Te Puia in Rotorua, New Zealand

At Te Puia in Rotorua, we experience the vibrant living land and the native peoples who call this place their home in New Zealand.

Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua

Visiting Te Puia in Rotorua

In addition to exploring the natural beauty of New Zealand in all its many forms, we also sought out exposure with the native people of New Zealand; The Maori. There are a few places in New Zealand that offer a variety of learning experiences about the Maori. With its combination of natural features and being the home of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, we choose to visit Te Puia in Rotorua as part of our New Zealand Trip Itinerary.

geysers - Te Puia in Rotorua

There are a variety of options to visit Te Puia in Rotorua. These range from guided tours to cultural performances and dinner. We opted for the full package called Te Pō and Te Ra, which includes a guided tour, a welcome ceremony (pōwhiri), dance and musical performance, and buffet dinner.

Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao

This mouthful of Maori means “The war dance of the war parties of Wahiao.” It is the name of the valley where Te Puia in Rotorua resides. Our guide Paul pronounced the name with ease and challenged a few of us on the tour to give it a try.

Paul - Te Puia in Rotorua

The valley has been home to the Maori people for centuries. This volcanic landscape provided heat in the winter and wildlife for hunting. There are close to 500 hot pools, springs, and mud pits. There are also seven active geysers with Pohulu being the main attraction as it leaps into the air hourly.

pohulu - Te Puia in Rotorua

New Zealand Arts and Crafts Institute

While our visit to Te Puia in Rotorua was packed with highlights, the one that stands out most is the visit to the New Zealand Arts and Crafts Institute. Inside you can watch artisans practicing their craft.

arts - Te Puia in Rotorua

Students are selected from tribes throughout New Zealand to study here. The institute provides a means of keeping alive the cultural heritage found in weaving and carving. A tour here is a feast for the senses. I could spend hours here reading, asking questions, and taking in the fascinating details.

carving info - Te Puia in Rotorua
weaver - Te Puia in Rotorua

Pōwhiri and Performance

The Te Pō at Te Puia in Rotorua includes a welcome ceremony (Powhiri) followed by a music and dance performance in the meeting house. The welcome ceremony involves the local leader challenging the visiting leader. Our lucky visiting leader was a young man with his wife on their honeymoon. The local leader charges toward our visiting leader full bore with a spear in hand. Meanwhile, our visiting leader is waiting with a fern indicating the desire for peace. I’m not quite sure why our visiting leader did not run away in terror.

welcome - Te Puia in Rotorua
Welcome - Te Puia in Rotorua

After the welcoming challenge, we were all invited into the meeting house. We took our seats to witness the kapa haka. This performance includes a series of dances and demonstrations interspersed with narrative from the performers to give us context around each one.

Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua

The first performance is a Waiata-ā-ringa where both the men and women dance with gesturing arms motions that look like branches of trees in the wind. This was accompanied by singing and guitar.

Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua
Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua

This was followed by a demonstration of traditional Maori weapons; the patu and the taiaha. The patu is a paddle shaped club. A taiaha is a combination of spear and combat staff. Each of these looked like they could inflict significant damage in close quarters.

warrior - Te Puia in Rotorua
warrior - Te Puia in Rotorua
warrior - Te Puia in Rotorua

Next was a Poi dance. In this dance, women twirl a ball on a string (Poi). The ball makes a rhythmic sound as they bounce it off their hands. The dancers made this graceful dance look so relaxed and easy.

Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua
Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua

Dinner in Te Puia

Our dinner at Te Puia in Rotorua was cooked hāngi style, which is the traditional Maori method of cooking in a pit oven. Historically, these were pits dug into the ground. At Te Puia, they use a concrete pit oven. Either way, the concept is basically the same.

Dinner - Te Puia in Rotorua

The buffet included just about anything you could want from a variety of salads to seafood, chicken, beef, and pork. At the time, I was too hungry to get pictures of the food. However, I do wish that I’d snapped a pic of Brenda’s plate.

Green-lipped Mussels

You see, when we first arrived in New Zealand, we were looking for lunch and a beer. Greg and Diane had been in Auckland for a few hours before us, so they had scoped out a nice looking pub. On the menu was something called green-lipped mussels. Brenda and I both love mussels at home. The mussels we get in Michigan are typically small and served up in some tasty broth with bread for dipping. Brenda decided to try the New Zealand green-lipped mussels for lunch. These New Zealand mussels are nothing like what we get at home.  The green-lipped mussel is a big ass mussel. One green-lipped mussel is probably like 20 of the little nibblers we get at home.

Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua

Brenda cautiously took a bite into one of these big ass mussels. They are a bit more “fishy” and definitely more substantial. We quickly determined that they are not for us.

Fast forward to the dinner at Te Puia. As I mentioned, the choices of food were nearly boundless. Yet what do I see on Brenda’s plate? You got it; green-lipped mussels! I said, “babe, remember we tried those and didn’t care for them?” She bites into one and says “oh yeah! I thought maybe the first batch was off. This is not for me. Greg, you want some mussels?” We all laughed and enjoyed a fantastic meal (green-lipped mussels and all). If you are looking for a special way to experience Maori culture and art, book a tour of Te Puia.

Dancer - Te Puia in Rotorua

Pictures! 

We have a few more pictures from our visit to Te Puia in Rotorua.

carving - Te Puia in Rotorua

Explore these links for more pictures from our entire trip to New Zealand

Be sure to read our other stories from our trip to New Zealand including:

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