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Unlike made-for-tourists experiences of Māori culture, Whakarewarewa is a living village where the local Tūhourangi/Ngāti Wāhiao people have resided for centuries. Villagers lead the tours (departing hourly from 9am to 4pm) and tell stories of their way of life amid the steamy bubbling pools, silica terraces and geysers. While most of the geothermal zone is across the fence in Te Puia, the view of the Pōhutu geyser is just as good from here, and considerably cheaper.
The admission also includes a cultural performance (daily at 11.15am and 2pm, with an additional show at 12.30pm from November to March) and a self-guided nature trail. The village shops sell authentic arts and crafts, and you can learn more about Māori traditions such as flax weaving, carving and tā moko (tattooing). Nearby you can eat tasty, buttery sweetcorn ($2) pulled straight out of the hot mineral pool – the only genuine geothermal hāngi meal in town.