Land ho! We are off the ship at 7:30 AM on a tour called Maori Culture and Tauranga Highlights. A short drive by Mount Maunganui, which we can see from our ship, and then around to the main beaches with houses, condos and hotels looking out to the sea.
Next stop is high up in an area called Mataphihi, where we overlook the city of Tauranga. As we head to our next destination we drive by Kiwi groves, a major crop in this part of New Zealand.
Our guide is a young Maori woman who teaches us a Waiata, or song, to sing when we arrive at one of the Maori schools and later at a family tribal marae (gathering place). As we stop at the school, the young men perform a Wero (formal welcoming ceremony), also called “The Challenge.” A man on our tour represents us as our “Chief.” The young Maori men come out performing and then they offer a gift. If the visiting Chief picks it up, it means we come in peace. The women must stand at the front until they enter the gathering place and then the men sit in front and the women in the back.
The high school Maori youth perform a few songs and the young men demonstrate their various dances. We learn later that these performances are what help pay for these young people to go on field trips to other countries or islands in the South Pacific. Definitely more interesting way to fund raise than selling candy bars or cookies!
The tour bus leaves the school and takes us to the suburb of Bethlehem (yep, there is also a community named Judaea nearby) to a real Maori family maere. Here we see the same Wero ceremonial greeting and enter the beautiful marae. As they perform their challenges, speeches and songs, we are not allowed to take photos. Afterwards, we can capture some of the walls completely covered with amazing straw matting and carved wood. These carved wood figures represent ancestors who have died and the wall paper mats tell stories as well. The land this maere sits on looks out to the sea – awesome view.
The bus takes us back to the ship where we have some lunch and then head over to Mount Maunganui to hike to the summit in the Historic Reserve called Mauao. This mountain is owned by the Maori people and is considered a sacred site.
Sheep graze on the mountain side. With just a bit of breath left we make it to the summit where there are spectacular views of the entire city, the beautiful beaches and the Bay of Plenty. The cloudy weather was appreciated for the hike. Tauranga is the fastest growing city in New Zealand and still beautiful and charming. It is also a vacation spot for Southern New Zealanders.
Tomorrow Auckland. You can visit the Roturua region (a drive from Tauranga or Auckland) which is also, we are told, an interesting area – similar to Yellowstone National Park – geysers, hot springs, boiling mud pools and lakes. We won’t be going there – call us U.S. National Park snobs.:-}. We love that the Maori are keeping their culture alive.