Just about any tour of the North Island will take you to Rotorua. I didn’t quite get the hype when I first moved here but now I’m sold and I take all my visitors there if time permits. And if you go to Rotorua, it’s totally worth the time to visit Whakarewarewa Thermal Village.
‘Wh’ in Maori is usually pronounced like the letter ‘f’. Which leads to much laughter from visitors when visiting Whakapapa and Whakahoro. Whakarewarewa is a little village within the larger town of Rotorua. Whakarewarewa is a small settlement built on top of crazy thermal activity that changes over the years and has rendered some of its houses unlivable – houses are built and then over time steam starts to come out of the ground underneath them and the residents find more suitable accommodation.
Maori’s have lived in Whakarewarewa since 1325 – taking advantage of the geothermal activity for heating and cooking. It has something like 500 pools and 65 geysers, one of which is really active and spews hot water 30 meters into the air. The Maori cooked food by wrapping it up and lowering it by rope into the hot water. And still today there is an intricate system of baths with hot and cold water that allow soaking and bathing.
The baths are amazing. They are simple — with grooves in the rock to channel the water and rags used as plugs to stop the water from draining out. But there are several of them and the water is toasty warm. Over time the people of the village have adopted a system for them with rules on cleaning the baths and etiquette for ensuring they are responsibly shared. Many of the houses don’t have showers or baths themselves because the residents use the natural ones.
A tour of Whakarewarewa is well worth the time. There is a Maori cultural performance that runs twice a day (currently 11:15 and 2 pm) and the tours depart hourly. Tours are led by tour guides who continue from a long tradition started more than five generations ago. The guide when I went was fabulous – she lived in the village and continued a tradition that she really believed in. The tour takes you through the village, to the baths, and to the Marae (Maori meeting house) and then you have time to explore the village on your own afterward.
If you want to try a New Zealand hangi, this is not my favorite option but Whakarewarewa offers a unique hangi that is cooked in a pit using geothermal steam! An interesting experience and unique but I liked the food and variety better at Tamaki Village – see my hangi blog for a comparison.
After your tour, you might want to consider a dip in the Polynesian Spa, just a few minutes away. I haven’t been there yet but it’s on the list!