Day 4: Te Puia

Words by Andy | Photos by Chris

Day 4: Te Puia

An easy start this morning with a coffee and scone at a nearby cafe. We knew it was pretty close as we hopped into the car and drove out the back gate of the motel. As we exited the driveway it was right beside us, just like a scene from Ab Fab. 

Our first activity was also nearby, only three minutes’ drive to Te Puia.

This is the place to come for the full cultural experience, set alongside the steaming mud pools and active geysers. It’s home to Pōhutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere.

The guided tour is a gentle walk through the property with stories from Māori history. The large, bubbling mud pool holds the grim story of having swallowed the grandchild of a Māori chief, it’s boiling quicksand texture too powerful for the sticks they used to try and save the child. When they warn against sitting on the fences, there’s good reason.

The tour included a walk through the kiwi conservation hut where three kiwis are housed: two males and a female. Each have their own enclosure to prevent a fight to the death between the boys, and no photos are allowed because even the light from a phone screen is literally blinding to the small endangered birds. We did, however, get to see all three of them foraging around, which was pretty special.

Following the tour our guide led us to Te Aronui a Rua Meeting House where someone from the group was nominated selected as chief, representing the visitors. What followed was a traditional welcome in which our chief accepted a leaf offered in peace, after which we were invited into the meeting space for the formal Māori welcome and concert.


There’s something spiritually moving about the harmonies in Māori songs, accompanied by gestures and movements that contain as much meaning as the lyrics. We even got to learn our own song with movements! The concert was as joyful as it was moving in some parts, all revealing the beautiful heart of traditional Māori culture.

The meeting room itself was a labour of love, created by the grandfather of our tour guide. The wood carvings represent four of the local Māori tribes, carved with traditional patterns that hold cultural meaning and value. This is how stories and knowledge were passed from one generation to the next before the written word.


There’s a school on site as well. Māori people can apply for their courses that teach carving and weaving skills linked to Māori culture. Traditional methods are taught before modern equipment is introduced, preserving traditional techniques, but also making sure the skills are properly refined by slowing everything down.

If you’re heading to Rotorua, definitely put Te Puia on your list!

After a quick bite from the café, we headed back to the redwood forest for a wander. The air is clean, which is a nice respite from the sulphur, and the winding, interconnected paths of the Mokopuna trail are a lovely way to spend an hour or so. Towering redwood trees sit amongst silver fern trees in every direction. There’s plenty to see at the micro level if you choose to walk at grandma pace like me, instead of Stormtrooper place, no names mentioned. Moss, lichen and baby ferns cover grand old tree trunks along the forest floor, which is shared by walkers and cyclists, all there the enjoy the same immersive experience along the gentle trail.

Walk done (at almost ten thousand steps by this stage!) we took a short drive further along to see the blue and green lakes. This would be the place to head for a summer break with the blue lake offering a picture-perfect natural setting to swim, boat and whatever other activity you fancy in the water. Tree covered mountains surround crystal clear waters, and the ducks are pretty friendly, too. The sign of a happy life!


The sacred green lake is owned by the local ivvi (Māori) so no activities are allowed there. The blue lake is the place for all of that. Even if you don’t jump in the blue lake, the drive will delight as it opens out onto unique scenes of fern-covered mountainsides, tall silver fern trees giving the area a tropical vibe.

Time to head back and get ready for our private pool booking at Polynesian Spa, overlooking Lake Rotorua… the perfect way to unwind from an obviously stressful day. The 30-minute soak in the alkaline bath, taking in our own little view of the lake as daylight faded away capped off a perfect day. The alkaline water doesn’t have the same aromatics as the acidic baths (ie. No egg-on-the-turn smell) and is good for your skin. We were well relaxed by the time our half hour passed, and ready to get some food in our bellies. We’ve had a brilliant time in Rotorua, with much more to do and see next time.

Tomorrow we head to Taupo!

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