July 16 - Rotorua - Whakarewarewa Thermal Village
This morning I got up around 7:15 AM. We wanted to leave early to get to Rotorua to do a Maori village tour and a rafting trip. The tour started at 10 AM and was about a 1 ½ hour drive to get there. We needed to leave by 8 AM in order to get there on time.
It was raining a little bit during the night, but the tent did a good job of keeping us dry. Andy went over earlier and made himself eggs, fried potatoes, and a piece of toast. I just made eggs and a piece of jelly toast with a cup of tea.
For most of the drive it was rainy and foggy. As we got closer to Rotorua the rain let up, but it was still really cloudy. We drove passed a few of the other things we were considering doing later in the week, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which included thermal pools and geysers, and Whanganui Thermal Park. It also included thermal pools and geysers. We planned to do both, but since we were adding the rafting it was going to make things become more expensive.
When I was doing research for the trip I didn’t find anything that said Whanganui cost money, but after seeing a few brochures I realized it did. I knew Wai-O-Tapu was around $32 NZD, but if we bought tickets at the I-site we would save 10%.
As we got to Rotorua we saw Te Puia. It was supposed to be right near the Whaka Village we were going to, but we didn’t see it. We drove passed the turn off because we didn’t see the road. I thought we had gone too far so we turned back. On the way back we found the turn and got to the Whakarewarewa Village around 9:20 AM.
It was raining pretty hard so we just sat in the car for about 10 minutes. We eventually went inside to find out about going on the tour. The tickets were $30 per person and included a tour and Maori show. Since we had 30 minutes to wait around we looked around the museum about the history of the village and the tour operators.
Whaka Village has been welcoming visitors since people started living in the area, but over the past 100 years it has become a big business. The museum was more of a lobby area with information. Most of it was dedicated to the women tour guides and how the village and guiding has changed over the years.
Each sign discussed a decade and the changes that took place. Women have always been the guides for the tours. Very little training was required in the early years, but as more tourists began to arrive the guides needed to be able to give more information outside of just showing the geysers. The government of New Zealand also wanted a piece of the action.
Eventually they required licensed guides, which competed with locals for money. Many times the locals were able to convince tourists to use them instead. They did this by being able to share information about living in the village that others wouldn’t know. They also were more personable.
The government also wanted to make money. Eventually this led to a feud between the various groups giving tours. The gates were locked on one part of the park and haven’t been opened since. This was a few decades ago. Nobody knows who locked the gate.
Over the years the price has changed quite a lot. In the early 1980s it was $2 for a tour and only $1 to enter the city with no tour. Today it is $30 for the tour, and going into the village without a tour didn’t seem to be an option although there was nobody watching the gate and it looked like anyone could cross the small bridge to enter the town.
Today more than 500,000 people visit the village each year. Rotorua has more tourists than any other part of New Zealand. That is probably because of it’s proximity to Auckland. I was thinking that these people must be millionaires unless the government takes most of the money.
The museum was pretty interesting. Before we went outside to go to the place where the tour was supposed to start we put our rain covers on our bags. At about 9:50 AM we walked across the street to the place where we were told the tour would begin. A few people were inside a small building and asked if we were going on the tour. A lady came over and asked if we wanted to get some jackets for rent because it was raining. She said they were long and would cover our legs, otherwise they would get wet. We told her we would be fine.
Two other people came over a few minutes after us. They were sitting in the museum as we were walking around. They looked and sounded Russian to me, but could have been from somewhere else. They were wearing the trench coat jackets. They basically looked like white trash bags. They were $2.50 NZD to rent to wear a trash bag for an hour.
We were waiting on a few more people to show up. A couple of Chinese people got out of a van and joined the tour. We were all directed to go back to the museum and we would start there. We went to the car and left our bags. I thought it would be a hassle to carry around in the rain and I didn’t want to do that.
Two girls showed up as we were walking back. A few of the people went to the bathroom before we started, including Andy. We had to wait a few extra minutes for the Chinese lady to get back before we could start.
The tour guide was an older lady. She was probably in her mid-50s to early 60s. She started out by telling us a lot of the information we had read about in the museum. She then told us how we were going to be visiting her house and seeing how the local people live their lives.
In my mind I was thinking we were going to be going into her home and seeing her family there. I thought that would be kind of strange to live there and have strangers looking at you. It seemed like a zoo or something to me.
We all went outside and it was slightly raining. The guide just stood in the rain under her umbrella as she talked. She was giving way too much information and way too fast. I could barely keep up. The first thing we came to was a bridge with an arch spanning it. There were two figures carved into it. One was of a soldier and the other was a Maori warrior.
When I first saw it I thought she was going to explain how the soldiers conquered the Maori. Instead she was telling us that the soldier was representing the men that fought in World War 2. The Maori warrior represented the men that were Maori and died in battles.
Fighting has always been a part of Maori tradition so it made sense for them to go to war when given the opportunity. The arch was dedicated in the 1950s for the soldiers that had died in World War 2. A few names were carved on the upright beams.
She told us by crossing the bridge that we would be entering her home. Across the bridge we came to a few small buildings on the right surrounded by thermal pools letting off lots of steam that smelled like rotten eggs. The whole town smelled terrible. I was wondering why anyone would want to live in a place like this.
The buildings were originally used as a place to store food, but are no longer used. They are just there to show what the buildings would have looked like in the past. They just looked like small barns about 10 feet by 5 feet. It was still really cloudy and rainy so I didn’t get any pictures.
The town itself just looked like a bunch of old shacks with one street that had nicer looking buildings that might be a movie set in Hollywood or a street in Disney World. At least that’s how they looked to me based on the bright colors and shape of the buildings. They all had porches and lots of windows.
Most of the homes I could see weren’t that nice. I thought with all the visitors they would have tons of money and have nicer homes. Maybe they kept it looking that way to look more traditional or maybe they just didn’t want to tear everything down and rebuild it.
There weren’t many people living in the village anymore. There were only about 60 people left. The oldest resident was 90, and the youngest was 16 months. The year before the oldest resident died. She was 116 years old. I was guessing that most of the people worked in the village as part of the tourist trap in some way. Either at the restaurant, as a guide, in the show, selling tickets, or making carvings to sell in the gift shop.
It was still misting pretty hard when we walked to the Marae. It is a large building used as a meeting house for important events such as weddings, funerals, and counsel meetings. There are lots of carvings on the inside and outside of these buildings. We had seen one at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington. We were going to go inside, but the door was bolted shut. The guide didn’t know why and said we would come back later so we could go inside.
She explained what the colors meant, but went way too fast and was saying way too much to fully comprehend and remember it all. The colors used were usually red, white, and black. The carvings depicted different figures with strange faces. Each statue represented a family member and was recognizable by something on the statue. It could be a facial expression or something else.
I don’t remember what each face meant, but usually men are shown with their tongue sticking out. This is a way for the men to intimidate an opponent. They also make their eyes stick out. Women will make their eyes big too, but they don’t stick out their tongues. If they do it means they are interested in someone as a mate. That was the way to know if a statue was male or female.
The most important event in Maoridom is death. If someone dies in the village then everything is put on hold immediately. If the Marae is being used for a wedding then it is stopped and the body of the deceased is placed in the Marae. If the person is a commoner than their body is placed in the Marae for three days before the funeral.
The first day family members visit. The second day friends visit. The third day is the funeral. Only men are allowed to talk inside the Marae, but outside the women control the community. If the person that dies is of more importance, such as a chief or someone that died in battle, than they are left inside for 5 days. This allows for dignitaries to travel to see the body.
That was basically the only thing I retained from all of her explanations of the Marae.
To be continued...