Departing Auckland last evening we had a quiet and peaceful voyage down the East Coast of New Zealand, docking in Tauranga about 06:00. Our day started with an early breakfast in the World Cafe, where we met all of our group on today’s tour.
We drove the 40 miles to Rotorua, where our guide provided a full and detailed tour of Te Puia, a geothermal park with the Southern Hemisphere’s largest active geyser.
Read on for details of our tour and lots of photos.
- Tour type – Private excursion
- Vendor – Archer Tours (https://www.archertours.co.nz/)
- Duration – 7 to 9 hrs, as he adjusts tour to guarantee safe return to ship
- Summary – small group tour with a Maoiri owner/operator. Drive through Tauranga, followed by a guided tour and cultural performance at the geothermal centre.
Our group of 10 met at the bottom of the gangway, then walked to the gate to meet our driver/guide – Jim Archer. Within minutes, we were underway, heading for Marine Parade, which runs parallel to the coast. Great beach and foreshore on one side and expensive houses on the other.
Our first stop was Papamoa Beach, which provided great views in both directions. Good surf running, but nowhere near enough for surfing.
After a quick stroll on the beach, it was back to the van for the trip to Rotorua, which is about 40 miles from Tauranga.
We stopped at the side of the road, for a photo stop, overlooking Lake Rotoiti. Rotorua consists of 2 lakes, with Rotoiti being the smaller one. The Maori word “Roto Iti means small lake.
Continuing onwards, we arrived at Te Puia shortly after 09:00, well before the flotilla of buses from the ship. As we lathered with sun screen, got cameras primed for action and donned hats, Jim picked up our tickets, distributing them, as we arrived at the gate.
Te Puia entrance
Just inside the gate is the above structure, which has multiple pillars, each with a Maori carving and in the middle was a large chunk of Jade.
Jim explained how the Maori’s arrived in New Zealand, with 8 main tribes arriving ashore at different locations.
He explained the meaning of each syllable, which made it easier to understand, but certainly still couldn’t pronounce it.
Guided tours are available with local guides, but Jim provides a full service, walking us around the entire facility for almost 4 hours. He started with an easy stroll through a forest area, stopping every few feet to name trees, provide information on displays, etc.
Above is the iconic New Zealand icon seen on many sporting shirts, etc – the silver fern. While the top of the leaves are green, the bottom is silver.
Jim explained that the sleeping huts all had low doors, which was a security measure in the event the village was attacked. Intruders had to duck to enter the buildings and were then ready targets.
The process started by heating the rocks, then they poured in water and covered them with wet burlap and wood. The food to be cooked was inserted in a basket, then covered by a wet burlap and more wood. The entire cooker was covered with dirt, to retain the steam, with food cooked in 2 to 3 hours.
The tribes used sharpened posts around the perimeter, as a first level of defense.
Curved walkway up to Maori Cultural Training Centre
Completing our walk through the forest, Jim walked us through the Maori Cultural Training Centre. This is an amazing program that accepts Maori’s between 18 and 30, and trains them in the traditional ways of working with stone, bone and wood. Each participant receives a scholarship, so the program is at no cost. On completion of the program they receive the traditional tools of their trade, free of charge. The stone/bone program takes 2 years and wood 3 years.
Some examples of the wood carving
Our guide has commissioned them to produce a number of authentic pieces for him. His walking stick was carved at the school and tells the story of his family heritage. He also requested carved paddles for each of his sons.
Jim asked the weavers if they could provide us a demonstration, which they willingly completed. Starting with a single leaf, she cut it to length, then made some shallow cuts at the top, for the design. With a shell, she scraped the green off, leaving lots of thin strands, which she split into 2 and rolled on her leg to create a 2-strand rope. At the initial cuts, she again scraped away the green from sections to create the pattern, seen above. The entire process took only a couple of minutes.
Departing the teaching centre, we headed downhill for a hike around the geothermal valley. First stop was the Kiwi House, which was totally dark inside, since they are nocturnal. You walk along a single passage, waiting for night vision. We finally saw a Kiwi, just before the end.
Pohutu Geyser is the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, erupting on an irregular basis, but often once or twice per hour.
The eruptions can last up to 1 to 2 hours. It can reach a height of 100 feet. The Maori word “Pohutu” means constant splashing.
In addition to viewing the geyser, we walked around the many trails through the valley, with Jim stopping frequently to explain the various sights.
Jim explained that this one appeared suddenly a couple of years ago, then stopped about 10 months ago.
Heading up the hill, Jim stopped to show us a Maori invention which was used to trap birds. Since they had no spears, they required help to catch birds in the trees.
It had raised sides, which were covered with string to snare the birds.
Once reaching the top of the hill, Jim took us over to the tribe’s community house, where we were booked for the 12:15 cultural performance.
The ceremony starts outside, where we elect our “Chief” who is challenged by a warrior to determine if we come in peace.
Since our intentions are peaceful, we are invited into the hall. Normally, no footwear is permitted, but NZ Health and Safety dictate it is a safety hazard to walk in socks. The Chief’s family, all 10 of us were shown to the front 2 rows.
Enjoy some photos of the show – select each one to view full size.
This brought an end to an amazing 4 hours at Te Puia. Once aboard the van, Jim dropped us at an amazing cafe for lunch. Excellent choice, as we were all happy with our selections.
With all-aboard at 16:15, Jim wanted to have is back at the ship by 15:30, so we had a quick drive around Rotorua, then returned to Tauranga by a different route.
We arrived back at the ship, all very happy campers, as we settled the tour cost with Jim. A full day for NZ $165, was excellent value, as it included all entrance fees. Yet again, my hours of research paid off with receiving an exceptional tour.
Back on board, I watched the departure, then we had dinner and an early night to recharge the batteries for a possible tour in Napier tomorrow.