Whaka-where, you say? Why, Whakarewarewa of course! Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village is a uniquely stunning, albeit slightly whiffy, geothermal wonderland located in Rotorua in New Zealand’s North Island. Found aptly along the Thermal Explorer Highway, Whakarewarewa is not only a tourist attraction, it is also the home for people of the Tūhourangi/Ngati Wahiao tribe. Fallen World Wars I and II soldiers of this tribe are remembered through a commemorative gateway at entrance of the village.
Once through the gateway, the scenery changes dramatically! Or should I say, geothermally. Houses sit amongst mud pools and hot springs with some precariously close to the geothermal action. It is evident how unpredictable this part of the earth is with some homes having lost entire rooms to the ground below. This phenomenon would make my nights slightly restless.
The mineral hot pools (Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley in its entirety has a mere 500 or so) throughout the Village have a variety of uses including cooking, bathing, healing and heating purposes. Sulphur-filled steam is not just a visual delight and an olfactory tease; it has legitimate functions that have been harnessed and used for over 700 years. One can even indulge in a corn cob cooked in the steaming waters of Parekohuru (pictured steaming in the background of the above photo).
The Village has also become the home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute which ensures that traditional arts survive and are passed along generations. I believe it was students of the Institute that carved the Marae (meeting place) in the Village, which would be no mean feat considering the sheer size of the building and intricate detail in the carvings.
Nestled amongst the homes are some rather cool shops where I picked up a set of Poi. Poi are small balls (approximately tennis ball size) that historically are made from raupo (bulrushes) attached to a flax rope, but now days can be created from anything including newspaper shaped into a ball and wrapped tightly in a bag and attached to string. The ropes are then held in the fingers and the poi twirled in patterns. Poi are used in Maori dance and also for the purpose of increasing strength and coordination. There is no evidence of my attempts of performing with Poi as it would be an embarrassment to all involved, but please know it is an intricate and finely honed skill and it is mesmerising to watch a proper Poi performance.
Further on from the Village, there are some easy-grade walks throughout the Valley that offer spectacular views of the hot springs, mud pools and infrastructure. The geothermal activity is mind-blowing and these walks are worth the time, even in rainy weather.
This post outlines only a little of the Whakarewarewa experience, and to get the most out of a visit I highly recommend a guided tour. The knowledge that can be gathered is immeasurable with the information provided by locals who are the only people who can truly impart the cultural and historical significance of the Village. Spend the day and enjoy the Village, the Thermal Valley, a corn cob cooked in the mineral pools and a courtesy umbrella should you need one (FYI: it rained during both my visits but it was still spectacular).
My friend, Kaz, was VERY impressed by her wind-damaged courtesy umbrella. Don’t be so windy next time, Kaz!