Review: Te Puia is a top introduction to Rotorua’s geothermal activity and Māori culture
Rotorua on New Zealand's North Island offers an astounding array of attractions, but nothing intrigues visitors more than the region's sulphurous mud pools and gushing geysers. Te Puia is home to a valley of geothermal goings-on and also offers a fabulous introduction to Māori cultural heritage.
Te Puia is one of Rotorua’s most popular visitor attractions and shouldn’t be missed. Its geothermal valley features steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and the erupting Pōhutu Geyser. Entry to Te Puia includes a guided tour of the site and access to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. You’ll have the opportunity to watch artisans at work, spot the emblematic kiwi bird, and learn about local Māori traditions and cultural heritage.
I have a friend who had never been to Rotorua — and with only a weekend for us to explore the city together, it was easy to decide where to start.
Te Puia showcases the region’s incredible geothermal activity and Māori cultural heritage. It’s home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, and also has a kiwi sanctuary. It’s an extremely popular attraction for anyone visiting this central North Island city, and as it had been a number of years since my last visit, I was looking forward to spending some more time there.
All Te Puia tickets include a guided tour of the expansive site. We arrive early for the 10.30am tour and enjoy a coffee in the cafe while waiting for it to start. Other visitors start to gather and our guide Liam arrives. He’s a very engaging young Māori man with a wealth of knowledge about the environment, local history and Māori culture.
He introduces himself and his whakapapa (connection to the area and local tribe), before taking us to Te Puia’s marae (place of gathering) and into its wharenui (meeting house). Usually you would remove your shoes before entering, but this particular building is not used in the traditional way and we’re permitted to leave them on. Liam explains the purpose of the house and the meanings behind the carvings and the patterns that adorn the walls.
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. In this video, we visit fabulous Te Puia in Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island. This geoth…
Our next stop is the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where Liam introduces us to artists learning traditional practices. The institute was established in the 1960s to safeguard against the loss of these skills, and is renowned for producing remarkable artists and astounding work. Carving is traditionally only done by men, and this remains the case here. We meet artists who carve out of bone, stone and wood. There’s a very large and impressive wooden piece that several of the men are working on, which has been commissioned for a secondary school.
The next traditional practice we see is weaving, which is only done by women. The methods and details of this artform are fascinating and what is produced is absolutely exquisite. As we watch the artists working, they are happy to answer any questions we have.
From there we head over to Te Puia’s Kiwi Conservation Centre. It’s always something special to see these iconic but endangered birds, and this centre is home to six North Island brown kiwi — the most common species of the flightless bird that holds the world record for laying the largest egg relative to its body size. Kiwis are nocturnal, and as we walk into their darkened enclosure our eyes quickly adjust to the dim red light. We spot a bird foraging around behind the glass wall that separates us. What a treat!
Liam tells us the traditional story of how the kiwi lost its wings. The short version is that Tāne Mahuta (the Māori guardian of the forest) needed a bird to become ground-dwelling so it could help manage the growing number of insects that were eating and damaging Tāne Mahuta’s much-loved trees. Several birds declined the invitation and suffered consequences, but the kiwi agreed to give up its ability to fly in order to save the trees of the forest. Therefore Tane made the kiwi the best known and most loved of all birds in Aotearoa.
We move on to the valley of bubbling mud pools, steam vents and geysers that Te Puia is best known for. These include the famous Pōhutu Geyser — the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. Reaching a height of 30 metres, Pōhutu erupts once or twice every hour, sometimes more. Liam leads us towards the geyser and his timing couldn’t be better. We all stand there in awe watching her blow hot water and steam into the air for what seems like ages, but in reality, is just a few minutes.
Liam then leads us to a spot where a metal box rests over a steam vent. He opens the box to reveal a large tin can that contains a tasty treat — steamed pudding! While we’ve been touring Te Puia, this pudding has been cooking over the vent in preparation for our arrival. Serving it is hot work and Liam takes care removing the pudding from the tin. He reveals a dark sponge-like cake, which is cut into many pieces. The children in the group are invited to come forward first. By the time we’ve all had a piece there’s still some left, and many return for a second helping.
Once the pudding is finished, Liam speaks a few final words — thanking us for our attention and interest in his culture and ancestral land. He then leaves us to explore the grounds at our leisure. My friend and I spend some more time in the thermal area and return to the Pōhutu Geyser for one last look. We both agree that it’s truly astonishing.
The area of Te Puia that we haven’t yet visited is the small replica Māori village, which includes structures typical of their time. We venture there and upon exiting, discover that we’ve ended up right back where we started! We’re both keen to visit the gift shop and spend some time looking through the extensive range of souvenirs, clothing and accessories. It completes our wonderful morning in this geothermal wonderland.
Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. At the end of 2015, Karllie left her teaching profession, sold her home and became a nomad for the next few years. It sparked a real passion for budget solo travel, which she now loves to inspire others to do. In the last few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors — especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.