On my way to Rotorua, I stayed in Hamilton with people I’d never met before. Scott and Ngaire and their family were very welcoming and looked after me very well. Scott is the son of Papa Tipua, a friend of mine who lives in Wellington. I wanted to see the Maori Nga Pumanawa O Te Arawa (The Beating Hearts of Te Arawa) Exhibition in Rotorua, because I’d heard that Weta Workshop had made a glass waka specifically for this exhibition and I dearly wanted to see it. As I said before, I think the people at Weta Workshop are geniuses at what they do.
I stayed in the Kiwi Paka backpackers, where I’d stayed twice before on previous trips to Rotorua. It’s a great hostel with very helpful staff and only ten minutes walk to the centre of town. The Beating Hearts of Te Arawa exhibition is a permanent exhibition and one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen. Te Arawa are the original inhabitants of the Rotorua district. Included in the price of the entry ticket to the museum: 18 NZD, this exhibition covers things like Te Arawa’s journey from their homeland in Hawaiki to Aotearoa (New Zealand), how they cultivated the land, their weaving, carving, legends, history, language and the life of the Maoris today.
The glass waka that I was talking about is stunning. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the first of eight rooms in the exhibition. The waka is in segmented parts, made of glass, with Maori writing and decorations on it. You can see the craftsmanship in it and credit where credit is due, Weta did a brilliant job on creating such a masterpiece. You’re not allowed to take photos of the waka or anything in the exhibition, so I don’t have any photos of it.
There was a lot of audio-visual media here and there was a screen with a map of Rotorua on it. It said that if you wanted to know more about an area, you could watch a video about it. There was one place called Fairies and Giants and it piqued my interest. There’s a mountain here called Mt. Ngongotaha and a long time ago there lived a group of fairies. These fairies used to sing, dance and play musical instruments. They knew that across the land, by the coast, was this group of evil giants, who wanted to take over the fairie’s land. So the fairies were constantly watching the coast, watching out for the giants. One day, they saw the tops of the trees moving and there was no wind and they wondered what it was. Sure enough, it was the giants coming to take over their land.
The fairies asked their tohunga (priest) to pray to the Gods and he went up to Mt. Ngongataha and asked the Gods to save them from the giants. The giants got as far as Rotorua and stopped for a while. But they realised that they had stood for too long and they were turning into rock and couldn’t move. The legend is that the seven or eight rock stacks dotted around Rotorua are these giants that were turned into rock. I saw some of these rock stacks as I was coming into Rotorua on the bus and wondered what they were. Now I know the legend behind it.