I cannot believe our time in New Zealand is almost over. Cannot believe it. After all the planning that went into this trip, it has been surreal to physically go through these experiences we dreamed up for our family.
My memories of spending a couple years living in New Zealand as child certainly included even more simplicity and a much larger cultural distance than exists now, but the world is simply not as big and separate as it used to be. I remember many more bare feet and certainly no McDonalds or Starbucks, but it is still a country that has charmed us.
We have already learned bucketloads about the best balance for us in terms of nature versus city, structured touring versus wandering, and we haven’t found ourselves too far off overall. Part of me is pumped we get to do “it”/ something all over again in Australia so the adventure is not at all over. (The other part is a little lazy and a little selfish and really wants to be alone while quietly sitting.)
Regardless, our last day in Rotorua was jam-packed with memories as we took the kids to the Agrodome in the morning and for a Maori cultural experience in the evening (their version of a luau).
I don’t remember everything about our experience at the Agrodome thirty-five or so years ago, but I certainly had an eerie deja vu feeling as we walked past the rows of seating in the show room and looked up at the stage. I would assume the presentation probably hasn’t changed much. The shearer/ comedian introduced us to every breed of sheep that lives in New Zealand and invited plenty of people on stage to milk cows, participate in a mock auction and feed the baby goats. Afterwards we took a tour of the farm property, meeting livestock, tasting their kiwi fruit juice and honey, and wandering through a few fruit orchards. Any experience involving animals is a hit with the boys so definitely not a sad face here.
We rested up during the rest of the day to prepare for our late night ahead. I probably felt more anticipation for this evening than any other plan in New Zealand. I just LOVE watching Maori warriors perform their traditional Haka war dance. In addition, this was the only major experience of aboriginal culture that we were doing. Zachary was concerned too, that he wouldn’t get to speak with an actual Maori human and hear as much info as possible. If this evening somehow didn’t live up, I had a back up plan to visit a “living village” the following day.
We booked a three hour experience at Tamaki Maori Village (there are several options in Rotorua, but two have cream-of-the-crop reputations). My nerves came in as I dreaded what I have been calling “too touristy”. We are tourists, so I get it, but when the bus-loads of people roll into any location I want to sprint the other way. And I don’t like running.
What if the performers were just going through the motions? What if the crowd was huge and we couldn’t see much? What if the boys were bored and unimpressed? Most of all, what if I wasn’t able to give my kids the WOW that stuck in my mind from when I was a child?
Well, I don’t throw the word around lightly, but it was basically magical. I’m not sure how many of us were there but I would guess close to 200. And yet somehow, they have figured how to make it unbelievably impactful. I attribute it to two major factors:
#1. What they call the tour is really not a tour. The Maori performers are stationed around 10 or 12 different areas in a mock village and each is interactive. Then they just have a chat with the 5 or 6 of us that happen to be right there. They shared random stuff, and we got to ask questions – I learned about the meaning behind their tattooing and how each individual’s craft was chosen for them as a child. I got to try some traditional stick throwing game, the boys learned a game that was something the kids played to introduce them to warfare skills. We would have loved if this part was even longer; it was fabulous and exactly what I was craving. As long as you are curious and inquisitive, you are going to get a lot out of it.
#2. These people are passionate about their history and culture and even grateful the tourists give them an opportunity to not just share their culture, but really to maintain their culture. I don’t believe there are many Maoris living the traditional Maori life of old in villages, but if these evening experiences didn’t exist, much of the dress, language, dance, and knowledge of how they lived would be lost. Instead these people have extra part-time jobs that allow them to relish in their rich history, practice the customs because of the demand, and be proud of how frickin cool they are to outsiders.
When this guy first came out during the welcome ceremony, he looked INSANE and totally creeped me out. Scary. He has the eye-bulge part of the intimidation pose down. Once we chatted with him here, we found out he was a school teacher by day and naturally super nice. He even remembered the boys’ names and tried to get them to come up and learn the haka on stage later. Just shows how effective their facial expressions could be with their intended purpose!
This guy explained how traditionally Maoris had carved with greenstone and then Captain Cook and his crew showed up with these chisels that allowed them to make much more intricate designs.
It’s not really possible to get any useful photos of the dancing. I snapped some from a video, but no justice is served by these…
The whole eve included a ceremony to welcome us into the village, the “tour”, watching the traditional “hangi” dinner being lifted from the ground ovens, a half hour performance of traditional dances including both males and females, and then the meal. At the very end, the wait staff broke out into three closing songs complete with tribal choreography. What? Even the guy who is cleaning my plate is a talented singer? What the hell? It was phenomenal and I am so grateful.
As I tucked Zachary in way too late that night, he yawned and said, “I am so tired but I just can’t go to sleep because of how good that was.” (Tear!)
Okay, so mission accomplished on that one, which left the next morning open. Rain was threatening again, so after a final visit to the Mistress of Cakes lady with the amazing sausage rolls, we ventured into the Redwood Forest one more time. Zachary and I rented a couple mountain bikes and cruised around the trails for a couple hours. Lovely ending before we drove out of Rotorua.
The drive up to Tauranga was short with plenty of green hills and trees, but I was surprised how populated the area looks as we drove in. I was expecting a sleepy beach town, and instead it looks like a bustling port city, although we are staying past the hub near Mount Maunganui.