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Maori culture tour of New Zealand with Contiki! Rotorua hot springs, haka dance, Atticus Finch restaurant.

maori art rotorua

Kia ora! When I embarked on my Contiki tour of New Zealand, I was especially excited to see the native Maori culture. Their Sun and Steam journey covers the entire North Island, with an emphasis on cultural experiences.

On this stop of the tour, I’ll take you around the town of Rotorua, a historical home for the indigenous people of Aotearoa.

haka dance, new zealand tongue out

I even got to see a Haka war dance, where the Maori men stomped their feet and made intimidating faces, with tongues thrust out! 

black swan on lake

From the glowworm caves of Waitomo, the Contiki bus took less than two hours to reach Rotorua. This charming little city is located on the shores of Lake Rotorua, home to black swans (yes, these creatures really exist).

new zealand geothermal springs

The Maori settled here centuries ago, due to the unique geothermal landscape. Rotorua’s hot, bubbling springs provided natural heat. The thermal mud pools were also an easy way to cook food (in the hangi style) — and today,  they lend themselves to natural spa treatments. 

rotorua lake, water

The lake itself is not sulphuric. Rotorua has charming parks and gardens, and it’s a pleasure to stroll around the pier.

new zealand black swan birds

I couldn’t take my eyes off these black swans with red beaks. They were hunted to extinction in New Zealand, but later reintroduced from Australia.

maori masks, facepaint

My Contiki bus drove to the Te Puia cultural centre, in the Whakarewarewa valley, for a group activity. This is the home of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, and a famous erupting geyser.

te puia maori park

Contiki tours have a number of included activities, which let you bond with others on the bus. (They also offer plentiful “me-time” on the itinerary, so you can explore whatever you want, at your own pace.)

We split into teams for an “Amazing Race” around Te Puia. We had to complete funny tasks and piece together clues, before time ran out.

maori carvings, kiwi house

The Amazing Race took us to a hut, where local artisans showed us how to do Maori weaving and wood carving. At the Kiwi house, we saw the cute little flightless birds who are the national symbol of New Zealanders.

Pohutu Geyser, te puia

At the center of the park is Pohutu Geyser, which means “Big Splash.” This is the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley for a reason: the geyser spurts up to twenty times per day, and can reach 30 meters in height.

hot springs spa rotorua

The bubbling mud flats created an otherworldly landscape.

(I’m wearing a black fringe skirt, similar to this longer skirt and shorter fringe skirt. My black cut-out apocalyptic top is by Michi )

ogo zorb rotorua ball

Some of the friends on my Contiki tour took part in Ogo, which you might know as “Zorb.” Essentially, you climb into a giant plastic ball with water in it, and roll down the hill! Zorbing isn’t for me, but I enjoyed watching others take part in this amusing activity.

male maori dancers haka

Back at Sudima Hotel, the group congregated for a special dinner: a hangi feast. All of the food was cooked underground, using the natural geothermal steam. My favorite items from the buffet were the kumara (a type of sweet potato only found here), fish, and a gooey bread pudding type of dessert.

Then, a group of Māori dancers took the stage to perform the Haka, or ancestral war cry. They stamped their feet, bulged out their eyes, and extended their tongues while making big, frightening expressions. The haka serves to intimidate opponents, but also to make the performer feel powerful, and commemorate special occasions. The dancers later invited the men in the audience to try out the movements for themselves!

female maori dance performance

Some of the performances were women-only. In this “poi dance,” the ladies swung around a ball on a string, creating patterns and rhythms in the air. I tried to do this on stage, and ended up hitting myself in the face…

Ti Rakau, Māori Stick Game

Everyone took part in the Ti Rakau or Tititorea, also known as the Māori Stick Game. This involves the rhythmic throwing and catching of sticks, from one person to another.

zippy's cafe rotorua

I had another delightful meal at Zippy Cafe in Rotorua. Still dreaming of their New Zealand flat white (microfoam steamed milk over espresso) and Moroccan salad.

zippy kids show mascot

Zippy is a cute mascot from a local kid’s show. At the back of the cafe, he stands in a Super Mario themed mural.

new zealand wine bottles

New Zealand wines are much-coveted these days. I suggest trying local varietals while you’re here, since many are not expoted out. I quite liked The Ned Pinot Gris, which has a rose-like tint.

eat street rotorua restaurants

Rotorua has an “Eat Street” district, filled with international restaurants. This area uses a geothermal heating underlay to keep the outdoor patios warm all year round.

