Why visit Rotorua?
Does local culture and history interest you? How about geology? Or Hobbit and Lord of the Rings? All this and more awaits you in the Rotorua area.
It is rich in Maori Culture, and located near a geothermal wonderland. It is one of New Zealand’s most popular destinations; in high season it’s important to be flexible in accommodation preferences. This area is close to many major attractions, like the Hobbiton Movie Set, Lake Taupo, and Waitomo’s glow worm caves. The Maori Culture, thermals, and Hobbiton attracted us the most.
There are tribal experiences, a cultural center, and demonstration tribal villages available to visit. We chose Tamaki Maori Village which included the hangi (the evening meal). Tom Parsons, our Maori guide from Taranaki, works with Maoris serving tourists, and Tamaki Maori Village was his recommendation. However, there are other Maori experiences, and the prices and highlights vary.
The 4-hour experiential visit takes guests through a welcome ceremony, into a mock village to participate in Maori daily life activities, like warrior training, then to a dance performance, and ending with hangi dining.
At Tamaki Maori Village, no outsiders may enter without participating in the formal welcome ceremony. Warriors come out with their weapons drawn, an intimidating approach to test visitors’ intent. They put on an menacing performance with ferocious eyes, tongues out, and shaking spears to exhibit a fierce demeanor. Once they see that visitors are friendly, a leaf for peace is offered. When the leaf is accepted it means the visitors come in peace and friendship. Once the visit is ascertained to be peaceful, the Tribe Leader invites the Group Leader and his party into their village.
In the village groups are escorted to different huts and places throughout the village, each demonstrating a different aspect of tribal life. An interactive activity that had us all laughing and entertained was the warrior training where all the men in our group were taught the warrior’s ancestral Haka war dance, traditionally used to intimidate an opponent before battle.
The hangi (meal) is buried and cooked underground in hot coals for many hours. Visitors watch it being unearthed and learn about how it is prepared and cooked. Just before dinner is a typical tribal dancing entertainment. Know that it is definitely amateurs dancing, just the local people as they might have been historically.
After dinner, the entertainment is more contemporary music by the service staff before we were sent off for our return trip to town – satiated and entertained.
The dinner was delicious and plentiful. Learning about historical daily life of Maoris was interesting and the interactivity made it fun. I would recommend the Tamaki Maori Village experience. Know that it is an expensive activity that includes a full dinner with drinks being extra. Although we learned quite a bit on our other museum and cultural center visits, this was our only in-depth experience of Maori daily life, so we were happy we did it.
To enjoy this experience more fully, visit the museums to learn about the Maori history before going to a village experience. It will provide context and background that is not part of the village experience.
While we were given a small discount for the Tamaki Maori Village encounter, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.
Geothermal activity in this area is quite evident with steam seething from street cracks, backyards, hot pools, bursts from area geysers, and cauldron-like mud pools. Various crystalized mineral formations, and colorful hues blend with the lush native greens, blue lakes, and earth tones of rust red to yellow ochre. The landscape has been sculpted by the volcanic activity over thousands of years transforming this area into an impressive natural art form.
There are many thermal wonders in the Rotorua area, and we chose to visit two:
- Hell’s Gate, the area’s most fierce geothermal region has the hottest waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. Truthfully, it was my choice because of the various hot and mud pools available in which visitors can soak. After our walk through the geothermal park to view all of the activity, I chose to relax and enjoy the different pools – my favorite part. Only a few geothermal places are safe enough to allow visitors into certain pools.
- Waiotapu is New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse set of geothermal vents and pools, and not open for bathing. It is experienced by a walk through New Zealand’s most extensive geothermal systems in the natural landscape, wooded areas, lake overlooks, and via a walkway over and around the pools and vents. Waiotapu has the most colorful volcanic features, and one of its pools is called ‘Artist’s Palette.’
Lady Knox Geyser can be seen spewing here. Boiling mud pools are entertaining as well. I highly recommend visiting both of these natural phenomena. Although, there are other geothermal sites to check out in the area too.
If you are a Hobbit fan, don’t miss the movie set, Hobbiton, located in lush pastures on a 1,250 acre private sheep farm in Matamata, about one hour from Rotorua. Sir Peter Jackson’s team selected this location for its remarkable similarity to Tolkien’s description of the Shire. This peaceful farm was transformed into the Shire for movie-making.
We found it interesting to see the movie set in real life. From the tiny underground Hobbit houses with brightly colored round doorways and smoking chimneys in the hillside, to the laundry on the line, cheese shop, and wood shop, it felt like the daily Hobbit life was happening in real time (except we didn’t see any Hobbits).
They offer several different tours. Don’t miss it, if you like to see movie sets or if the Hobbit is a fond memory.
We chose activities that weren’t like anything we had done so far in New Zealand, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. If you just use our itinerary, visiting Hell’s Gate, Waiotapu, Hobbiton, and Tamaki Maori Village, you can’t go wrong. However, there are so many options that it would be easy to spend weeks visiting all the different sites. Even though it is the busiest tourist area, it definitely deserves a visit if you are touring New Zealand.
For information on other places to visit in New Zealand:
- What is Special About Taranaki
- Mountain High to Deep Waterways – Lake Taupo New Zealand
- Milford Sound – Scenery Photographers Dream About
- Franz Josef Glacier Activities on the Glacier
Stay tuned for our next article on Poor Knights – touted by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top dive sites in the world.