A person who mistreats his guest has a dusty Marae (Meeting house)
Not only is Rotorua bigger than I remember, but the smell of sulfur is more prominent this time. I arrived at good, old Funky Green Voyager, checked in and got a top bunk in one of the dorms. I hadn’t even time to dump my luggage before Gerard came in and planted a huge smacker on me. Then he chastised me severly because of my sunburn before we spent the next 40 minutes chatting about everything and nothing while he fixed one of the bunkbeds. A great welcome to Rotorua after four years.
The rest of the day was spent searching for the Fat Dog and its Dog’s Bollocks Burger. Andreas has ruined them for me. It tasted bland and average now. I swear to God, Andreas, if you’ve ruined Fergburger for me too, I wont speak to you ever again (unless you promise me a lifetime supply of YOUR burgers). I also went shopping, there was a sale on in every shop (timing!) and I managed to procure some new tops and some much needed supplies for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Today is my only full day in Rotorua and I spent the entire day in the Funky Green Voyager Hammock reading and daydreaming. That’s the thing about travelling around, some days you have to allow for just nothing. I quickly realised with all the stuff I wanted to do that I’d left no time for actual relaxing… So today I took the opportunity and went into a sort of awake hibernation.
The evening, however, was booked. I got picked up at 4pm by the bus taking me to Tamaki Maori Village. I had my doubts about doing something like this because it’s often very cheesy and touristy and not at all genuin and I must admit, the first 15 minutes didn’t comfort me much. We were on our way towards the village in a bus (BigRed) and our guide was talking over a very shabby speaker system which left everything to the imagination… I couldn’t hear two words she was saying… I soon realised that the people in the front could, because they kept answering her the way she instructed them “Kia Ora!” “Hi!” and other festive tidbits in Maori. It all seemed a bit “for the kids” to me and pretty cheesy, so my heart wasn’t really in it.
In the end what saved the whole experience (the entire tour, not just the bus ride) was the people themselves. The Maori tribe we met were funny, warm people who shared their culture with us in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
It might seem really stupid, I hope it doesn’t come across as such, but maybe you had to be there: when the tribe chief showed us their most used weapon and told us how “they used this for decapitation, and for opening the skull. And then it’s lunchtime for my warriors”, telling us about how they’d eat the brains and hearts of their fallen enemies, he ended it saying “don’t be alarmed, folks, my brothers now eat at McDonald’s!” It was the kind of humour that made the experience that much better or me. While it’s obvious that the Maori people take their heritage very seriously and wish to continue the traditions and language of their people, they don’t take themselves too seriously and that really appeals to me.
(Of course we were told not to laugh or imitate the warriors during their initial challenge, (when they come out to greet us and show off their scare tactics of old), but that is just basic respect and you’d be hard pressed to find any decent person having a problem with that).
All in all, I enjoyed my time at the village, we were divided into smaller groups who went from hut to hut learning something different about the Maori culture at each one. After that we were showed the “hangi”, the pit where they cooked the food we were going to eat later, it was done when we got there so we got to see them take it out. (I can promise you mouths were watering all over the place). While they were arranging the food into a lovely (and more group friendly) buffet, we were given a performance of various hakas, songs and Maori games (then there was a rather cheesy DVD showing, but this was fairly short). After that we were shown into the dining hall and served a absolutely delicious buffet of potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, chicken, lamb, beet roots etc etc etc. The delish went on… Every piece I put in my mouth was heaven, so the food alone was worth the trip. I also had a chance to try the Pavlova for dessert, my first go at that one…
Highlights of the trip were (of course) the food and that one Maori warrior dude who was like a court jester. When everybody got told to yell “Kia Ora!” he shouted “Go, All Blacks!”, and he went on like that the entire evening. Weird, funny guy (and one of the solo singers!). Also, I enjoyed the allround friendly atmosphere and warmth of the people we were visiting.
Of course, I made some new friends. A French family, Celine and Regis and their two kids. We sat together at dinner and they told me they’ve got 6 months off work and are just travelling around. Fantastic people and another e-mail exchange. I hope my roommate doesn’t hate me when all these people I’m inviting to stay with us start showing up 😉