An Overnight Stay at the Tamaki Maori Village

Kia Ora from Rotorua, home of Maori cultural experiences! Finally, the time has come for us to immerse in the Maori culture ourselves by staying in a traditional-style Maori village overnight! That’s right, this evening we are going to the Tamaki Maori Village.

A TRADITIONAL Maori welcoming

Although Tamaki provide transport from Rotorua to their village situated about 15 minutes outside of Rotorua, we transport ourselves for our own convenience and rock up to a huge parking area with a pathway leading to a beautifully-carved archway. Along with a group of Kiwi Experience passengers, we are greeted by one of our Maori hosts, Mike. Before we enter onto the property, we must go through the iwi’s (tribe’s) traditional welcoming ceremony called a powhiri. Mike explains the procedures before they occur, as well as explaining why they were traditionally done this way. With that, we follow Mike down a pathway leading to the arch while he says a prey to his ancestors in the Maori language, te reo Maori. Our tribe leader, as picked by the Kiwi Experience passengers, leads the group with Mike backed by the ladies, then finally the men follow behind as to protect the women from any potential threats coming from behind.

After passing through the archway, we come to a seating area where Mike does a welcoming speech in te reo Maori, then explains the speech to us in English. In return, our tribe leader gives a quick speech, as does Robin to represent the tribe of BackpackerGuide.NZ. Robin is used to talking… A LOT… so he has no problem with this.

Once the powhiri is complete, we move onto the most welcoming tradition of many cultures: food! Yes, afternoon tea has just been served in the dining area!

Robin gets ready for the pre-show Maori games Robin gets ready for the pre-show Maori games
Sounding us into the welcoming ceremony Sounding us into the welcoming ceremony
Making an entrance for the powhiri Making an entrance for the powhiri
Robin learns to do the haka! Robin learns to do the haka!

Afternoon tea and the sleeping house

Everyone mingles over shortbread, banana cake, chocolate chip cookies and fried bread with toppings of butter, jam, whipped cream and/or syrup! It takes everything within us to not over-stuff ourselves, knowing there is a hangi buffet to be served later tonight.

Before our activities get underway, we are shown the sleeping houses where rows of beds are set up in large rooms decorated with carvings and patterns painted in the traditional colours of red, white and black. Here, we learn the stories and meanings behind the patterns, colours and carvings. Today, Maori people will come together on maraes (meeting grounds) and sleep in similar buildings with mattresses on the floor. Tamaki’s offerings are slightly more luxurious with the beds slightly raised off the floor and towels included – it sure beats a night in bunk dorm, am I right?!

Things get wild at the Maori Stick game!

Mike now takes us through pathways lined with native bush and small water features to an open area in the forest where we hands everyone a long wooden pole. We get into a large circle to play a Maori game, poi rakau, where we throw these poles around the circle in time to a chant. As you can imagine, it takes a while for things to go smoothly… In fact, it’s freakin’ hilarious! It’s a mess of falling poles to start with, but by the end, everyone is nailing it… Even those who we thought were a lost cause!

Learning the Maori language through song

One last activity we try before tonight’s show gets underway is learning a song to help you pronounce the letters in the Maori language. With the help of a tribe member called Jamis, who is on the guitar, we learn a catchy Maori song that we cannot ever see leaving our heads, along with actions. There’s one catch though: we have to perform this song as group to the guests at the end of tonight’s show. Gulp! On that note, it’s time to see how real Maoris perform. It’s time to see the Tamaki evening experience!

Learning about poi from the Maori women

A powerful Powhiri and welcoming into the Maori village

We gather in a courtyard with more guests for a powhiri into the Tamaki evening experience. This powhiri, however, is enough to make you quiver at the knees… We face a village entrance built into the face of a native forest, the sound of some sort of horn being blown from within. The sound grows louder as some Maori women emerge above the entrance, then the chanting and shouting of men come from a small stream beside the entrance. An authentic war canoe (waka) paddled by Maori warriors covered in tattoos from their arms to their face, comes down the stream. The men jump out making sudden jolting movements, not leaving eye contact with our representing tribe leaders. A warrior approaches our tribe leader widening their eyes and sticking out their tongue. In words, it sounds silly, but in reality, it’s terrifying.

Our tribe leader must pick up a fern laid on the ground by the warrior to show that we come to the tribe’s village as friends, not foes. The chief of the Maori tribe can then give his speeches and welcome us into the village.

Learning to do Maori dancing, games and the haka

We split into groups and rotate various different stations around the village nestled in native forest. Tribe members wait for us with stories to tell, activities to try, and explanations into different aspects of the Maori culture. First of all, our group learn about the waka, where the Maori’s ancestors came from, and their voyage in these waka to Aotearoa, a.k.a. New Zealand. Then we meet some Maori women who teach some of the ladies in our group, including Laura, how to perform dances with the poi – a decorated ball attached to rope once used by the men in battle. Laura hilariously butchers the beauty of dancing with a poi, but there is plenty of opportunity for the men to get involved too! This comes with a more fierce competition of  poi rakau, then once again when the men of our tribe get to learn the all-famous haka! When a skinny white French guy called Robin does the haka, it somehow doesn’t have the same effect as a big Maori dude!

The hangi lifting

After learning more about the crafts of the Maori, including flax weaving and the tattoos, ta moko, from some of Tamaki’s cheekier tribe-members (when you go to Tamaki, you’ll definitely know who we mean), we move into another area for the hangi lifting. This is where food, or kai, has been slowly cooking in an underground earth oven for hours. We are explained the food and hangi-making process, before watching the baskets of good hearty food be dug up from the ground. It is then prepared for our buffet. Meanwhile, we have a show of kapa haka, Maori song and dance, to see!

Just one of the fierce faces the Maori warriors pull Just one of the fierce faces the Maori warriors pull
And hangi has just been lifted and will soon be in our bellies And hangi has just been lifted and will soon be in our bellies
The moment when the crowd goes wild The moment when the crowd goes wild

A show of Maori song and dance

If you have seen the All Blacks performing the war dance of the haka, then you may think the Maori are well-known for being fierce warriors. It really throws you off guard when you see how powerful their songs are along with distinct jolting movements and shaking of the hands. Man, those Maori can sing. The tribe take us on a journey of strong group acapella numbers to slow love songs backed with the acoustic guitar. Then the show takes a drastic turn with the ever-compelling haka!

Stuffing ourselves with a hangi buffet!

The show ends and we are then taken to the dining area for our hangi buffet! Speeches are given, then we dig into the kai where seconds are mandatory and thirds are encouraged. Potatoes, carrots, kumara, mussels, chicken, lamb, salad, bread, a selection of sauces and dressings… Then desert is served and it’s all over for our stomachs, but at least we can wash it all down with some the customary Maori drink of kawakawa tea!

How not to sing and dance like a maori

The time finally comes for our group to perform our song… After the performances we have just seen, it feels more like we are a reinforcement of money well spent to the other guests – “Well, at least you guys didn’t pay for this!!” Nevertheless, it’s good fun and will always make a good story to tell.

Ending the night at the hot pool bar

The evening comes to an end with more singing from the folk who do it best, as well as some closing speeches. For us overnight stayers, we retire to a hot pool bar area in the forest – the perfect way to end such an eventful night of culture, learning, entertainment and being totally involved and immersed.

Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving the Tamaki village and heading back into Rotorua to learn about kiwi bird conservation at Rainbow Springs. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Entering Tamaki maori Village is a powerful experience in itself!
Entering Tamaki maori Village is a powerful experience in itself! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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