We weren’t sure what to expect when reviewing Tamaki Maori Village. According to TripAdvisor this place is the bees knees, and is ranked 2nd on ‘Things To Do in Rotorua’ at time of print. We’ll be the judges of that thank you! Tamaki Maori Village all began with two brothers having an idea many moons ago, and is now a fully functioning pre-European Maori village.
TMV is located 15 minutes drive away from Rotorua, but don’t sweat because the ticket price includes a bus pick up from your hotel anywhere in Rotorua. If you are not staying in Rotorua they will pick you up from their ticket office, which is in the town centre.
So the evening started with a bus pick up, which is sign written so that you can’t miss it, at 5.10pm. The lady on the phone said between 5 past and 10 past so we were happy. We were met by a friendly driver called Dennis, who handed us our tickets and explained what table we would be seated on (later for food) and that we would be stopping at the ticket office before we head to the village.
We sat ourselves down in empty seats, and waited for the driver to gather up all of the other guests from the other hotels. Then we headed to the ticket office, which doubles as an information centre. Here we had chance to look around at some Maori ornaments and to grab ourselves an information sheet. They had a range of languages in which the information sheets were printed in, which I thought was great. It informs everyone about the standards expected from you while watching the opening ceremony (you cannot to smile or laugh) and the expected seating arrangements in certain areas (women are not allowed on the front row). It also explains how each bus would have to choose a ‘Chief’ to perform in the opening ceremony, and represent our group throughout the evening.
After a 15 minute hiatus we headed for the village, and Dennis was on hand to make some dodgy jokes and give us good information about Maori culture. We even turned our bus into an imaginary Waka (Maori boat) for a brief period. Nobody was very keen to be the Chief of our bus, but I was determined not to be picked as the review wouldn’t have been fair had I been a Chief. We left the bus and followed the crowd towards a shelter, where all the other tourists were already gathered. I would estimate 50 in total, which is busy for saying it’s winter.
We were all looking at an opening in front of us, with some greenery and wooden structures to our left. We waited in anticipation for what was going to happen, and after some time we heard the wails of the Maori’s getting louder and closer. The idea of these ceremonies was originally to welcome new tribes or peoples, and I can imagine it was damn scary for those arriving. For us snap happy tourists, it was amazing to see.
Eventually the first warrior leapt out and began performing. The ceremony lasted around 10/15 minutes, and this included one of the Chiefs being chosen to accept a peace offering (a branch).
We walked through one of the 3 entrances to the village, and found that they all lead to the same path, which means their purpose is purely traffic control. Nonetheless, we found ourselves in one of 4 groups being ushered to different areas of the village to learn more about this culture and gain some hands on experience.
Our group began with sticks. Two ladies told us the importance of the sticks and showed us a routine of throwing them to each other and catching them. Next, we had larger sticks that some audience members had to catch in a circle. I thought I’d give it a go, and turned out to be the only one that didn’t drop my stick.
Next up we had weaving. As the leaves that are normally used were wet (raining), it was brief chat about the plants uses instead of any hands on work. After this, we had artwork, where a knowledgeable young Maori gave a good speech on what the decorations on his hut mean, but once again it was cut short due to the rain.
The next area of the village was about fitness and how the Maori’s trained. We couldn’t take part here because of the wet surface. We understood that the rain may alter plans, but surely they know they are in New Zealand, and should have an alternative ready for when the rain comes? The Maori name for this country literally means ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’.
The penultimate outdoor activity at the village is a brief learning of the Haka, for all the men that want to. I tried, and proved that I’m no dancer. It was good fun, and I think the ladies enjoyed laughing even more than we enjoyed giving it a go.
Finally, we all met back up near the hangi, which is a traditional Maori oven that is used to cook the evening meal. Here we were addressed as a group, and apologised to for the rain. Judging by customer’s reactions I do not think too many people minded, particularly when we could all smell the vegetables cooking in the hangi!
We were then all shepherded into what looked like a Maori version of a theatre, before a performance began that left Gemma and I impressed. Their musical talents are very good, and they have some contemporary music towards the end which is great. The 30 minute show finishes with lots of audience participation as the men attempt the Haka once more.
The crowd is then guided to the eating hall, which is laid out in tables of 6-8 people, with all the tables surrounding the feast on display. Our assigned table was number 4, and how lucky we were, we got to eat first! We don’t eat meat but they have chicken and lamb if that’s your thing. The buffet included fish, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, gravy and more.
It was so nice that Gemma and I both helped ourselves to second helpings, as well as a pudding when they came out. The pudding choices were cheesecake, sponge cake or fruit. The bar is also open for around 45 minutes, serving everything you would expect, plus a fruity cocktail that is very tasty. There is a gift shop in the opposite corner to the bar, with some Maori related tit bits for sale.
Towards the end of the evening a singer begins to croon and asks the crowd to join in. After a few songs he announces that everyone should leave through a certain door, which felt a little bit like being kicked out. We arrived at the village at 6.15pm, and here we were at 8.25pm, being asked to leave. This is advertised as a 3.5 hour trip, but it’s only true if you count the bus journeys too!
So now for the bus journey home. This one really split opinions, but we will say it as we saw it. Dennis the driver thought it would be a good idea to have a sing-a-long on the journey, and recruited the Chief to get us all singing. I can’t remember what it was, but the whole bus sang the first song, no harm done.
After one song, around half of the people on the bus stopped singing and the noise from others was too loud to be able to have a decent conversation. The couple behind us on the bus were also sat across from us at the feast and we had made friends with them. This singing made a continued conversation impossible. In the interest of fairness I must admit that the half of the bus that did continue to sing looked like they were loving it.
Towards the end of the journey Dennis started crooning “she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes…” and we went around a roundabout 3 times, in an attempt at a joke. Aside from being dangerous on a wet night, we didn’t find it funny. Dennis interspersed songs with interesting and informative speeches regarding Maori words and what they mean, he is a very knowledgeable guide.
Having said all that, there are many good points about the Tamaki Maori Village. The authenticity of the setup, mixed with the knowledge of the staff makes for a great experience. The costumes and face tattoo make-up are convincing, as is the choreography. They mix in modern humour subtly, which works really well, and this helps you remember all the new information you are being taught. The value for money is great, with ceremonies, shows, audience participation and the hangi feast, not to mention the hotel pick up service.
The bad points for us were the fact that we felt rushed through the outdoor part of the village and rushed again once we had eaten. As I said, the value for money is great, but that goes out of the window when you are expecting 3 and a half hours and you don’t even get 2 and a half. We would have rather got wet (sensible people bring coats when it rains) and saw everything there was to see.
Overall, if you are looking for a Maori experience this place is the best, so we do recommend visiting, but drive yourself to the village and ensure that it isn’t raining. One adult ticket is $110, which we think is good value. You can book them through their website.
Tamaki Maori Village
1220 Hinemaru Street