© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Geothermal and Maori Experiences at Te Puia

© NZPocketGuide.com

295 Days on the Road

Nowhere sums up Rotorua quite like Te Puia! The attraction easily accessed from the city encapsulated two of the most famous things Rotorua is known for: geothermal activity and the Maori culture. It’s also home to the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, the Pohutu Geyser. Let’s go check it out!

Te Puia is an easy 3-5 minute drive from Rotorua city centre, giving us the opportunity to arrive early morning for the quietest part of the day. After we get our day passes, (and tickets to the Maori cultural show later), we are met with a huge map of areas to explore in the valley, from multiple geothermal features to a small traditional Maori village. We head straight for the main feature of the geothermal park, the Pohutu Geyser.

The largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere

We arrive on a bridge of billowing steam, behind which we can see the spurting hot water from the Pohutu Geyser. The geyser is said to erupt two times per hour, but as we marvel at the geyser for almost 30 minutes, it continues a steady eruption the whole time! One of the guides leading tours around the park tells us that the geyser behaves in different ways, usually leading to much larger eruptions in short time frames. However it behaves, it is well and truly active!

The activity of the Pohutu Geyser is one thing, but the silica terraces and stalactites that have formed underneath the geyser create the most beautiful water feature. Multiple viewpoints around the geyser give us different perspectives of these features, including a brilliant-blue pool right beside the geyser. It’s the most stunning collection of geothermal features we have seen in a single area.

Bush walks and bubbling mud

Eventually, we manage to pull ourselves away from the Pohutu Geyser to start exploring the rest of the geothermal park. A loop track divides geothermal features with native bush which attract native birds for us to watch along the way. We walk to various bubbling mud pools. Information panels along the way describe the geology behind the features, as well as how they got their Maori names. With all the heavy rainfall we have had recently, the bubbling mud has mostly turned to bubbling ponds, but we do manage to find patches of bubbling mud with a satisfying viscosity for the ultimate “glooping” sounds at the bubbles pop!

Now Robin has to drag Laura away from these bubbling mud pools which she finds way too entertaining. Once she has captured about a hundred photos of the same popping bubbles, we move on around the park.

Bizarre landscapes, geysers and cooking pools

Along the way, we capture some stunning views of the forested geothermal valley with patches of steam rising between trees. It makes for a bizarre and beautiful sight.

We catch up with a guide who shows us the Papakura Geyser, a geyser that has recently come back to life after about three decades without an eruption. He also points out the Te Horu Geyser and shows us The Cooking Pool, a.k.a. Ngararatuatara! This perfectly round pool of bubbling water named after the eye of the native lizard, the tuatara, has been used for centuries to cook food. There are still demonstrations of this cooking experience put on today where the woven flax baskets full of fresh food are lowered into the cooking pool.

Our guide shows us the steaming earth surrounding the Papakura Geyser

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The traditional Pikirangi Village

After seeing some weird and wonderful geothermal features, we loop around on the track to Pikirangi village, a Maori pa site (village) that has be built in the traditional style of wooden huts made with thatched roofs. Here, we can get an example of how the early Polynesian settlers used to live hundreds of years ago. We see sleeping house, a hangi which is an earth oven used for cooking food underground, among other buildings.

A powerful Powhiri at the Rotowhio Marae

Our geothermal and Maori history loop has finally brought us to the Rotowhio Marae, a huge meeting ground made up of several buildings. Each building is beautifully carved into red-painted wood. The largest building of which is where we will be going to watch the Maori cultural show. Before we can enter the marae, we must do the powhiri, which is a traditional Maori introduction to see if the people entering the property are friend or foe. A host on the microphone explains to the procedure, picking a guy from the crowd to represent us as the tribe’s leader. From there, the powhiri begins with singing and chanting coming from the large building, or whare. Maori warriors and women come out onto the grounds before us, one warrior in particular making sudden movements towards our tribe leader. It’s a terrifying yet compelling sight. The warrior places a fern at our tribe leader’s feet. If our leader picks it up, it shows that we come in peace. If not, well… We don’t want to find out.

A cultural show of Maori song, dance and the haka!

Our tribe leader picks up the fern and we follow the Maori tribe into a stunningly-decorated building with carvings and red, black and white patterns painted on the ceiling’s panels. Everyone takes a seat for the show to begin.

The host explains certain customs of the Maori culture before the performs burst into song and dance. The men dance with fierce rigid movements, holding traditional weapons, while the women dance in a more swaying movement, yet all the performers give exclaimed facial expressions of widening the eyes. It’s a compelling show of changing pace, from love songs to the all-famous haka!

What a way to end our time in Rotorua!

The show ends, as does our time at the geothermal wonderland thriving with culture! It has been an eventful visit and really the perfect place to capture the essence of Rotorua in a single attraction. What better way to end our final full day in Rotorua?! We head back to the Base Hostel in the centre of the city for a relaxing night of hot pools and… hot pools. Tomorrow, we’re taking the road to Taupo, stopping for a crazy jetboat ride and hiking through a place called The Squeeze, so join us then!

The wild and wonderful geothermal valley at Te Puia

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