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NEW ZEALAND | Tuesday, 14 August 2007 | Views [532]

Rotorua is New Zealand's main centre of geothermal activity - the underground volcanic rumblings resulting in a whole assortment of manifestations above the surface - from bubbling mudpools, to toasty rocks to bursting geysers.

Today we visited Te Puia - recognised as the finest place to experience Rotorua's subterranean activity. Te Puia is located in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley - though the full name for the valley is actually Whakarewarewatanga-o-te-ope-a-Wahiao - a name pronounced only following some extravagent oral gymnastics (believe it or not, this word starts with an F sound!). Regardless, our excellent tour guide - Miriama (though her English name is Terri) got us all as a group to attmept a pronounciation. As well as this, she explained the history of the area and the Maori tradition. Included in this was a practical demonstration of how Maori extracted fibres from flax and then converted them into rope by rubbing them on their own - or indeed someone else's - leg. Yes, that is Ciaran's leg in the picture above.

The Maori, she told us, travelled to New Zealand - or Aotearoa - from Hawaii aboard seven canoes. Each canoe took to a different area of the land, which they then fortified to protect themselves from those travellers in the other six vessels, who had quickly become their enemy. Their spiritual beliefs centre on gods given responsibility for the natural elements by an ultimate power. There's a really interesting story about their understanding of the religious significance of the underground heating in this area - but we couldn't hear all of the story because of a few noisy chatterboxes in our group.

The highlight though, by far, of today was the cultural event to which we were all invited. In this, four Maori men and four Maori women performed the kind of dances (Haka) and sang the kind of songs which are used for entertainment and preparation for battle. Though possibly open to ciriticism due to over-commercialisation and dubious anachronisms such as an acoustic guitar!, this is nonetheless an amazing experience. The men performed various haka, including the Ka Mate haka made famous by the All-Blacks.

By the way - and this is a complete tangent - it is interesting - I think - that every - yes EVERY - sports team in Australia and New Zealand goes by a nickname rather than the real name. Teams are Hurricanes, Kangaroos, Rabbitohs, Silver Ferns, Wallabies, Kiwis or All-Blacks. Hillareously, and possibly because they ran out of names, the NZ basketball team is called the Tall Blacks.

Today was the day for noisy tourists though - a large group of Chinese visitors needed to be told on a few occasions to keep it quiet - especially as one of the Maori warriors was inviting our chief (some guy from Singapore called Phil who was picked from the crowd) to battle. The ceremony surrounding this will be familiar to you if you remember the infamous Lions-All-Black test which we just can't stop talking about. Apparently before that test match Clive Woodward had asked Maori elders how best to respond to the haka. Seemingly, he was told that when invited to battle the opposing chief places a leaf on the ground which your chief then takes and lifts. This is the ceremony we witnessed today. However, when Brian O'Driscoll raised the leaf (actually just a piece of grass from the Christchurch pitch) he then tossed it to the wind while grinning widely. Given the offence that the performers took today at the chattiness of some of our group during this ceremony - it's likely that they looked none too well on O'Driscoll's actions.

But sure, it's only a game.   

Tags: Sightseeing


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