Rotorua - the Yellowstone of New Zealand... Well, except that Yellowstone doesn't have tattooed Maori warriors giving cultural performances every night and twice on Sunday.
Rotorua is in the center of the North Island. The Maori were attracted to this site because of hot water springs that bubble up all over the area. Tourist were later attracted to the site because of spas that were built to take advantage of the abundant hot water. Along with the hot water, hydrogen sulphide also vents out of the ground giving the area a noticeable (rotten egg) smell. They say you get used to it, but I don't think I'll be here long enough to make that happen.
There are also several parks in the area with geysers, bubbling mud pots and Maori sites. I visited one called the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve (try saying that 3 times really fast) where the Pohutu geyser spouts water up to 20 meters in the air every 20-30 minutes. (Beat that, Old Faithful!) The park also included a carving school where I watched students working on traditional Maori sculptures. You can see the amazing detail of the carvings in some of the pictures I've posted.
We spent an evening at a Maori cultural performance and dinner. At this event, all of us tourists became the visiting tribe. We 'elected' a chief to represent us in the ceremony with the Maori chief. The Maori arrived in a war canoe, chanting, waving their paddles and making that great Maori warrior face that involves bulging eyes and stuck-out tongues. After the seriousness of the greeting ceremony, the rest of the show included Maori songs, teaching us a few Maori words, showing us how warriors prepared for battle and the weapons they used, and lots of grunts, groans and tattooed faces. The dinner is called a hangi. Stones are heated in a fire, then placed in a pit. Wet sacks are placed on top of the stones and meats and vegetables are put in baskets on top of them. The the whole thing is covered so that the steam can't escape. Everything steams in the ground for several hours. After dinner they took us for a walk in the forest to show us native plants they used, the spring where the water we had with dinner came from and glow worms all over the trees and rocks near the spring.
The tribes that do these shows have a great business going. There must have been over 200 people there tonight and it really isn't peak tourist season anymore. They do these shows 7 days a week and you have to book ahead to be able to get in. While I don't know how authentic all of it was, it was a fun diversion for an evening.