I really recommend taking in one of several Maori cultural shows on offer while you're in Rotorua.
The Maori people are very serious about preserving their heritage, history, culture, including dance (most famous of all is the maori Haka war type 'dance' that the NZ Rugby All-Blacks team do at the start of their matches to try and intimidate the opposition)
Here though, at the show we attended at Whakawerawera Thermal Park, is a far more gentle dance, done with the Poi's (maori version of pom-poms really). There were many children taking part. This little girl was the youngest, and took her dancing quite seriously indeed. And she was very good for one so small!
Rotorua is considered to be one of the main centres of Maori Culture in New Zealand. For many years there were trained Maori guides who led tourists around the different natural sites surrounding Rotorua. Even today many guides in the area are ancestors of these people. The main tribe in the Rotorua area is the Te Arawa tribe. Most Maori are urbanised but traditionally they lived on Pa's communally. There are still a few Marae (meeting grounds) around the Rotorua area and at least two traditional villages (Ohinemutu and Whakarewarewa).
Serious; Meaningful Protocal
A very sacred performance takes place upon arrival at the Marae known as the Wero (challenge). Followed by the Karanga (call), speeches and Hongi (greeting). The Marae is our Turangawaewae (standing ground). It is here, where we, the Maori, best express ourselves.
Song & Dance Participation
Let the local tribes people walk you through time to learn of the pride of the Maori, “our story” through song and dance. Become a part of our living history through the eyes of the Rangatahi (young), from the heart of the Kaumatua (old).
Witness, Taste and Enjoy
See, learn and taste food being prepared and cooked the ancient way as the night unfolds to a relaxed, informal, friendly and fun atmosphere of feasting and entertainment. All meats and vegetables are cooked in the traditional fashion, beneath the ground on hot rocks. Vegetarian meals are a speciality and are catered for on request. Dining is buffet style with the menu consisting of: Lamb, Pumkin, Steamed pudding, Chicken, Potatoes, Fresh fruit salad, Fish Kumara (sweet potato), Custard & Cream, Shellfish, Seasoning, Caramel sauce, Coleslaw, Salad, Maori bread.
When wandering around the thermal areas, there are many warning signs to stay on the track and not get to close to the boiling pools. They may look inviting as a nice relaxing spa but they are deadly.
Rotorua has a very moderate climate which is rarely too hot or too cold. Summer average temperature 18°C, winter 8°C. Because of the elevation (approx 290 metres above sea level), the sun during December-February can be quite strong, particularly between 10.00am and 3.00pm. You should make sure you use sunscreen and a hat.
Departure tax of $5 NZ is now compulsory on departing from Rotorua Airpot now. These taxes go towards the new airport.