Kia Ora New Zealand!Posted: 7 December 2014 Updated: 2 August 2016
If our time at AAT Kings has taught us one thing, it’s to appreciate the beauty of our own backyard and after a recent short break across the ditch to New Zealand, this value now extends to our neighbours very green, sheep-filled backyard.
It will come as no surprise that the land of the long white cloud really is as picture perfect and magical as it’s made out to be – vast green fields, snow-capped mountains and geothermal wonderlands add plenty of wow factors to the North Island. However there is also a rich Maori culture and an abundance of local charm that’s impossible to overlook.
‘Kia ora’ was the greeting that welcomed us everywhere we went, from the multicultural city of Auckland to the ‘steaming’ city of Rotorua. This traditional Maori reception spread a smile across our face every time we heard it as it was conveyed with such pride and enthusiasm by all of those who spoke it.
Traditional ‘Hongi’ welcome
You’ll know you’re in Rotorua (or ‘Roto-Vegas’ as the locals like to call it) by the smell caused by the hydrogen sulphide emissions. The cities geothermal reserve and Maori heritage make it a popular destination for tourists; it’s also an excellent base to explore other attractions such as the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and Hobbiton. It was here that we were lucky enough to experience the warm Maori hospitality first hand at the award-winning Tamaki Maori Village.
Our journey began when we were collected by coach from our hotel and greeted by our guide. En route to the village, which is situated within an ancient Tawa forest, we were instructed on the rules and protocols which we (the visiting tribe) were to observe. We appointed one of our tour members to be our Chief and represent us for the evening – his role was to accept the ‘Teka’ (peace offering) at the ‘Powhiri’ (the formal welcome ceremony) and perform the ‘Hongi’ (a traditional Maori greeting) with one of the tribesman. After this ceremony we ceased to be guests of the village, we were now ‘Tangata Whenua’ – one of the village’s people.
Protected from the rain by a dense canopy of trees, we were met inside the village by a number of small dwellings, each depicting different aspects of Maori culture. We looked on as the women weaved Maori crafts and the men performed the Haka, we also participated in a number of dances and games which were traditionally played to develop the warrior’s hand-eye coordination skills. It was a dreamlike experience, fires crackled in the background and the smell of rain and our delicious dinner cooking in the earth nearby engulfed the damp forest around us.
A ‘Hangi’ is a centuries old method of slow cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. We gathered in the Hangi area as our Chief was invited to step forward and assist with the lifting of our dinner from the ground. This involved scraping back the dirt and removing the hessian bags covering the pit. Once the steam had cleared our delicious dinner of chicken, lamb, kumara, potatoes, carrots and stuffing was revealed, the smell of herbs and roasted meats wafted through the air and our stomachs started rumbling…
While our meal was prepared we sat within the walls of the ‘Wharenui’ (sacred meeting house) and were treated to a performance of cultural songs and dance. The songs continued well into the night as we sat around and ate our banquet-style three course dinner. It was a celebration of life and togetherness through the enjoyment and sharing of food (most of us enjoyed it so much we indulged in second or third servings)! The succulent New Zealand meats and fresh vegetables took on a lovely, lightly-smoked flavour and melted in our mouths.
We left the Tamaki Family Village with a full belly, a full heart and a greater understanding of why the Maori culture is a source of pride felt by all Kiwis. What a highlight!
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