One of the delights of travelling DIY, as opposed to touring in an organised group, is the ability to respond to information gained on the fly. Last night, in Hobbiton, we were talking to a Japanese couple who told us about Te Puia. We had heard about this place, but hadn't found out much about it, but when our Japanese friends told us it was brilliant and not to be missed, we decided to put it on the agenda for today.
We arrived at 10, just in time to join a tour conducted by a local Maori lady. She explained that much of Te Puia is run by the Maoris of her village, which adjoins the park. Her tour was great, incorporating detailed information on the considerable geothermal activity in the area; local Maori culture; a marae (large house/gathering place); a reconstructed village to show the traditional way of life; and the carving and weaving school, established to preserve Maori skills and traditions. It was wonderful to see the pride and effort invested in maintaining the vibrancy of Maori culture.
After the tour, we roamed the extensive grounds on our own, paying attention to the information gained from our guide. As a result, we were right on hand to see Pohutu, the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, erupt. We were lucky ,in that it was one of the longest eruptions of the day, and we enjoyed it as we sat on the terrace eating out picnic lunch.
We spent another hour after lunch wandering around the extensive grounds and admiring the various thermal features such as the Koko mud pool, which is very active; the cooking pool that is still in use; and dormant Papakura geyser, which last erupted two years ago. - it was a no-show for us today! All in all, Te Puia is a fantastic and well-managed park, and we were delighted to have had the chance to visit it.
The afternoon was spent in shopping, recuperation and preparation for our Maori cultural night out.
We had booked into the "Mitai Maori Village Evening Experience", which promised plenty of exposure to Maori culture, a traditional Hangi (ground cooked) feast and a brief night walk in the forest. The Mitai family delivered in spades! We were picked up from our hotel right on time and taken out to the Mitai family village. Pretty soon our host, Johnny (good Maori name!), arrived and greeted everyone in their native language, even if all he could say was 'hello'! He was very informative and had a wonderful, dry sense of humour.
First, we were taken to see our meal being lifted from the Hangi ground oven, then went down to the creek, where several young Maoris paddled a waka (war canoe) while chanting war songs. Finally, we went into a small amphitheatre where were regaled with a lot of Maori song, dance and, of course, the Haka war dance! Throughout the evening, Johnny kept up a very informative commentary explaining Maori history and traditions, ranging from their arrival in Aotearoa/New Zealand 700 years ago, to the significance of their facial tattoos. Returning to the banquet hall our Hangi feast was ready to go. It was delicious - especially as it gave us another night off from cooking! Our evening ended with a short walk through the rainforest, where the highlight was seeing glowworms - quite amazing, even if some people insisted on shining torches on them and turning them invisible!
We returned to our hotel thoroughly satisfied with our very educational and interesting day. However, we can't sign out from Rotorua without mentioning the smell! Being in the middle of a very thermally active area, in the middle of a recently active volcano, the smell of sulphur permeates the whole city! The locals say they don't notice, but we reckon it would take a long time for our sensitive noses to get used to the smell!
Anyway, tomorrow we have a long drive to our last stay on the North Island - Hahei in the Coromandel. It has been an awesome few days in the Taupo/Rotorua area, but now it's time for something completely different!