New Zealand Travel Guide: A Maori Hangi in Rotarua

March 2, 2009

Day Three, Part Three

The Tamaki Greeting Ceremony

The Tamaki Greeting Ceremony

If Wayne Newton had a long-lost Maori brother, it would be Wati, our shuttle driver to the Tamaki hangi.

A hangi is the method of cooking used to create a traditional Maori meal. If you see them advertised here then it also usually includes a show or demonstration of some kind, to teach you about Maori culture. 

Hangis are offered in several places around New Zealand. The Tamaki Maori Village hangi that I was on my way to was recommended by the Magic Bus, and Driver Greg, and since that means you save $20 off the regular price by booking with Magic, it seemed like a good time to go.

The Hangi Hottie

The Hangi Hottie

Two of the girls from my black water rafting trip, Maho from Japan and Elaine from Ireland, were also going and we all laughed as Wati selected one of the men from our rafting trip to act as our group’s chief for the night. Martin, from Mexico, had to get up and lead us all in a chant as we paddled our shuttle/canoe to the Maori village.

As soon as we arrived, the five shuttle chiefs were invited forward as the Maori chief and his warriors entered the meeting area. Then the story and show part of the evening began, as another warrior came forward, an outsider, and asked the chief’s permission to talk to him about a new weapon he got by trading with the Europeans: the musket.

From there, we walked into the forest to a traditional Maori village. Here, we were taught about how Maori men were trained for battle, about the weavings and carvings done in the village, and other aspects of Maori life.

Still hot.

Still hot.

It was somewhere in here that I noticed the guy I started to call the Hangi Hottie. Is that culturally insensitive? Because he was beautiful. Fit, toned, passionate about his culture, quick on his feet, just really enjoyable to watch. For me, having a few holiday crushes is part of the fun of traveling, and this guy was very crush-worthy.

The next part of the evening was the conclusion of the history lesson about the Maori acquiring European weaponry, but this was mostly done through song and dance.  The style of the songs and dance reminded me a lot of the performance I saw at the Polynesean Cultural Center in Honolulu years ago,

Muskets for sale.

Muskets for sale.

and I believe that among the Pacific Islands there are many cultural similarities. This dance was more forceful than a Hawiian hula, appropriate for a culture that had known a lot of war. It was beautiful though, very enjoyable.

Finally, we got to the dining part of the evening. It was 8:30 by then, about nine hours since the bus stopped for our meal break and five hours since I’d had my cup of soup after the black water rafting. I was ready for a real meal and this didn’t disappoint. The buffet included tender chicken and beef, vegetables, something similar to stuffing, salad, bread and then a whole table of desserts.

As I mentioned before, the meal was prepared in a hangi, a pit dug into the ground and filled with red-hot rocks. It takes more than three hours to cook the food, but everything came out just right, from the meats to the puddings.

New Zealand's Best Dance Crew

New Zealand's Best Dance Crew

We were all stuffed and tired, but the staff treated us to a few more songs before the evening was over. I didn’t realize that “Blue Suede Shoes” and “My Bonny” were popular Maori songs, but hey, they were performed with gusto, which is what really counts.

Back on the bus, Wati had Martin pass the microphone around so each person could share something from their culture. The Russians sang in Russian, Maho sung “Do Re Mi” in Japanese, Elaine sang “Happy Birthday” in Irish, we tried to get the Swedes to sing ABBA, but they were having none of it, and then it was my turn.

And still hot.

And still hot.

I was going to explain that America doesn’t really have “culture” so much as we have “the Internet” and “Britney Spears”, but as soon as I said I was from California, Wati belted out “If you’re goinnnng to San Franciscoooo, be sure to weeeear some flowers in your haiiiiir.”

I thought I was off the hook, but then he asked me to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Fair enough. I know that one. I figured if I really had to come up with another American song I could have sung the Brady Bunch theme too.

We ended the night back at the Kiwipaka hostel, and I slept like a log, with dreams of glowing worm poo dancing in my head.

Next: Get me to Taupo!

One comment

  1. […] Next up: A night of Maori culture and dining. […]

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