After our trip to Hobbiton, we didn’t think the day could get much better, but we still had another epic adventure to come. The bus pulled into the town of Rotorua late afternoon and we collected our tickets for our evening’s entertainment and accomodation – the Tamaki Maori Village. We were briefed by our bus driver on our way: we were about to enter a traditional Maori village, where our chief would greet the village chief with the touching of noses and sharing the breath of life, and our tribe would greet theirs with a song. We would then be accepted into the family and able to stay in the village.
We chose a chief from among us on the bus, then the hard part… deciding a song. Luckily we didn’t have to sing the whole thing, just a couple of lines. In the end we chose Take Me Home, Country Road by John Denver as it’s a pretty easy chorus to remember, and most people knew it anyway. When we got there we managed to belt it out pretty well without embarrassing ourselves.
The Maori warriors and chief greeted us with a warlike display, rowing up to us in one of their waka, or war canoes, before shouting at us in Maori for a while and swinging their weapons about. It was a pretty impessive display – a load of hefty half dressed blokes with weapons and face tattoos doing their best to show how tough they are. It was the haka on steriods.
After the greetings were exchanged, and our chief accepted the silver fern of peace without insulting their chief, we were finally allowed to relax and smile and were invited into the village itself to learn more about the traditional Maori way of life.
When we went into the village itself, we were rotated around a number of different stations where a few Maori were on hand to explain various aspects of their culture – we learned the stick games used to improve dexterity with weapons, how to sing the Maori alphabet, the boys learned the haka, and we learned more about the spiritul meanings and stories behind the carvings on the war canoes and the houses.
After a display of songs and dances by the Maori, we were invited to share a traditional hangi dinner, cooked in pits in the ground, which was an absolute feast, with plenty of meats, heaps of veggies and gravy. We were so full we couldn’t even manage dessert, although Blakey did go back for seconds. Standard.
The rest of the dinner guests left the village once everyone had finished stuffing themselves, and the Kiwi Experience tribe were left alone in the village for the overnight stay. We stayed in the traditional Maori Whare Moe, or sleeping houses, large rooms lined with carvings of the Maori guardian spirits and carvings of prominent figures from the tribe’s history. Our host explained the meaning of each carving to us and we all chose our beds and settled in.
Not that we all went quietly to bed – we were told we had use of the hot tubs and outside bar for the evening, where there was a fire going to keep away the evening chill. The people in our Whare Moe weren’t keen on staying up to the early hours and lights were out by midnight, but the other one was pretty rowdy and it was more like a 3am finish for them, which just shows that the Kiwi Bus is pretty much whatever you make of it – if you want to be drinking and partying to the early hours you can, but if you fancy a good night’s sleep instead then you won’t be the only one.
We woke up to a good breakfast and were make on the bus by eight thirty to head into Rotorua, where half us of hopped off the bus for the night and parted ways with the rest, who continued on to Taupo.
Not all of the backpackers on the bus opted to stay at the village, or even to attend the evening show, as it wasn’t cheap. I think they missed out hugely though – it’s been voted one of the top ten cultural experiences in the world for a good reason and we would both recommend it to everyone. If you can’t do the overnight stay, at least do the cultural evening experience, you won’t regret it.