On the way over, we passed a food trucks fair. Rotorua truly is a foodie city.

atticus finch restaurant

One of the highest-rated restaurants in town is Atticus Finch. (Address: 1106 Tutanekai St, Eat Streat, Rotorua)

The restaurant is named after the famous lawyer in Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Both the book and the movie starring Gregory Peck are wonderful.)

(I’m wearing a fringe skirt and shirt by Michi.)

rotorua fine dining, restaurants

Local sisters Cherry and Kay strove to make Atticus Finch a lively dining experience for groups of friends, with an open kitchen and huge heated patio. The bird cage, filled with candles, hints at the literary inspiration.

new zealand atticus finch menu

Atticus Finch’s cocktails are standouts, made from fresh fruits and herbs. The dinner menu is designed for sharing; everything is made from scratch, with carefully selected ingredients.

Quite a few items are vegetarian and gluten free. I loved the handmade gnocchi, seasoned with date puree, spinach and almonds.

to kill a mockingbird cafe

One of the walls displays a quote by Atticus Finch, from the book. He’s known for his words of wisdom and tolerance, such as: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

All of the dishes were clean, yet tasty — often with an Asian fusion influence. I recommend the unique haloumi cheese salad with broccoli, rocket, sunflower seeds and cranberries. You can’t leave without ordering the Chargrilled Kumara (local sweet potato), seasoned with smoked cashew orange chili.

new zealand desserts

As for dessert, the photos speak for themselves. Lemon and almond cake, with red wine poached pears, mint and citrus accents. The perfect way to end my time in Rotorua.

contiki north island new zealand tour

And this photo sums up the fun I had on my Contiki tour of New Zealand! It was fantastic to meet 18-35 year olds from all walks of life, and living in different countries.

contiki tour group photo

We gathered for a Contiki tour group photo, at this viewpoint near Auckland.

(Photos by Salima Remtulla and La Carmina)

contiki bus type

I confess that at first, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy a group bus tour. Contiki, however, is not your typical travel company.

The tours are tailored to millennials, and give plenty of free time. I wouldn’t have been able to see so much of New Zealand’s North Island in a week, if it weren’t for them.

contiki gap year youth tours

If you’re planning on traveling somewhere, especially alone, I encourage you to check out Contiki. They have tours for all types of interests and budgets, in destinations worldwide.

PS: if you’d like more New Zealand travel tips, check out all my NZ posts here.

PPS: I’m currently in six countries all around Europe — check my social media @lacarmina (linked on the right sidebar) to see the latest updates!

25 Comments

  1. Posted July 1, 2016 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    The food looks delicious <3 <3

  2. Posted July 1, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    adores all these n zealand posts.
    xx

  3. Posted July 1, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    This makes me want to visit.

    • Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      You must come! I want to go back.

  4. Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post about the culture of my country.

  5. Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    a great tour.

  6. Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I saw a haka dance too, inspiring.

  7. Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    This is my paradise!

  8. Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Black swans?! No way.

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Yeah! My reaction too

  9. Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Love it. Contiki is on my list now too.

  10. Posted July 3, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Great outfit as usual, Cheers

  11. Posted July 3, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    This is my dream, travelling always like this Xxx

  12. Posted July 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    New Zealand! Rad.

  13. Posted July 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Come to New Orleans again. Colleen

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I’d love to return.

  14. Posted July 6, 2016 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for coming to my country. I hoped you enjoyed exploring small pieces of our amazing piece of paradise :)

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I did, what a gorgeous country. Want to return.

  15. Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I was really looking forward to seeing it, and it blew me away!

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