Arriving from Eastern Polynesia, the Maori people settled Aotearoa (New Zealand) about 1,000 years ago. Tamaki Village
On a family travel exploration with her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband, Khursheed Dinshaw, shares the authentic attractions of Rotorua.
A 20 minute drive south of the city of Rotorua, I entered Wai-O-Tapu, the region’s famous geysers and boiling pools of mud. It looked as other-worldly as though I had stepped onto a distant planet. Because the earth’s crust beneath Rotorua is so thin, steamy geysers have popped up in many places allowing the hot water with its rich mineral deposits to transform the landscape to white and grey with the sky’s vivid blue as a back drop.
While trying to disregard the overpowering rotten egg smell of sulphur, there was no denying Rotorua’s strange beauty and power. Each time the geysers of varying height spurted a new fountain of boiling water, a rainbow immediately appeared. The authorized walkways allowed us to view from a safe distance this geothermal wonderland with gurgling and hissing geysers, boiling mud pools, hot springs and steaming craters.
The Rotorua geothermal field contains around 1,200 geothermal features, including geysers, hot springs, mud pools and fumaroles. Chris McLennan
However, these natural occurrences offer more than a visual curiosity. Both the mud and the water have recognized healing properties, and some would say beauty-giving potential too. For many who visit the area, spas therapies are the lure, whether it is natural pools and baths to sooth the body’s aches and pains or mud wraps and facials to rejuvenate the skin. The mud is a good source of minerals like silica, magnesium, calcium, iron, sulphur, phosphorous, potassium as well as trace elements such as copper, zinc, selenium, cobalt and manganese. Who knows … maybe that rotten egg smell even has a few health properties of its own!
Designated walkways keep visitors at a safe distance from erupting hot springs and boiling mud. Khursheed Dinshaw
Having journeyed to “Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific”, I could not resist testing the health and wellness properties of the mud or a geothermal pool first hand. We headed for Rotorua’s most active thermal park, Hells Gate or Tikitere as it was named by the Maori people 650 years ago.
A mud facial seemed just the thing. Part Maori herself, my therapist, Charity, shared that Maori people have traditionally used this mud for the treatment of aches and pains particularly skin diseases and arthritic conditions. Was it my imagination or did I feel my skin regenerate, detoxify and purify? At the end of the 45-minute appointment, my face surely looked smoother and I felt refreshed and ready to take up Charity’s suggestion that we visit Tamaki, a traditional Maori village. “Rotorua is the heartland of Maori culture,” she said. “It will be a novel experience.”
At the Hells Gate spa, my spa therapist, Charity, was an expert in mud facials. Hells Gate
Just 15 minutes from Rotorua, Tamaki is best visited on a pre-booked guided tour with bus pickup from various hotels. We were welcomed in the traditional way of touching noses called hongi, delightfully transporting me to a pre-European lifestyle of customs and traditions. This village was alive to the sounds and activities of waiata (song) and whaikorero (speeches), dances, legends and the nightly festivities of sharing and feasting.
Rather than a handshake, your Maori welcome may include an hongi. Gently press your nose to your host’s nose, pause and enjoy the sincerity of the gesture. Chris Sisarich
Proud warriors performed the Haka, a dance where men with tattooed faces stick out their tongues and make strong gestures with lots of aggressive stamping. Apera, our Maori guide, cautioned us in advance saying, “Do not smile while the Haka is being performed. It is considered disrespectful.”
While the Karanga (welcome call) was powerfully intimidating with its echoes shattering the calm of the forest, the women singing and dancing the Powhiri (welcome dance) to declare our arrival to the Maori villagers was more relaxing. The Maori women wore traditional dress, complete with tattooed lips and paua jewelry. In their performance, they used the Maori poi or ball on a cord, attached to flax strings and swung gracefully and rhythmically. Traditionally the poi was done by the women to keep their hands flexible for weaving.
The Maori haka communicates either a warning challenge to enemies or a message of celebration when performed for friends. James Heremaia
Now feeling very welcome in the Tamaki village, we visited some whares or traditional homes to learn more about the Maori way of life since the people first arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand) one thousand years ago in their enormous waka (canoes).
Tamaki Village wrapped us in an amazing Stone Age culture of Maori legends and stories, warriors using traditional weapons and training for war, demonstrations of tattooing in progress, and women expertly weaving with the flax fiber that was the foundation of all their clothing.
We soon worked up an appetite for our hangi (dinner) cooked the Maori way. Preparations include digging a hole in the ground where the food (potatoes, chicken, beef, lamb, pork, sweet potato) is placed in woven baskets and buried along with hot rocks so that the food cooks slowly in its own steam. It takes three hours to cook hangi, making it a worthy candidate of the slow food movement.
Hangi is a Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried under dirt in a pit oven. Tamaki village
Traditional grain storage building at the Buried Village. Te Wairoa Buried Village
If Tamaki piqued our interest in Maori culture, the Buried Village of Te Wairoa transported us back to the British settler period of the Victorian era. Originally established by a Christian missionary in 1848, the village survived less than 40 years before it came to serve as a dramatic reminder of the volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. Spewing ash, rock and mud, and killing more than 150 people, this eruption quickly buried everything in its path (as happened with Pompeii in Italy), preserving a rare insight into 19th century New Zealand life.
We were told the story of how a Maori village guide, Sophia, sheltered over 60 people at her home the night Tarawera erupted. Her home had a steeper than usual roof and strong reinforced timber walls that were able to withstand the eruption. Present day guides at the Buried Village dress in Victorian era costumes to set the mood for a fascinating insight into this grim tragedy. The village has recreated Victorian rooms, a stunning waterfall trail and an award-winning museum.
Rotorua turned out to be like a rose, by unfolding each petal something beautiful awaited us in the form of a proud race of people who graciously shared their rich cultural heritage and legacy, the blessing that Nature has showered upon the city in the form of its healing mud pools, or the dramatic experience of a Victorian era village.
At Tamaki Village, there are tattooing and traditional weaving demonstrations. Tamaki Village
Rotorua Tourism, www.rotoruanz.com. Tourism New Zealand, www.newzealand.com.
See also www.tourism.net.nz and www.aatravel.co.nz for specific web pages on Rotorua accommodation, dining, attractions, transport, tours and visitor information. Accommodations include a variety of apartments, boutique and heritage, home stays, bed and breakfast, hotels, motels and lodges. provide suitable options.
Getting around Rotorua itself is easy as many attractions are within walking distance of the city center. Coaches, rental vehicles and campervans are popular transport options to explore further afield.
Air New Zealand, www.airnewzealand.com, flies to both international and domestic destinations connecting Rotorua to Australia, the South Pacific, Asia, North America and the United Kingdom.
Want to learn about New Zealand’s unique wildlife? From our Travel Article Library, you will enjoy learning about New Zealand’s “Small Five” (plus friends): rare and endangered birds, reptiles and marine mammals.
Khursheed Dinshaw is a Pune, India-based freelance writer with more than 675 published articles in major Indian newspapers and magazines in the last eight years. An avid traveler, she writes on lifestyle, travel, health, food, trends, people and culture. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.