No trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit to an authentic Maori village. Rotorua is one of the most popular places in New Zealand to do this as there are two tribes nearby, both of whom have won many awards for the work they are doing to preserve their heritage.
The most popular two are Mitai and Tamaki, we chose the former.
We went to the Maori experience not entirely knowing what to expect. We were told we would be fed and that there would be a show, so we envisaged a BBQ in a Maori hut and a demonstration of a Haka.
How wrong we were. We arrived at the village (it used to be a genuine Maori village, but now it’s more like a set used to give visitors a glimpse into their lost way of life) and were escorted into a marque by a Maori girl in traditional dress. We could have been at a corporate event; the tent was huge and immaculately presented.
When the food has finished cooking – underground in a traditional Hāngi oven – we had a feast the likes of a which a lowly backpacker can only dream of. So much meat, tasty veg and far too much desert. Completely authentic, except for the tin foil…
After dinner (and another two servings of dinner) and a welcome speech from the Master of Ceremonies we were introduced for the first time to the Maoris of Mitai village. We lined up along the edges of a river which runs through the village and the warriors arrived in their war canoe:
Although sad, there is no getting around the fact that the village is a tourist destination and the demonstrations are recreations of events which no longer occur. None the less, it is still very impressive to behold and the Maoris bring their history to life and emphatically tell us a story of times past with their faces and their bodies.
After the canoe, we were moved into a small theatre type room with rows of chairs. Where a stage would normally be there was a large ‘set’ which was a near perfect representation of a Maori village. Nominated ‘chiefs’ from the audience made a peace offering to the Maori chief (it was clearly quite intimidating judging by the look on their faces), after which the show could begin.
We got a lesson in Maori culture from the chief as well as the predictable jokes about modern society thrown in – “we all have Facebook now” – and some seriously impressive demonstrations from the rest of the tribe. The men showed their skills with the weaponry and the women with musical instruments and singing.
The show finished with the famous Haka, a pre-war dance used by Maori warriors to prepare their body and mind. I wouldn’t say it was quite as intimidating as the Kiwi rugby team’s Haka, but I would imagine it’s far more authentic! Sorry for the poor quality pics, our camera is designed more for things like White Water Rafting.
To finish off the evening we were separated into smaller groups and were walked around the surrounding forest for a ‘nature walk’. Although our guide was a young lad and clearly just learning, we heard all about the medicinal properties of the various trees, the mystical powers of the tribe’s fresh-water spring and were wowed by the thousands of glow-worms living in the river and surrounding shrubbery.
The dinner alone was worth the NZ$85 we spent on the Mitai Maori experience, but throw in the hotel transfer, the war canoe demo, the main show and the nature walk and you have an evening well spent.