No visit to New Zealand would be complete without experiencing Maori culture and nowhere is it easier to access than at Te Puia, home of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute on the edge of Rotorua. The site of natural wonders such as the famous Pohutu geyser and the delightful kiwi bird, it also is the base for New Zealand’s National Carving and Weaving Schools. But there’s nothing better than getting involved in something to create a memorable day out, and so the Te Puia Maori cultural performance should be a must on everyone’s itinerary.
The Te Puia Maori Cultural Performance
A ceremonial welcome
Just inside Te Puia, visitors gather at the entrance to Rotowhio Marae, an elaborately carved meeting hall. Students and graduates of the National Carving School were responsible for its construction between 1967 and 1981; being part of the team was considered a great honour. A pūtatara, or conch, is sounded, the signal for a toa, or warrior, to leap up the path towards us brandishing a stick, watched by his fellow Maori. This is a re-enactment of the wero, or challenge, during which visitors were checked out to see whether or not they came in peace. (We do, please believe us.) The warrior slaps his thigh and we have passed his test. A female host performs a welcome call known as a karanga and we follow everyone inside.
Inside the marae
Seated, we are welcomed and after the speeches, we listen to a traditional chant called a waiata. The costumes are a work of art. Geometric designs in scarlet, black and white are adorned with black feathers. The men wear just a short wrap skirt, but the women cloak their longer costumes with full length furs. All are barefoot. The women sing, their hands and bodies swaying and curling in time to the rhythm. I can feel the hairs on my neck prickle.
Te Puia Maori cultural performance’s two contrasting dances
The men now perform the ferocious haka. We know it’s not for real, but it is easy to imagine how scary it might be if it was. Visiting males are invited up on stage to join in. The haka loses all of its terror as the tourists’ attempts to copy the warriors create more comedy than drama. Perhaps they just need a costume. Now it’s the turn of the women. For us, they have chosen the Poi dance. Round white balls, a cross between a baseball and a turnip, are to be swung around our heads, elegantly, in time to the beat. Done correctly, it showcases poise and grace. My attempt has neither of those qualities and a fit of the giggles isn’t helping. But it’s huge fun and that’s what new experiences should be about, right?
Daytime 45-minute cultural performances start at 10.15am, 12.15pm and 3.15pm at the Te Puia New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Purchasing a daytime Te Puia Maori cultural performance combo ticket ($NZ62.90) also allows you access to the geyser field, carving and weaving schools and cultural village. Guided tours are available and, although recommended, are not compulsory.
Other tours and activities in Te Puia and Rotorua are also worth checking out. Don’t miss the centre’s exhibit celebrating famous Maori guide Maggie Papakura.