Geothermal gift from the Gods

Considered a gift from the gods, the geothermal activity in Te Whakarewarewa Valley enabled our ancestors to cook and preserve kai (food) and these traditional techniques are still used by Te Puia every day.

Local legends tell the korero (story) of the high priest Ngātoroirangi who arrived on New Zealand shores and travelled with his people inland. Heading past Lake Taupō and onto Tongariro, they were struck by blistering cold snow storms. Fearing for his life, Ngātoroirangi cried out to his sisters, Te Pupu and Te Hoata, who came from Hawaiki in the form of fire beneath the earth. In search of their brother, the sisters lifted their heads above the earth’s surface, leaving behind geysers, hot pools and volcanoes throughout the Bay of Plenty.

The steam that billowed throughout Te Whakarewarewa Valley was used by our ancestors to steam their kai to perfection and woven baskets filled with delicacies were placed around the vents. Geothermal steam flavours the kai for a distinctively delicious taste, which you can try for yourself on the Kai Ngāwha Steambox Lunch Tour. Choose from a selection of foods including chicken, corn, kumara, pumpkin, potato, cabbage, watercress and bread stuffing, place them into a basket and let Ngā Whā, our constantly active steam vent, do its thing.

Cooking pools were also a great way to cook kai and blanch flax for weaving. It was usually the woman’s task to lower hand-woven kete (flax bags) filled with kai into the pool to simmer. Ngāraratuatara is the cooking pool we use at Te Puia and it received its name from the tuatara eye it resembles.

Another popular cooking method is the hāngī and it is still used by Māori across New Zealand. A pit is dug deep into the ground and hot rocks and water are placed at the bottom to create steam. At Te Puia, meat and vegetables are placed in baskets, wrapped in manuka leaves and covered with soil. The trapped steam cooks the food for three hours, infusing it with the distinctive geothermal flavour. During Te Puia’s Te Pō Indigenous Evening Experience, you can witness the hāngī process and dine on the delicious hākari (feast) of traditional and contemporary Māori cuisine.

Matariki (Māori New Year) celebrations are still in full swing at Te Puia with the Nga Mata Ariki gourmet feast, available until September. Using New Zealand’s finest ingredients, Te Puia chefs cook the traditional Māori way, using techniques that have been practiced in Te Whakarewarewa Valley for generations.

Te Puia’s Mary Tolley says the Ngā Mata Ariki buffet is a deliberate play on the word ‘Matariki’.

“For this, we’ve interpreted the meaning with a name that quite appropriately describes our buffet. Literally translated ‘Ngā Mata Ariki’ means; Ngā (many) ‘Mata’ (morsels of food) and ‘Ariki’ (Chief) – in other words ‘Food of Chiefs’.”