Whakarewarewa is three kilometres outside Rotorua in the North Island of New Zealand. The name of the area is – believe it or not – an abbreviated form of the original Maori name Te Whakarewarewatanga - o - te - Ope - a – Waihiao which "the place of uprising of the war party at Waihiao" and commemorates a long forgotten gathering of a tribal war party, before they set off to wage war on a neighbouring Iwi
Rotorua is well known for being the most geothermally active (and, therefore, smelliest) city in the country, and Whakarewarewa is the best known site in the city to visit if you want to see geysers, hot pools and pools of boiling mud. It was almost certainly the easy identification of this area that made it the meeting point for those ancient warriors "Meet up beside the big geyser, bros".
The area boasts around 500 or so hot springs, many surrounded by porous encrustations of silica and other mineral deposits which, although they are usually white or grey can take on many other colours, such as pink or brilliant vivid orange and yellow – these are known as sinter pools.
There are large expanses of mud pools which bubble up with puffs of steam, and the Pohutu Geyser, the largest water-spout in New Zealand, is also located in the area. This erupts about fifteen times daily, and can climb to approximately ninety feet.
About ten to fifteen years ago, as the population of the area increased, more and more people were tapping into the local geothermal resources with bores (wouldn't you grab free hot water if you could?) and the spectacular activity of the local geysers began to tail off – to preserve the natural features of the area, and its spin off tourist activity, the government promptly closed all the bores within a 1.5km radius of Pohutu, and geyser activity has begun to rise rapidly back to its natural, impressive level.
Further tourist targeted activities have been introduced into the area to take advantage of the foot traffic generated by the geothermal attractions, but careful management, and sensitivity to the importance of Whakarewarewa to Maori legend and culture has ensured that these are of an appropriate, and non-tacky kind. There is a Maori Arts and Crafts centre, incorporating a school to teach traditional carving techniques, and this is well worth visiting, both to see the craftsmen at work and to look at the genuinely beautiful products they create.
There is also a traditional Maori village which makes part of the guided tour around the thermal park – you can tour unguided, but the staff who take you round are very knowledgeable and if you can spare the 1 ¼ hours the tour takes you'll get much more out of your visit by going with the guide. Within the village, you'll see demonstrations of flax working – both weaving and the creation of the traditional "beaded" skirt, you can take lessons in how to swing a poi, explore a Wharenui (meeting house) and learn about the symbolism that goes into its construction and decoration, and watch a concert of Maori song and dance. You can even eat a hangi (feast) cooked in the hot waters of the region.
Then, when you've finished immersing yourself in the indigenous culture, you can visit the Kiwi house, and get a glimpse of the New Zealand national icon – probably the only chance you'll get to see a feathered Kiwi, since these flightless birds are not only endangered, they're nocturnal and very shy; most New Zealanders will never see one in the wild either.
The density of the attractions, coupled with its nearness to Rotorua, which has many other historic and modern places of interest, make Whakarewarewa a must-visit location for anyone who can stand the smell of sulphur which hangs in the air, and are seeking a fully rounded "New Zealand Experience" from their trip to Godzone.