Te Puia: Discovering Māori Culture

In the town of Rotorua in the island of New Zealand, one can find the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute or Te Puia. The Institute was created to help preserve the traditional Māori arts. However, there is more to Te Puia than just the Institute. There are geothermal geysers, kiwis, traditional architecture, and so much more.

After purchasing your tickets, you are greeted by several gods that line the courtyard. Wonder over to the welcome sign so that a local guide which leaves every hour on the hour can show you the sites while delivering the history of Te Puia. If the tour has already left and you have to kill before the next tour, venture towards the  Arts and Crafts workshops which house beautiful artwork made from wood, stone, and straw. You can see several completed works along with the works in progress that the craftsmen are currently working on. It is impressive to see how nimble hands work on such fine detailing. There are signs placed through out the workshop to help describe the evolution of the different kinds of craft along with the descriptions of the symbology in the artwork.

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Once your guided tour has started, they will take you to the geothermal geysers along with the mud pools, which locals have used to help cure arthritis and other aliments. You can possibly even see some of the local cooking techniques (using the extremely hot steam to cook large meals) if you are lucky and have purchased a ticket to do so. Just fair warning, the geysers do smell like rotten eggs and the smell does travel far so don’t stick around too long if you don’t want your clothes to smell like it afterwards. From there, you will be able to see the kiwis in their home.

Kiwis are the national bird of New Zealand. They are small cute almost round balls. Kiwis though are nocturnal flightless bird so be careful walking into their home as it is dark and you must be quiet as these birds are nervous creatures. If you startle them, they will dive into their holes and hide. It is amazing to see these creatures running around as they are quick and agile creatures. If you have trouble seeing these tiny birds, you can use the CCTV cameras with night vision at the front of the house to help spot them.

However, the top two things to see while here is the architecture of the traditional buildings and the cultural performance, which includes the infamous Haka. One of the biggest buildings you will see is the marae or meeting hall which the traditional performances are held at. The building is lined with deep red carvings with intense pearly eyes that shine in the sunlight. Inside the marae, you can see the carvings of the ancestors inside lining the walls. Beside the main meeting hall is raised storage buildings that also are covered in many intricate carvings. A cool fact is that to enter the storage is through the bottom of building vs. the entrance at the front. These buildings though are on the more modern side. Travel behind the long boat to see a small recreation of a traditional Māori huts made of natural materials. These buildings are much smaller than their modern counter parts but the traditional buildings highlight some of the other non traditional features of these buildings such as a hidden escape.

The culture performance is an amazing performance that starts at the small archway across from the meeting hall. A representative from the performing troupe will select a family to lead the group into the marae and help complete the pōwhiri ceremony or welcome ceremony. Grab a seat either close to the front or along the sides so you can get a clear view of the stage. Once everyone has been seated, you are welcomed with a song. You are immediately transported back in time as each traditional song and story is shared. Watch the traditional tools and instruments be used masterfully. Each movement is timed to perfectly match the music and create a truly professional performance.

I highly recommend visiting Te Puia to discover the Māori culture, which can not be found outside of New Zealand. At Te Puia, traditions are not only celebrated but persevered for the generations to come. If you ever venture to Te Puia, please drop a comment and tell me what you think!

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