Adventures Down Under: Te Puia

‘My friends, this is the essence of life’-Maori Proverb

My last stop of the day was to Te Puia, a Maori cultural center in Rotura (about two hours from Auckland). Between this and the Waitomo caves, I was able to get a sense of the Maori culture and how intrinsic it is in New Zealand. I am not as familiar with the history of Maori and English settlers (versus the horrors that faced the Aboriginal people in Australia-which I teach) but their culture seemed much more deeply rooted here than their counterparts in Eastern Australia. While Te Puia is the nickname (the full name is VERY long), it means ‘My Family’ and you are. My guide was a member of the local Maori tribe and her ancestors had roamed the region. In fact, she was one of nearly a dozen cousin that worked there! When she was guiding us, she always referred to us as family and it was so nice!

When you arrive, you are able to see a traditional welcome ceremony. It included several haka dances and the most wonderful music. I haven’t a clue what they said (although they did tell you before they started the song what it was generally about) but I did not care. It was amazing to see something that has been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years if not more (fun fact: New Zealand is one of the ‘newer’ inhabited islands and we are unsure of the official arrival date of the first people and how long they were there prior to the British). The carvings in the building were stunning! The Maori are known for their woodwork (more about the that in a bit) and their skills were on full display.

What the area is really known for is their geothermal activity. It is very active…they recently had to shut down a hotel because a fault developed in the dining room as a mud/hot spring grew in size. Then I read last week that a geyser erupted in a family’s backyard. The Maori use some of the mud pools but they are not open to the public because the temperatures can fluctuate wildly And be quite dangerous. Definitely stay on the marked path.

There are a several geysers, one goes off quite frequently but most are at random. The mud pools, as mentioned, are ever growing. What I enjoyed the most was seeing the steam coming off all of the pools. It coated the entire area in a beautiful (albeit odorous) mist. It had an otherworldly quality. I wish I had more time to fully explore, but I will be back!

In addition to the geothermal activity, the area was key for tribal defense. Situated on the rim of a volcano, the surrounding topography creates an echo. If there was an outside threat, the tribe would make noises to make them appear much larger in size. The acoustics worked so well for the small tribe, no one bothered them.

As mentioned previously, the Maori are known for their wood carvings. They have a huge cultural center to highlight their crafts. I had a request for a traditional Maori carving and there were so many to chose from! I narrowed it down to two: the one in the photo which represents welcoming and fierceness and another…when I look at the meaning for the other, it was to have healthy ovaries. As that was not a particular concern for Mathias and he had just moved, welcoming it was! They have a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Mathias initiated a deal involving wine country, so I wanted to make sure I got him a good one (he also provided the photos because I forgot to take pictures before I gave it to him)! I also got him two small, stone carvings. I bought myself a pair of jade earrings and a small kiwi bird carving (which I didn’t see because they are nocturnal and the ones they have at the facility were sleeping). They have so much amazing stuff! If you are feeling more adventurous, you can get a tattoo. But it’s a bit different, see you tell them about your life and they design something but you won’t know what it is until they are done. It’s a massive commitment but I am very intrigued! Maybe upon my next visit…

If you have the opportunity to visit Te Puia, you most certainly should. It was an amazing insight into the history and heritage of the first people of New Zealand!

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