We already knew this day was going to be brilliant - we had both Hobbiton and our Maori tribe encounter, but I don't think we realised just how good the day would be.
We first stopped at the Ruakuri Reserve for a half an hour walk, which we're pretty sure was just an excuse for our driver to have a coffee.
Our next stop was Hobbiton. For someone who much prefers Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings, I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy Hobbiton, but I was worried for nothing! It was absolutely brilliant and we had perfect weather which meant to walk around the hobbit houses was beautiful. We also learnt a lot about how they made the set during the day and found out that they had planted artificial trees and put every single leaf on by hand - ridiculous!
After far too many photos, we got to have a free beer in the Green Dragon pub, which had such a good vibe to it that we decided we'd definitely go to that pub on a night out if we could! We even got in some fancy dress photos - always a plus.
Next we headed to Rotorua, noticing as soon as we got off the coach that the sulphur dioxide gas created by the geothermal activity meant the entire place smelt like eggs. Lovely.
Once we paid for the Maori village overnight trip, we were taken straight there. First we had to pick a chief for the evening, who would be representing our group in the village. We started the afternoon by hearing a song from one of the women, welcoming us into the village and then a speech by one of the guides who was also welcoming us. Then Kurk (our chief) had to give his own speech back, which we had to show support for by singing after he finished. We were told we could pick any song everyone knew the words to so naturally we picked Wonderwall. Singing Wonderwall in a Maori village was definitely something I wasn't expecting to happen!
After the greeting we were shown to our rooms for the evening, which were nicer than any hostel accommodation we'd had to far! They were huge rooms with single beds (no bunk beds!), our own towel and TWO pillows. Luxury.
Then it was time for some fun. We were split into two groups and my group started by playing a game with sticks where you stand in a circle and sing a song to a particular rhythm and have to throw the sticks around the circle without dropping them. Much harder than it sounds and we sucked at it! Our other activity was learning how to get fibre from special leaves and weave with them. We then got to watch the other group attempt the stick game - we were more than a little happy when they didn't manage to complete it either!
Our next task was to learn a song and routine in Maori that we would be performing later on during dinner when everyone else who was just doing the evening trip arrived. However, we only got a few rehearsals and we were not optimistic about how well it would go!
We were then ferried on to the start of the cultural evening. It began with 4 selected chiefs having to stand straight faced whilst the Maori men intimidated them with weapons. When they laid down a leaf offering, Kurk had to pick it up to show we came in peace and not war. This ceremony was fascinating and more than a little terrifying too! We knew the rest of the night was going to be brilliant if this was just the start!
Once inside the village we rotated around seeing different aspects of the Maori way of life, from tattoos to games for children which taught them how to survive to the Hakka. The Hakka was by far the most entertaining and it was hilarious to watch David and the boys be taught some moves - they weren't quite as convincing at the Maori people though!
It was also pretty gruesome to hear how they did tattoos in the villages. They used to carve the designs into their faces with sharp tools, ripping the flesh. Then they would wait for it to scab over and do it again and again until they had a deep scar. Then they would open the wound one more time and pour the ink into the skin. I definitely don't think I'd get one of those tattoos!
Next we got to watch an incredible cultural show of singing, dancing, story-telling and more of the Hakka. It is impossible for me to explain how amazing this was - learning about the history of these tribes and their way of life was fascinating.
We were absolutely starving by this point so we were very grateful when we finally got to the ALL YOU CAN EAT buffet dinner. It was a full roast with pavlova for dessert, so of course we had a lot of helpings!
There was also some entertainment during dinner, we had another Hakka from all the men in the room, we had to perform our song we had learnt earlier (which went a lot better than expected) and Aidan even got accidentally set on fire by one of the waitresses. So an exciting evening!
Once everyone else had gone back to their hostels, we got changed into our bikinis and went to the hot tubs. However, these were absolutely packed so instead we went and toasted marshmallows by the campfire with one of our guides, chatting to him to learn even more about the Maori culture and how they keep it alive at schools.
After a quick dip in the hot tubs when most people had gone to the campfire, we headed to bed, absolutely shattered from the day but feeling more content than I have in a long while.
An absolutely incredible day.