional Maori meal prepared underground with hot rocks or steam. Our hangi had chicken, lamb, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. They also had vegetables, salads and scrumptious deserts made for us.

I had been warned some hangi aren’t particularly tasty, but this one was awesome. I loaded up with two helpings of everything, then had deserts. I’d highly recommend this place, even though when I went, they had a packed house, with many hundred people in attendance. However, even with these numbers, they managed to get us through everything in an orderly fashion, without too long of a wait. I’ve just gotten back from this trip, and it’s about 11:30 at night, but I wanted to get through this blog post, so that I wouldn’t be too far behind tomorrow. Hope all is well with you all, and I’ll be checking in again soon!

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