We got picked up from Rotorua on the legendary Lego Bus and what I didn’t know at the time, I should stay on that same bus for the rest of my trip 🙂 Lego was my first female driver and just like her favourite song, she was awesome!
It was well after 1 pm by the time we left Rotorua and were on our way towards Lake Aniwhenua, our second cultural stay on this journey. We picked up our local guide somewhere along the way and first he took us into a part of the big forest there to show us some ancient carvings in the rocks there. They are said to have been done by the first Maori settlers there to represent their journey back home – which was impossible for them in real life. He also told us that this land belonged to his tribe and only by their permission were we allowed there. Without permission, it is an offence to be there.
With him on the bus, we explored the area a bit more and learned about the history of the farms and villages, the biggest settlement being Murupara. It is one of the poorest areas in all of New Zealand and had a bad reputation for gang crimes etc. We would learn later what our stay had to do with fighting this.
Our stay for the night was Kohutapu Lodge, a former hunting lodge, now owned by a Maori lady named Nadine or Nades and her husband. Their goal is it to keep the Maori traditions alive and at the same time helping the locals to get back on their feet by supporting tourism and so on. The rooms were really nice, overlooking the Lake Aniwhenua and a large garden. There was also a big kitchen and a bar, besides that a hole in the ground where soon a gas burner was blasting heat at some stones. Why? Because we were to get our “hangi” that night. Remember “hongi”? That was the nose-rubbing… “Hangi” however has to do with food 😉
What happens at a hangi is that the stones are heated up as much as possible, then baskets with food are put in over them and the whole thing is covered and left for a few hours. For us, that meant that a basket with pork, a basket with whole chickens and a basket with potatoes, kumara (sweet potato) and pumpkin were stacked on top of each other – vegetables last – and put on those stones. Then the lads from the lodge put a tarp over it and covered that with sand so that no air from the pit could get out. In this cave under the tarp, the food gets cooked slowly by the heat from the stones and as the steam can only circulate, the flavours from the meat go into the veggies and the whole thing just is delicious!!
To make the most of the waiting for the hangi, there were several activities and I opted for the flax weaving. For that we received long stripes from flax leaves and made a bracelet for ourselves. It was good fun even though my bracelet wasn’t exactly pretty after 😉 We also started going to the bar for drinks and were pretty merry by the time the food was ready 🙂
It was served buffet style and we had baskets made of flax instead of plates. There was also fried bread and cranberry sauce to go with the meat and the result was very much the same as a Thanksgiving meal – even though that was two days later 😉 There was also a quiz after dinner and dessert, we had two birthdays that day and got to sing them a song 🙂
After we were finished, Nadine explained a bit more about what they were doing to help the community there. Maori custom means that the guests should never be left hungry, so there’s always a lot of food left. We were to pack that up in portions in some styrofoam boxes they provided and it would be taken to the local school the next day. For some of the kids, that would be the only proper meal they get and the first time they’d ever meet people from abroad… Unfortunately, the next day was a special day at the school and we didn’t get to bring the food there in person like most of the other buses 😦 But Nades handed out some letters from the kids who had been receiving such meals and met others before and those were heart-warming as well as heart-breaking. These kids suddenly realised that there is a whole wide world out there and that they have chances in life 🙂
The evening concluded out by the bar with some storytelling and general Maori questions and we all went to bed happy I would say. We were a family that night, all of us – and that’s what whānau means 🙂 As in every good family, it was a rather emotional goodbye the next morning. But in Maori you don’t really say goodbye, you say something like “until the next time” 🙂 (Unfortunately I have forgotten the phrase…)