Thursday, August 1, 2013

New Zealand: Te Puia

On July 28, I visited a Maori center called Te Puia in Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand. This might have been my favorite attraction I visited in New Zealand, because it was a great combination of natural beauty, geothermal features, and Maori culture.

The beautiful entrance, Te Heketanga-a-Rangi, is made up of twelve contemporary carvings. Each carving represents a celestial guardian in Te Arawa culture. 

Above the traditional wood carvings are beautiful contemporary ones done in metal; they form a circle: 

The first thing that hits you when you get near Rotorua is the strong smell of sulfur, like rotten eggs. The geothermal features in the area are the source. At Te Puia, there are gray, murky ponds with ghostly reflections:


Hot pools colored teal and aqua by minerals:

Bubbling mud ponds that burp and belch:

Geysers, including the largest, Pohuto Geyser (it means “big splash” in Maori):

And everywhere, steam, steam, steam:

At this gate to the the wharenui (sacred meeting house) called Rotowhio Marae, we were met by a Maori guide:

Before we were able to enter the wharenui, we had to nominate a chief. My friend Alison’s husband Rob was chosen, but had doubts when our Maori guide told him that if he was rejected by the Maori leader, he would be decapitated immediately. Here you can see him in negotiations:

The Maori leader challenged him in a ceremony called the poshiri:

 and then decided he was an okay guy, and let us come inside:

We were treated to traditional songs and dances:

My favorite, the haka, is a dance the Maori did to frighten enemies. I got some of it on video:

Te Puia has national schools dedicated to teaching the Maori arts of carving and weaving:

Front of Maori boat
Carvings inside Maori boat
Carving inset with paua (a type of abalone shell)

Instructor at the wood carving school
Feathers embellish a woven item
Skirt is made of harakeke (flax)
There is also a recreation of a pre-European village. This ornate structure was a storage building for food:

Some food was prepared in a pit lined with hot stones; meat and vegetables were wrapped in leaves and cloth and put on top, then covered up so that the food steamed:

This is a huge chunk of what is called “greenstone” in New Zealand. It is a type of jade highly prized by Maori … and tourists! It is polished and carved into pendants and sculptures:

Te Puia had a stuffed kiwi on display. I saw live kiwi earlier in my trip, including a rare white one, but since they are nocturnal birds, they were in dark exhibition areas, and you could only see them with the help of red lights, which did not make for very good photographic conditions. Look at how huge their eggs are in relation to their body size!

I’ll be posting more about my New Zealand adventures in the next week or so!