Tamaki Maori Village and Cultural Experience in Rotorua

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Last night, I went out to the Tamaki Maori Village for a wild culture night. That’s one of the things I love most about traveling; seeing other people’s way of life, learning about their culture and beliefs, and seeing how they live. It’s eye opening, entertaining, and educational. I love history and I love learning, so this seemed like a fun thing.

Let’s get the nitty gritty details out of the way first: it was $88 NZD for the excursion. It’s located just outside Rotorua, New Zealand. If you decide to do this while you’re here, they’ll shuttle you out to the village from your accommodation and then shuttle you back when it’s over. In all, it took about three hours. You can find more information on their website, http://www.maoriculture.co.nz/. It’s consistently rated amongst the best cultural attractions in all of New Zealand.

Now for the fun part. tamaki-maori-village-cultural-experience-3

The Tamaki Maori people were some of the first to come to New Zealand more than 1,000 years ago before it was settled by Europeans. The Tamaki Maori tribe left their homeland of Hawaikinui in large canoes, called Waka, in search of new lands.

The cultural experience they put on is a show, of sorts, all deeply rooted in their heritage. They wear traditional dress, sing and dance to traditional songs in their native language, and prepare their food the way their ancestors did before them. As part of the experience, you’re fed an all you can eat buffet-style dinner, so come hungry. I didn’t eat all day prior to going so I’d have room to go back a couple times. More on the dinner in a bit.

tamaki-maori-village-cultural-experience-5In the photo to the right, one of the tribe members shows the face the Tamaki Maori people used to intimidate strangers who might come upon their village. They’d typically also be brandishing their weapons – a long staff that had been flattened down on one end and sharpened on both sides (like a double-edged sword) and had a sharp point on the other – at the same time.

If the Tamaki people thought you were a threat, they’d engage you in a fight which would end with them thrusting the sharp end of the staff through your forehead and then using the other end to cut up through the arch and into your skull. Then, they’d pull your brain out and eat it. Raw.

As you make your way through their mock village, you see several aspects of how their ancestors lived. One stop shows basket weaving. One stop shows carving and woodworking. One stop shows some of the games they’d play. Both of the games we saw (and part of our group got up to participate in) were meant to hone skills for fighting — reflexes, speed, agility — but were entertaining as well.

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After the tour of the Tamaki Maori village, we were all shuffled into the “Meeting House” in the center for a presentation. They performed the traditional “haka” dance and a few others I can’t remember the names of.

They also rolled down a projector screen and played a short video documentary about their how their ancestors came to be in New Zealand and how various tribes fought over land.

After the show in the Meeting House was done, they escorted us out to two large, round pits in the ground. The pits served as ovens, and they prepared the food we ate that night in the traditional way. Scalding hot rocks are placed at the bottom of the pit, the food is suspended in the middle, and then the hole is covered with sacks and dirt. This, in effect, seals the pit and keeps all the smoke and steam inside, which helps cook the food even more. They say the dirt covering over the top adds an “Earthy” flavor to the meets.

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After watching them move all the dirt off the pit and pull racks of chicken, lamb, and potatoes out of the ground, my mouth was watering. By this time, it was around 9pm and I still hadn’t eaten all day. Luckily, we headed right over to the dinner hall (I forget the name of what they called it).

tamaki-maori-village-cultural-experience-7As part of the tour experience, they assign tables for each guest and then you’re brought up to the buffet table to fill your plate. They encourage you to go back two, three, four, five times until your gut drags the ground. Now that I’m thinking about it, none of the Tamaki Maori people were what you’d call “skinny”… The menu included chicken, lamb (which I found out I quite like), fish, mussels, potatoes, salad, carrots, and bread. They also had a decently well stocked bar, which I made exactly two trips to.

After dinner, they served an incredible dessert, also buffet style, and also with the idea you’d go back more than once. On the dessert menu: chocolate cake, which you could top with full cream or custard; fresh peaches, and pavlova, which is meringue-based fluffy concoction very well-loved here in New Zealand. If you know me personally, you won’t be surprised to hear I had a bit of all of them. Twice.

Below you’ll find a couple crappy phone pictures of my meal. Err, both of them, rather. And dessert. God, I’m a fatty.

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If you’re looking for a fun way to learn about some of the native Maori culture while you’re here in New Zealand, I highly recommend visiting the Tamaki Maori Village. You won’t remember all the words they teach you or what everything is called, but you’ll have a hell of a time, you’ll walk away with a full belly, and for just a few hours, you’ll completely forget about everything else in the world.

About Mike Beauchamp

After a divorce, losing his job, selling his house, a tumultuous relationship and subsequent breakup, Mike sold 80% of his belongings, put another 18% in storage, and packed the remaining 2% into a backpack and hit the road. Mike is currently a vagabond of sorts, traveling the world with only what he can carry on his back. He has two objectives in all of this: to photograph the most beautiful places on Earth and to finally take the time to get to know himself. You can follow Mike on Twitter (@mbchp) for more frequent updates.

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