Nestled in a thick endemic Tawa forest where native bird species are heard chorusing amidst the canopy. The late afternoon sun creates crepuscular rays through a soft haze, drawing your attention to the nearby log fire.
A distant horn bellows in the distance and an authentic Maori war chant makes the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention.
A traditional Maori war canoe sails into view and the warriors aboard disembark ready to meet their guests with an ancient acceptance ritual.
My mind was encapsulated and I couldn’t take my eyes away from all the bulging eyes, protruding tongues and archaic weapons skilfully mastered by the warriors no more than a few steps in front of us.
The Tamaki Maori Village boasts being “New Zealand’s Most Awarded Tourism Attraction” and it’s easy to see why.
The first initiation ceremony is worth the entry price alone!
The Tamaki Maori Village Experience
The attention to detail, the fascinating stories and interactive activities made our experience in the Tamaki Maori village one of the most profound to date.
From the moment we walked through the impressive hand carved arch marking the entrance to the village, we were made to feel like the only people in the entire audience. Put another way, at times it felt like there was no audience at all.
The village is located a short 15 minute drive out of Rotorua and was founded 1989 by two Maori brothers. Their entrepreneurial spirit, their love of story-telling and teaching about the old Maori ways, made the Tamaki Maori Village an instant success.
We really appreciated the emotion and atmosphere created in the village. Not once did it feel like a forced show shoving old Maori culture down your throat but a relaxed, yet still intense, introduction to the Maori way of life, both pre and post European colonisation.
Once the greeting ceremony was over we had the chance to learn at 5 separate interactive Whares. Whares, pronounced far-ehs, is the Moari word for house. Men learned the Haka, we learned how Maori children mastered hand eye coordination, where the Maori came from, the meaning of Maori facial tattoos and symbols, and women had the opportunity to learn how to poi.
Poi, the Maori word for ball, were used to teach female members of the tribe coordination, to strengthen their upper body and induce flexibility in the hands needed for basket weaving.
The details and facts were presented in a manner suitable for all ages and all languages. Jokes were made often, and our group was often in fits of laughter.
Once we’d had our fair share of learning we were ushered into a small theatre to be present at the removing of our Hangi. A Hangi, is a meal, that has been cooking underground with white hot rocks similar to the Samoan Umo and the Fijian Lovo.
The food came out and smelt delicious. Chicken, lamb and fish were available for the meat eaters plus lots of traditional vegetables. The leader of the tribe welcomed us to a performance of the Haka and several other traditional dances whilst the on-site chefs continued to prepare our Kai (food in Maori).
With our front row seats to the performance, the Haka was as intimidating as ever and I thoroughly enjoyed the love songs and Taiaha performances. The Taiaha is a close quarters weapon similar to a staff and is usually made out of wood or whalebone. The entertainment must have taken some serious practice, lots of throwing and catching and several longer routines that must have taken years of practice. All the members of staff were also fantastic singers.
Almost everything being translated from Maori into English made the authenticity even more palpable. A real exquisite touch.
Then came the food. It was presented nicely on two long tables with plenty of food for everyone. If something ran out, it was replaced instantaneously, and it was all just as tasty as it smelled. Seconds, thirds and fourths were encouraged.
With a final speech, a thank you, a few songs and a big Kia Ora (Have life, be well/health in Maori). We were on our way. The only regret I had whilst leaving was not to have booked the overnight stay instead of the evening experience.
The Tamaki Maori Village is an enriching cultural experience that is fun for all ages but what sold it to me, and the main reason that I’m recommending it to you, is that it never felt forced, repetitive or dishonest.
The experience is great value and certainly a must do if you want to get a taste and give support to the Maori culture and language.
Just a few decades ago the Maori language and culture was on the brink of extinction. Today it goes through its new spring. It will never be what it used to be hundreds of years ago, but thanks to tourism it has a chance at surviving!
You can book your experience here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.