Mar 15 2014

Te Puia, in Rotorua, New Zealand


An hour and a half bus ride from Hamilton lies Rotorua, a geothermal city.  Throughout the town, small geothermal vents shoot sulfur steam into the air.  Most are relatively small, and are surrounded by fences to keep the curious from getting too close (they may be small, but they are scorchingly hot).  An exception is the geyser Pohutu, located in Te Puia, and Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao (The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao).  Wahiao was a great ancestor to the people of the valley, and the chief of Ngati Wahiao, a subtribe of Te Arawa.  The Te Arawa Waka was one of the eight original canoe that brought Maori from Hawaiiki to New Zealand.  Te Puia Pa (fortified village) was one of the last strongholds of Wahiao. It is now the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institiute, a prestigious school dedicated to continuing the traditional arts of carving and weaving of the Maori people.



The fist thing you see upon entering Te Puia is a circle of totem, each intricately carved and reaching towards the sky.  The art feels both familiar and timeless, as though you are both of this time and the past.  There is a reverence, stillness, and yet strength that overtakes you, and stayed with me the entire time I was within.


Unlike in the traditional marae, the buildings at Te Puia allow photos, allowing me to share them with you.  All of the carvings on the buildings are done by hand, taking countless hours and knowledge of the different forms.  Designs are done within a set framework of symbols and meaning, telling a unique story.

Within the main building, a performance of traditional songs and dance, many joyful, as well as the well known haka performed to intimidate enemies before battle, was an experience that left my spirit lighter, and wishing it did not have to end.



After the performance I joined a small group touring the carving and weaving schools, and then wandered towards the geyser, waiting for it to erupt.  It usually does so twice or three times an hour.




It was difficult to leave Te Puia.  Walking back out to the street and waiting for the bus felt surreal.  Or maybe Te Puia was surreal, and the bus was merely a return to normalcy.  With only a little over an hour left before I needed to be on the return bus to Hamilton, I walked over to the Rotorua Museum of Art and History.  In the late 1800s Rotorua hoped to become a spa destination, and connections to Auckland were created for this purpose.  The museum was its main attraction, at that point a spa offering mud bath and other treatments for numerous ailments.  While the dream of a thriving spa tourist town never reached the heights they had wished, the attempt assured Rotorua’s continued modern development.