The evening began with an almost farcical bus ride out to the village. First a mini bus picked us and a couple of other groups jumped on, then connected to a larger bus, which continued touring Rotorua hotels and hostels (in fact, actually passing by our hostel again!). Then we drove in circles for a while until he found our official driver. It turned out to be about a 1 hour bus ride to somewhere just outside the town, only 15 minutes away. The bus driver tried to keep us entertained, and tried to create the illusion that we were visiting a real Maori village. He kept telling us that there were certain customs that had to be maintained, etc. but to us it was clearly a Disney-fied version of Maori culture.We arrived just as the Haka ceremony started. This lasted about 20 minutes, with the Maori challenging the “leaders” of each tour bus. We were then admitted to the village, where there were various displays of handicrafts, and traditional Maori living. This was interesting, and the idea of wandering between these different displays seemed like a good idea, but there was such a crowd, it was difficult to move around. In addition, we were quickly hurried into the main hall for a 30 minute dance and music performance.
The hangi feast itself was buffet style, served in a large hall with several lines which were all the same. It was well organized and there was lots of food for everyone. The food was good, and there were demonstrations of how the food was made outside the main hall. The main dishes are meat, but there was enough food that Wendy didn’t get hungry. There was a beautiful pavlova for dessert. Not exactly authentic, but we also weren’t complaining! We had to pay for drinks beyond the free juice, but we had a 50% off all drinks all night coupon that we got from the AA guide – a great deal, and we had a good chance to try many different kinds of New Zealand wine for only $2.50 NZD per glass.
After dinner, we wandered around the souvenir shop, and bought a wood carving for a price that was in line with the prices we’d seen at the shops in Rotorua. We hoped it had more of a chance of being authentic since it was bought in the Tamaki village. They also continued the displays of how the food is cooked, but there was such a crowd we skipped them.
Overall we had a good time, and felt very welcome. We just didn’t feel like it was a particularly authentic, traditional experience. The staff was very polite and helpful and our baby daughter was ooh-ed and ahh-ed over.