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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!