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Rotorua’s Ohinemutu Marae – Magical!

January 31, 2010

There was a certain kind of air surrounding the wooden building I was staring at — a presence, an aura — something I could feel but couldn’t express in words.

Maori would call this ethereal quality Mana, or respect, something or someone who is held in high regard, a word that simply cannot, even in the best possible way, be explained in English.

by Cate

I inched forward taking in the building – the lines, the colours, the wood paneling, and the carved facades. Closing my eyes, I listened carefully for the karanga, a call of welcome sung by a kuia – respected lady. She stood in the courtyard, proudly wearing an ornately carved greenstone around her neck, and a tattooed chin fading with age. Like the building she too had presence. She opened her arms and began her karanga — Haere Mai, Haere Mai, Haere Mai – Welcome, Welcome, Welcome.

I responded by calling my own greeting and waited for the kuia to call me forward. But her voice caught by the wind slowly drifted away — and then stopped. Only the wind continued, wailing its eerie tune.

Opening my eyes I looked around searching for the voice and the old woman. There was nothing but empty buildings, and steam wafting through the air like mist. I was alone.

On a cool early morning in summer I stood in front of one of Rotorua’s sacred Marae’s, not as an honoured guest but simply as a curious tourist.

by Cate

Rotorua is where several Maori groups – iwi – continue to live on ancestral lands scattered around the geothermal region. Ohinemutu is one such place in the region. A small village set among steaming pools, and a nose smacking parfum de sulphur fragrance, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. It is home to Ngati Whakaue, one of the first iwi to settle in this area.

A first impression of this small quiet village is deceptive. There is a patina of poverty covering the village – a result of governmental policies – and an endless battle for Maori. But there is also richness in this tribal land, where Ngati Whakaue clans unite as one, where decision-making means consensus; and where the tribe’s Mana is felt throughout the area.

In Maoridom, the Marae – meeting place – lays at the centre of the community and its people. It’s a combination of tangible and intangible properties. The meeting-house dominates the complex with its size and scale, indicators of buildings importance. Intricately carved poles and panels depict ancestral gods and chiefs, tribal lineage and tribal lore.

by Cate

Ohinemutu is a small village within Rotorua town, but it’s pace of life differs to the rest of the urban area. While tour buses pull up along the lake front, letting out groups of tourists, packing the walkways, Ohinemutu welcomes smaller groups. The older couple driving through New Zealand in a rental, backpackers who want to get away from tour buses, and travellers interested in indigenous art and cultures.

by Cate

Around the complex lies other buildings of special interest – arts and crafts workshop and St Faith’s Church. This church’s exquisitely designed interior depicts Ngati Whakaue’s religious journey.

Access to Ohinemutu is very easy, walk past the Lakeside café and behind through the carpark and follow the signs.

Note: to translate Maori words into English click here: Maori dictionary

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. January 31, 2010 7:21 pm

    This is beautiful, certainly not like anything I’ve ever seen before. Really lovely.

  2. January 31, 2010 7:50 pm

    Very charming and very magical.

  3. February 1, 2010 9:34 am

    Very informative and interesting story about Maori.

  4. Catherine permalink
    February 2, 2010 9:17 pm

    I really like the photos of the details – lovely – I visited this place about 10 years ago and yes it is stunning…

  5. February 4, 2010 8:18 pm

    Sarah, Dave, Rainfield and Catherine – thanks all of you for the lovely comments. Glad you liked it. This place is well worth a visit.



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