“Te whakarewarewatanga o te ope taua a Wāhiao”

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Te Puia entrance art
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Maori totem at Te Puia
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Te Whakarewarewa Valley

After the OGO and lunch, we went to Te Puia, a Maori cultural centre in the Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley near Rotorua. There they divided us into teams, and we spent the next hour doing a Maori culture photo safari/scavenger hunt. There were six challenges, all related to Maori culture and history. And to complete each challenge, we had to travel throughout the valley with its geysers, mud pools and other geothermal activity to find different locations and complete certain steps, all the while documenting our progress with selfies or videos of the whole group.

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Te Whakarewarewa Valley
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Geysers in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley
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Maori totem at Te Puia

Our first challenge was to demonstrate our version of a war dance on video. There were no instructions on how an actual war dance goes, and this was before we’d been to a Hangi and seen the haka performed. We would like to formally apologise for any cultural insensitivity we demonstrated with our version. All the same, we passed the challenge, so it must not have been too bad or was just too funny not to pass.

The second task was to learn the Maori game titi torea and demonstrate the entire team’s prowess for 20 seconds on video with no mistakes. Titi torea is a traditional Maori game played by throwing sticks with your partner in sequence and rhythm. It looks simple but requires careful concentration and coordination. It took us a couple of tries to get everyone playing perfectly.

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The corn cooking station
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Finishing the corn challenge

Next we ran-walked between the geysers to the corn retrieval station. Like many Maori foods, corn-on-the-cob was traditionally cooked using geothermal heat. As a team we had to retrieve the cooking bag and each eat a cob before moving on to the next challenge. It was quite possibly the best corn-on-the-cob I’ve ever tasted.

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Mud pool in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley

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Geysers in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley

For our fourth challenge, we ran-walked back between the geysers to a special mud pool for another group selfie.

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Geysers in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley
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Te Puia was equal parts forest and geothermic sights
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Random weasel & egg in a box

The fifth challenge was the one that stumped us for a time. It was in two parts, both of which required us to find the live kiwi enclosure: 1) locate various facts about the kiwi birds themselves, 2) locate a weasel and an egg. The kiwi facts were pretty easy: they’re nocturnal birds named by the original Maori settlers on New Zealand. However, finding the weasel proved much harder. The enclosure only had a Kiwi in it supposedly – we couldn’t see it. Nocturnal birds are shy, apparently. After a Te Puia guide gave us a hint that the clues were near the building itself, we scoured the ground around the enclosure and found a super random little box with a stuffed weasel and an egg inside. A group selfie ensued, and we were on to the next challenge.

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Wood Carving School at Te Puia
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In-progress Maori totem at Te Puia
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The carver at the Wood Carving School at Te Puia
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Maori totem at Te Puia
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Maori totem at Te Puia

The final item was another two-fold clue: we were to 1) take a photo with a Maori carver and 2) each weave a fish. So we ran-walked back near the entrance to the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre and the Wood Carving School. We found the carver and would have stayed to watch him for much longer had the siren song of competition not called us away. We met up with the Maori weavers who showed us how to make our own fish out of reeds. I could have spent much more time here – it was fascinating to watch the various artisans at work.

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My reed fish
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Maori totem at Te Puia

We raced back to the entrance and waited for our responses to be scored. We ended up placing second overall out of six teams, so it was not a terrible showing. The scoring was subjective based on how well each team completed each challenge, not just for how quickly. On the whole, it was a fun way to spend our visit there, and I appreciated getting to see more of the Maori culture. I also enjoyed that the teams were random, so I got to spend time with people on the tour with whom I had not yet had a chance to get to know.

Title quote: Maori for “the war dance of the war parties of Wāhiao,” the full name of the valley in which Te Puia is located

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Maori lodge at Te Puia
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All the signs at Te Puia were appropriately funny
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Best sign ever.

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