Response to Dr Paul Moon's Criticism of Whakarewarewa Village

I guess if you are a professor you feel as though you have an entitlement to be critical of anything that might promote your book. Don’t worry about the damage you are doing to a major tourism icon. (IT940)

In 1940, as a six-year-old pakeha boy I would visit Rotorua and Whakarewarewa Village to cross the bridge and watch the Maori kids dive for pennies. The guides sat around in their piupius, just across the bridge. Many of the ladies had mokos and some smoked bent stem pipes. There were boiling pools, bubbling mud, and small cottages or whares and an area set aside for bathing.

You walked through the village, through steam and flowing waters to Pohutu and The Prince of Wales Geysers, and up to the model pa with its manuka tea tree palisades, carved meeting house and gateway.

Today that is closed off because of an obstructive locked gate, which doesn’t stop villagers walking around it to work at what is now Te Puia. If the gate were opened again Whakarewarewa and Te Puia would form a modern historic heritage park of sustainable life and history of Maori.

Whakarewarewa Living Village is a preserved, wonderfully authentic historic icon that celebrates the living history and the people who live it. Te Puia is perhaps a museum and a product of modern marketing, but not the heritage product that is the village.

Whaka is home to a proud people happy to show the world its heritage and culture, with guides taking tourists into their homes set among the steam and geothermal smells.

A proud guide is known to say: “That’s where my grandma lived, and her mother too. It’s sinking into the changing earth surface so she has moved to a house just down the pathway. Our ancestors came here after the 1886 Tarawera eruption and I, with my family live here today.”

The families demonstrate cooking by hanging a kit of corncobs in a boiling pool. Tourists are given a tube-style plastic bag, salt and pepper and a pat of butter. You drop the corn in the bag, sprinkle condiments and then roll the corn bag between your palms before eating. There is no better-flavoured corn anywhere. The villagers take time out daily at 11.15 am and 2pm to demonstrate their dance, haka and poi. They teach it to tourists. They don’t perform as professionals but as a village family group. Any that pen or rubber stamp a moko, do so with pride and they are drawn in a way that means something to them. It is a little different from a pakeha wearing a fake tan.

The kids at Whaka still wag school to dive off the bridge for coins. The locals still cook their daily food in the steam boxes spread through the park. The older ladies still walk through to an overflow from a boiling spring hole and draw a bucket of boiling water off to make a cup of tea or to wash the dishes. At close to 5pm someone will change the cobbled socks used as plugs to control the flow of water to one of the many sunken baths. Families appear and bathe together.

The people of Whaka are fine New Zealanders living an authentic lifestyle that richly demonstrates where and how two Maori tribes have lived for years. Modern-day guides wear more contemporary clothing. They smile with pride as they talk about the history and life on their marae.. There are many Maori in Rotorua and in high places in New Zealand who are proud to say “I was a Whaka penny diver”.

How do I know? I have taken thousands of international visitors to Whaka and Te Puia for 30 years. We survey our tourists and they love the village. They score it highly and remark about its guides and the people they meet.

I am 79 and a tour operator working hard to show international people Rotorua and its tourism assets and the history of New Zealand as I know it and have lived it.

By Group Events Pty MD ,Keith Weber, who is upset at historian and academic Dr Paul Moon’s criticism of Rotorua’s historic village.

 

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