Te Po was most definitely the most touristy thing I did in Rotorua, but equally one of the most enjoyable tours I have ever taken.
Having deprived myself of any Maori cultural activities or tours during my previous trips to New Zealand, my last road trip through the land of the long white cloud included plenty of native culture. During our 3-day stay in Rotorua, we managed to finally visit Te Puia, the Maori arts and cultural centre.
Te Puia offers tours and experiences of various lengths and focus, but Meagaan and I were invited to join the evening programme named Te Po, a guided tour with lots of interaction and dinner. Arriving at 6pm, we started out in the gift shop – and a great one it was; if ever you were in search of a Maori pendant or other arts and crafts, the institute’s gift shop has a huge variety to choose from. Once the other 30 or so visitors had arrived, our tour guide started us out with a brief introduction to the programme.
Our evening started by entering the vast outdoors grounds of Te Puia, stopping right at the start of the path leading up to the marae, a Maori meeting hall. As I mentioned, this was quite a touristy activity, so our very personable guide picked his new best friend for the first cultural interaction – Bruce from Oz. The Australian chap would have the honour to greet the warriors coming out of the marae and ask for permission to enter by putting down a branch. One by one, the Maori performers emerged from the meeting hall, with the head of the community approaching in a rather menacing manner, making all sorts of facial expressions that did not look very welcoming at first.
Bruce did a great job with his branch and we were promptly invited to proceed through the grounds and enter the marae. Once seated, the cultural and musical entertainment programme began. The Maori group performed some amazing dances, rituals and songs, often asking for audience participation. No worries, though, it was all quite benevolent; nobody was asked to have their face tattooed, but rather learn the poi dance or perform a haka. The programme was rounded off by some wonderful Maori folk songs, such as Pokarekare Ana and Hine e Hine. Our guide turned out to have quite a powerful singing voice as well!
After this feast for the eyes and ears, it was time to treat the tastebuds. Everyone walked over to just outside the dining hall to take a look as the evening’s meal was being lifted out of the earth oven in which it was being cooked. And off we were to the dining tables. We were sat in groups of five or six, and learned about our fellow tour members from all over the world over kumara and rewana bread.
After a rather yummy supper the group assembled once again outside in the grounds, but this time to board a little “train” resembling some oversized golf carts. Yes, it couldn’t get any more touristy for sure, but we were in for yet another treat – the Pohutu geyser. There we were, riding the people mover in the pitch black night, disembarking a few minutes later to sit on naturally warmed stone benches in the middle of a geothermal wonderland. After a few minutes warming on a hot chocolate and taking photos in front of the bubbling pools and geysers, we got together once more, and our guide bid us farewell with a traditional Maori farewell song – Po Atarau. And I found myself not wanting to leave. What a magical evening.
Disclaimer: Meagaan and I were guests of Te Puia as part of my #Blog4NZ competition win. As always, opinions are entirely my own. A HUGE thank you to Te Puia for being part of #Blog4NZ and for having us on the tour! We had a fantastic time and wish we had done the haka on stage (next time)!