Whakarewarewa: a Maori village guided tour

Whakarewarewa is the living thermal village in Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island. It is an area of geothermal activity within the city of Rotorua, where the Maori inhabitants still take advantage of the geothermal pools and steam vents in their everyday lives.

Entrance to Whakarewarewa village, Rotorua

Entrance to Whakarewarewa village, Rotorua

Often visitors to New Zealand arrive in Rotorua with the wish to get close to Maori culture, to get an insight into Maori history, art, and Maori ways of life. Rotorua is billed as the centre of Maori culture, at least from a tourism perspective. And it is certainly not an over-promise; in Rotorua, one can choose from a multitude of places and tours to experience Maori culture.

I did just that when I was in Rotorua. I had the pleasure of visiting both Te Puia, New Zealand’s Maori arts and crafts institute and cultural centre, as well as enjoy a guided tour through the adjacent Maori village, Whakarewarewa.

Exploring Whakarewarewa, the living thermal village

Meeting hall at Whakarewarewa village, Rotorua

Meeting hall at Whakarewarewa village, Rotorua

After meeting our guide in front of the entrance to the village market by an archway, we crossed the bridge over the river and were welcomed to Whakarewarewa village by our Maori guide, in Maori language. Before the bridge was built, our tour guide tells us, the only way of entering the village was by being carried across the river.  Right across the bridge, the road leads right onto the marae,  Te Pakira, the meeting hall of the village.

Carvings at the marae, the meeting hall in the village

Carvings at the marae, the meeting hall in the village

Of grumpy men and murderous ripples

The tour focussed on Maori everyday life. We walked past the various hot pools, which all carry curious names such as “Parekohuru” (murderous ripples) or “Korotiotio” (aka grumpy man). Despite such negative nomenclature, Parekohuru as well as most of the other steam vents are actually actively used in everyday village life. Parekohuru, the largest hot spring in the village, and is used for cooking leaf and root vegetables or even seafood. The corn on the cob Meagaan and I enjoyed at Ned’s Cafe in the village was actually cooked in Parekohuru.

Parekohuru, Whakarewarewa village

Parekohuru, aka the Champagne Pool, Whakarewarewa village

Next to Parekohuru we find a traditional Maori earth oven. Together with our guide we lift the lid and take a look at what is cooking inside. Cooking food  in an earth oven is the traditional Maori way of cooking (minus the aluminium foil). Trapping the heat from the ground, the earth oven actually does all the work. Maori women put their vegetable dishes into the earth oven in the morning and it’s ready for lunch, and one doesn’t need to worry about having a stove on in the house!

Earth oven, Whakarewarewa village

Earth oven, Whakarewarewa village

Another hot pool in the village, at Whakarewarewa

Another hot pool in the village, at Whakarewarewa

Further along, we come across the Maara Kai, the vegetable garden, and the oil baths, communal baths used by the village still today. The name oil baths comes from the oily texture of the mineral-rich waters.

In the centre of the village we visit a few arts and crafts shops with beautiful Maori wood or bone carvings, and our guide shows us how to weave harakeke, or flax, into an actual skirt, the way it has been done for centuries.

Arts and crafts shop at Whakarewarewa village

Arts and crafts shop at Whakarewarewa village

With our map in hand, we wave goodbye to our wonderful guide and set out to explore the geothermal area and walking paths around the village to wander next to bubbling mud pools and steaming turquoise ponds, but not before trying the juicy corn on the cob cooked in the murderous ripples of Parekohuru. Yum!

View over Whakarewarewa village

View over Whakarewarewa village

Disclosure: Meagaan and I were guests of Whakarewarewa village, as part of my #Blog4NZ competition win. As always, opinions are entirely my own. A HUGE thank you to Whakarewarewa for being part of Blog4NZ and for having us on the tour! We had a great time, learnt a lot about Maori culture and really enjoyed the corn on the cob!

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  7 comments for “Whakarewarewa: a Maori village guided tour

  1. 1 August, 2013 at 22:50

    I see you had a different Maori experience to me. It looks really personal and interesting. I love the names of those hot pools!

    • Christina
      2 August, 2013 at 11:49

      I wanted to visit Tamaki village as well, which is different in that it is more of a “show” village with a focus on tourism, cultural shows etc., but didn’t have the time to do so. I did go to Te Puia for Te Po and I did a Maori tour at the Te Papa, which all were fantastic.

  2. 3 August, 2013 at 07:24

    What a great experience to visit this area and learn more about the Maoris. One of our biggest regrets during our trip to NZ many years ago was not making it to Rotorua. Those mud pools and ponds look amazing and such cool names too.

    • Christina
      4 August, 2013 at 09:50

      Ah the thing with Rotorua… I’d say for me it was like third time’s a charm. The first two times I was in NZ I didn’t spend much time in Rotorua at all, because it is more of a touristy town and all I wanted to do was see the South Island! That was a big mistake though. Rotorua has so much to offer.

  3. 7 August, 2013 at 23:30

    I was curious to see the food that had been cooked in the oven! That one picture of the hot pool almost looks like some sort of lava coming out. Fascinating how the Maori utilize mother nature and the earth so wonderfully in their lives :)

    • Christina
      10 August, 2013 at 19:33

      Honestly, I am still so glad I did this tour. I did a few more Maori experience tours, and I have photos of the food that was cooked in the earth over :) Coming up soon :)

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