Rotorua - Thursday, November 28, 2002

We are now in Rotorua, a town dubbed "Rota-Vegas" by the locals because it is so touristy. It sits on the edge of a large lake, in the crater of an ancient volcano. The entire area is thermally active, and the smell of sulphur is never far. Yellowstone actually has a lot more geysers than Rotorua, but there are still plenty of hot springs and boiling mud pits.

We went to a traditional Maori hangi and concert tonight. The hangi is a feast in which a variety of meats, vegetables, and dressing are cooked in a covered pit over hot rocks, thus steam cooking the food. The result is very tasty and juicy meal. The Maori people used to cook this way. The evening began with an education about the Maori culture from our bus driver John. The Maori have a VERY strong culture, not unlike Native Americans and Australian Aboriginals. We arrived at the re-creation of an old Maori village and began the tour with the traditional greeting where warriors come out and challenge the guests with a war dance (a haka). After we were invited into the village, we attended a concert and explanation of Maori traditions, and concluded with a traditional hangi feast.

The concert was full of SO MUCH energy with the dancing and singing. The people were full of joy and pride. Most of the performers were adorned with fearsome facial tatoos which we've seen on Maori throughout the country. Maori make up ~ 20% of the NZ population and there is a resurgence in their traditional culture. We met a really cool German couple that we chatted with at dinner and hope to hook up with them when we visit Europe. The bus ride home with John the bus driver was hysterical! The man had one hell of a sense of humor and had the entire bus singing (even Dave) songs from their home countries. "Home, home on the range....". The Israelis sang Hava Negila. What fun! It was certainly a night to remember..

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