Te Puia 2.0 – Te Rā – School and Sulfur in Rotorua, NZ

We liked Te Puia so much the first time that we returned on Thursday morning for another tour. This Tour was to Te Puia’s schools, the kiwi, mud pits, and geysers.

Part 1: The School

Te Puia is also the home of The New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute. This school has three parts: Te Takapū, Whakairo Rākau, and Te Rito. The school’s goal is to educate young Māori on how to do the Māori practices of stone, bone, and wood carving and weaving and for these people to return to their iwi, or tribes, and teach the practices there.

Te Takapū – School of Stone and Bone Carving

In Te Takapū, students learn how to make different types of ornaments and weapons from three materials: Kōhatu, Pounamu, and Wheua. Greywacke is a type of sandstone found throughout New Zealand and is very common, so it is the first material students learn to make with, as it is not expensive or rare and is OK to make mistakes on. Once students have mastered the basics, they graduate to Pounamu and Wheua. Pounamu is a type of nephrite jade or bowenite. The former is found only on the south island of New Zealand. Wheua is bone. There are two types of Wheua: Koiwi (Beef Bone) and Parāoa (Whalebone). As our guide explained to us, they do not hunt whales. However, sometimes whales, mostly sperm whales, get beached on the beaches. Nowadays, they always try to put the whale back into the ocean, but sometimes that fails, and the whale passes on. When that happens, they harvest the whale bones. They then carve those bones into pieces.

Whakario Rākau – School of Wood Carving

In Whakario Rākau, students learn how to make all sorts of things from various types of native New Zealand wood. These people spend three years at the school to become master carvers. They make traditional Māori items like sculptures, jewelry, treasure boxes, weapons, instruments, day-to-day items, and more. As we were watching, several artists were working on multiple Poupou, certain types of wall panels put into meeting houses. These Poupou are especially significant in Māori culture, as they represent a connection between the tribe and their ancestors, and each Poupou has carved onto it the history of the caver’s ancestry.

Te Rito – School of Weaving

In Te Rito, students are taught how to weave in the traditional Māori way, using the traditional materials. When the people who became the Māori came to New Zealand, they were wearing the clothing they needed for warm weather. New Zealand is not always warm and sunny, so they had to develop a new way to make clothes. They soon figured out that Flax was sturdy, warm, and weather-resistant. This last factor led to a new way of cooking food: in a bag. Flax was so good with heat that they made a fire in a hole and, once the fire had died down, put a bag of food in it and buried it. A little bit later, un-bury it, and Voila, you have your dinner in a bag.

Māori Spiritual Culture

The Māori put life into everything. That is not to say that they made things more animated. No, they literally believed everything had life or mana. Mana was, to them, a sort of force or energy that could belong to anyone or anything. It was also the power and energy that a person or thing had or represented: a pendant of a shark tooth represented the mana of the shark itself. A weapon contained your ancestor’s mana, so to throw your weapon away was to throw away your ancestors. Jewelry, weapons, clothing, and day-to-day items were all passed down from generation to generation, gaining a sort of spiritual value as time passed.

Part 2: Kiwi, Mud Pools, and The Geysers

After we toured the school, we continued our tour on to the Kiwi.


Just to clarify, I am talking about Kiwi, the bird, not Kiwi, the fruit.

If you don’t know, kiwi look kind of like the kiwi fruit, a swordfish, a chicken, and a guinea pig all rolled up in one: it has two chicken feet, a round, furry-looking body, two barely perceptible and fully useless wings, a small head, and beak that looks like Pinocchio’s nose. We saw them in a sort of viewing area that was almost pitch black inside, except for the boxes where the kiwi were held. The best funniest part about the whole experience was that you were not allowed to take pictures or have your phone on inside the viewing area because, and I quote, “Phone light gives the kiwi a bit of a panic attack.”

Other interesting facts about kiwi:

  1. They are nocturnal.
  2. They walk kind of like a chicken and an ostrich put together: Their walk is more of a trot/run, and when they take a step, they sort of bob their head.
  3. They are, despite the signs teaching about kiwi near where we saw them, decisively birds, not mammals.
  4. In the wild, they live for 10-15 years, but when they live in conservation spaces, they can live for up to 40 years.

Mud Pools and The Geysers

After the Kiwi viewing, we went down to view the mud pools.

Mud Pools

These mud pools are heated by the earth and are super rich in minerals, as well as being highly acidic. This made it the go-to choice for healing all types of ailments. It was used to treat cuts and burns and was found to leave less of a scar than a bandage. It was also used to help arthritis and rheumatism and was used to treat stomach infections by mixing water and a small amount of mud. Today, it is used to make beauty products and cosmetics. While our guide was telling us this, she was rudely interrupted by one of the geysers, which started going off.

The rude geyser.
The Geysers

Next, we got to see some really cool geysers, one of which is one of the tallest geysers in the world. Some information on geysers:

Geysers are like giant insta pots. The first thing you should know is that geysers are above where old volcanoes used to be. So there is a whole lot of magma near the surface. When there is water above that magma, it heats up. When water heats up enough, it boils. This boiling releases gas, and when there is not enough space for all that gas that is created to be released as fast as it is created, pressure is created. Where the pressure comes out is the blowhole of the geyser. You might be wondering 2 things: 1. Why is everything that comes out not steam? 2. Why is the geyser not always erupting? These both have explanations. As the pressure builds and more steam comes out, the pressure is still building underneath, squishing the steam back into water as it is coming out. This is why when a geyser erupts, steam always comes out first, then water. The reason the geyser is not always erupting is that with geysers, the water needs to heat up. The water has to come in from an outside source where it is not already boiling. How a geyser works is best illustrated below with a graphic I found on Wikipedia:

How frequently a geyser erupts depends on how close the magma is to the basin. How tall it gets depends on how big the basin is and how big the opening is.