It’s not often that I run into awkward situations on my solo travel in New Zealand. There’s usually solo travellers when I go on tours so I was not really that worried when I decided to visit the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua. Touted as an experience of the indigeneous Maori life, I was drawn to the idea that it was presented by local Maoris as a way to share their culture, history and stories with everyone. For sure, it is largely a tourist attraction for me but I still found it worth a visit for there was so much valuable lessons taught.
The Maori community in New Zealand may be unfamiliar to visitors but they were one of the earlier settlers in New Zealand, migrating from the nearby Polynesian islands to set up villages around the North and South Island of New Zealand. Kia Ora (say ki-o-ra very fast) is a common Maori greeting to hear in New Zealand to welcome visitors or friends.
I chose to think my tour started when I was picked up from my hostel. Not only was my driver part of the Maori community, he was a hoot! I hardly felt left out as he joked around with us on the bus on the way to the village. The village was set up in a forested area outside Rotorua so arriving as the sun was setting made me feel part of the village with small fires burning all around us.
We were greeted with a traditional welcome greeting where someone was picked to be the “Head” of our tribe. As our representative, he got a special treatment of rubbing noses with the head of the Maori tribe and being warned off by their traditional haka dance. The visitors, of course, left our Head to the mercy of these fierce warriors so that we can shamelessly take photos instead. The Head has to work for something, doesn’t he?
We were then segregated into different groups where each group were to start off with different “stations”. Each station had a traditional activity such as learning their haka dance, their traditional way of weaving, carving with traditional tools and even their way of training as a warrior. Volunteers got to participate so that it was more interactive and enjoyable to learn.
One of the highlights of this tour, though, is the traditional Maori cooking. It was simple food but these food were cooked under hot stones underground. It was taken out right in front of us when it was ready to be eaten. Before that though, we were serenaded with storytelling through songs and dancing. I really enjoyed this aspect of the tour as their songs were beautiful and their exuberance during their traditional dancing brought much joy to everyone.
Then it came to the awkwardness of being alone. I was actually fine being alone as we rotated through the different stations but the dining room setup made it awkward for a single person during dinner. Rather than individual tables such as those in a restaurant, the tables were arranged in a long communal table instead. It didn’t help that I was the only one seated alone in this whole dining room and the people sitting next to me pretty much ignored me.
I did get through dinner nevertheless as I refused to let it dampen my enthusiasm for my food. The food was delicious (and free flow!) so I made sure to enjoy my share and their desserts were wonderful as well. I also shamelessly eavesdropped on my neighbours throughout the dinner to keep me entertained. Eating alone did have its exciting moments after all, my way of living life on an edge. 🙂
So it was with a full buffet of food and dessert, they ended the dinner with Maori folk songs sung by their staff there. It was the loveliest way to end the night. My entertainment did not end there though. Remember my driver? He was even more hilarious on our return trip to Rotorua and continued to entertain us with his beautiful singing on my way home. He may have been a little bit too exuberant in his singing but we all left the bus laughing and happy at the end of the night. I might have felt awkward during dinner but he definitely managed to make me feel part of the family by the end of the bus ride. 🙂
Did you have any awkward moments when you did any tours? Please do share! I would love to hear stories from others as well. 🙂