Where We Be
Rotorua, New Zealand
During our time in Rotorua we attended a Maori “hangi”
or feast. This is a great way to get a glimpse into Maori
culture. We visited the Mitai
iwi (or tribe). The host
asked us where we were all from, then referred to us
thereafter as the “tribe of 17 nations.” He said we
needed a chief, and a man from Sydney, Australia
volunteered who apparently didn’t have a shy bone in
his body. When the host told him he’d have to sing a
song to the Maori chief, he took the host’s microphone
then and there and led us all in a stirring rendition of a
song called “We’ll All Have a Maori Hangi Tonight.”

We all filed reverently past the food pit where our
dinner was roasting. It had been cooking underground
for the past three hours, but now they had uncovered it
and you could see the smoked beef, chicken, kumara,
and potatoes cooking over heated volcanic stones.
They told us dinner wouldn’t be until 8:30, so we had
plenty of time to anticipate the feast to come.

Down at the river, we all stood along the banks and
waited in the dark by torchlight. A war canoe came
downriver, rowed by Maori warriors. They chanted as
they rowed. They got out of the canoe right next to
where we were standing and headed into the marai, or
meeting hall, with the crowd following behind.

The Maori chief performed a “Challenge and Welcome”
ceremony. It’s a pretty intimidating welcome, if you ask
me. Our appointed chief from Sydney stood there
solemnly as the Maori chief brandished a long pole. He
wielded it threateningly while chanting, grunting,
sticking out his tongue, and glaring with wide eyes. He
presented an “olive branch” which our chief from
Sydney accepted. The two chiefs pressed noses to
forge their friendship. The first ten minutes of the show
took place in the Maori language, then the chief just
stood there before finally saying, in English, and with a
slight smile, “You can clap now. We do speak English.”
We all clapped and cheered loudly.

The men performed several songs and dances that
included a lot of chest-thumping, foot stomping, and
gutteral chanting. When all the men chanted at once
while whirling their spears, it felt intimidating and you
sort of thanked God you weren’t a missionary back in
the 1800s having to meet these warriors for the first
time. Even the women looked fierce. Both men and
women were tattooed – the men heavily with four major
tattoos covering their face (and large portions of their
bodies), and the women less so but with one very
obvious tattoo of an owl right on their chins.

The chief invited us to stand up and taught us a war
dance. He kept adding elements one by one until he
had us all grunting and chanting while slapping our
chests and stomping our feet. By the time we got back
to the dining hall, all the food was laid out on the buffet
table and we descended on it like the half-starving
people we were. The meat was fall-off-the-bones tender
with a smoky taste.

The next morning, we took a walk in Rotorua’s city park
and were surprised to discover steaming thermal vents
and bubbling mud pits right in the center of town. Robin
noticed even the manholes vented steam. Sometimes,
as we drove by peoples' houses, we could see steam
rising from their back yards. What a strange place to call
The Maori arrive by torchlight in their war canoes
Look at those facial tattoos!
The hangi, or feast, is cooked underground with heated volcanic stones
Iimagine coming upon this statue in the deep dark forest
Maori warriors perform the Haka, or war dance
Sheep take center stage at the Agrodome near Rotorua
Sheep, as you know, are deathly afraid of dogs
Orange algae in green water at Champagne Pool
Lady Knox Geyser erupts on schedule
Amazing silica patterns at Wai-O-Tapu
("Sacred Waters") Thermal Wonderland near Rotorua
This ranger added soap to the Lady Knox geyser cone to cause it to erupt “on time” for
the crowd. He continued standing there until 15 seconds before the geyser erupted.
Even Rotorua's central park has steaming craters
Would YOU drink this water?
Robin says "Bah-Ram-Ewe" to this attentive sheep
Australian Shepherd gives shorn sheep the evil eye