Recently my son and I watched the film “The Greatest Showman.” If you’re a fan of musicals, fantasy, or dreams this is a great film to see. While watching the sparkle and shine, I was drawn back to my years of making shows. I began my “showbiz” career in dance. Nothing kept my attention more or made me happier than dancing. I was convinced I would travel around the world and study the dance of various cultures and choreograph at genius levels. As I grew, I moved into production. Now - I’d decided - I would create productions that shared the stories of people from around the world. I learned about the behind the scenes world that made the dream come to life on stage. Every hour of my life was devoted to the theater. During the day I would hang lights, build sets, and search for props. At night there were rehearsals, technical rehearsals, and performances. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to work in the field, you know it consumes you. It’s a magic that can intoxicate you just as Hugh Jackman’s character P.T. Barnum got lost in the process of bigger, better, and more fantastic!
Life, as it so often does, had other plans for me. I found myself in a new career. I became a Travel Advisor, merging my passions of cultural immersion and experiential creation. We live in a world where we are surrounded by spectacle, where we are constantly seeking entertainment from a variety of technological stimuli, where we have our attention competed over by what is the loudest or most provocative and we constantly look away from the greatest show…life. Why do we prefer false realities? Why do we choose to look away? These are deep questions best left to self reflection of the individual but as a Travel Advisor I think about the core of this often. How do I move the traveler out of a cookie cutter experience and into a deeper travel experience? How do I fully express the value of authenticity?
I will always love a great story masterfully told and will find one in the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan. Now, however, I find myself moving in a direction that seeks contact - to actually be part of the story even if it’s simply as the woman who passes the action on the street and not the woman swinging from the trapeze (though I’ll try one if I happen upon it). Real life continues on regardless of whether or not we decide to look out at it.
In the end, Barnum realizes the show he wants to watch most is the one of his daughters growing up. Today I still make stories, but now they are travel stories for clients. Every time I work on a trip, I get to help turn their dreams into a reality. I suppose this run on reflection has to do not so much with abandoning other forms of entertainment (because that would just be nuts), but to remember that the greatest show is life and we need to get out and see it with our own two eyes.
Not long ago I had the great pleasure of visiting Te Puia within the historic Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, on the edge of Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand.
Te Puia is home to the world famous Pōhutu geyser, mud pools, hot springs, silica formations, and the native Kiwi bird. However, it is also the home of the national schools of wood carving, weaving, stone and bone carving. Te Puia have shared these treasures with visitors for over 170 years and I was lucky enough to get to experience it myself.
I’ll be honest. I had no idea what I was walking into when my personal guide Sean picked me up. I thought I would be simply viewing a demonstration of the native culture’s songs and dance. While I did get to enjoy these traditions, what I experienced was so much more.
First I was led on a tour of the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. By the 1920s the culture and traditions of Māori were in serious danger of being lost forever. NZMACI was established in 1963 by an Act of Parliament to maintain and preserve traditional Māori art forms. Te Puia’s responsibility is about much more than the visitor experience, and includes the sustainability of the geothermal environment, and the protection and continuation of Māori culture, traditions, arts and crafts.
On the tour of I was able to watch as students from around New Zealand train under the guidance of master craftspersons at creating hand crafted jewelry out of bone and green stone, carving beautiful native designs into wooden sculptures, and weaving masterpiece clothing from natural materials.
After a tour of the school, we moved outside to tour Te Puia’s enthralling geothermal wonders. Bubbling mud, pools of boiling water still used for cooking, and stunning geysers. My guide recounted when he was young and was able to walk right up to the boiling water’s edge (a practice no longer in use for obvious safety reasons and concern for the landscape itself). As well as being a spectacular sight, Pōhutu is the most reliable geyser on Earth. Eruptions can last from a few minutes to much longer and occur once or twice an hour.
For hundreds of years, the many geothermal hot pools in Te Whakarewarewa Valley have allowed people to use hot water for cooking, washing, bathing and preparing flax. As we awaited the beginning of the evening’s performances, I gathered around a large pit with the other visitors. The hāngi is a popular Māori cooking style. A large pit is dug and hot rocks placed at the bottom. Meat and vegetables are placed in baskets, wrapped in leaves, lowered on top of the rocks and covered with soil. The geothermal heat infuses the kai (food) with a delicious flavor.
While we waited for the food to be ready for the evening feast, it was time to experience Te Puia’s cultural performances. As the evening crowd gathered around the Marae - a traditional gathering place. Te Aronui-ā-rua is Te Puia’s carved meeting house. Meeting houses are usually named after a tribal ancestor but because our carving school embraces all New Zealand tribes, it is named after a ‘basket of knowledge’ in Māori belief. Surrounded by the beautiful carvings, intricately decorated panels and impressive weaving I experienced entertaining stories told through song and dance.
As the haka was performed, I was caught up in the energy and force of the performance. It is little wonder that opposing forces would baulk at the sight of a group of seasoned warriors performing their ancient dance. Songs of romance, community, and history were performed as well making for a fantastic look into a vibrant culture.
After the performance it was finally time to enjoy the feast followed by a nighttime visit to the geysers and a hot chocolate.
There are many cultural experiences you can have in New Zealand, however Te Puia would be my pick. There is a truth and legitimacy to the efforts being made to preserve culture and educate visitors on Māori history and traditions. The artistry and craftsmanship in their work is astounding. I look forward to returning to visit their new art gallery and to visit their new tattoo studio.
I’ve included a lovely video from Te Puia’s visit to Venice Beach, California for you to get another glimpse of this amazing cultural experience
The road is calling, must dash.
Holly Mann is an Independent Contractor affiliated with Vista Travel Consultants specializing in adventure travel, family travel, sustainable travel, and immersion travel. You can find her on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
#NewZealand #AdventureTravel #Travel #Culture #Rotorua #Māori
Sustainable is a word we see around a lot right now as we move to create less of a negative impact on our world and the people in it. I feel lucky to I work in an industry that has a great capacity to aid in the efforts of sustainability. Last year, the UN declared 2017 the year of Sustainable Travel.
The declaration by the UN of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability - economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued - UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
Taking this to heart, Virtuoso Chairman & CEO Matthew Unchurch spent this past year visiting Virtuoso Sustainable Properties such as The Brando in Tahiti. A company wide effort has been launched to educate all of our advisors on how we can best support sustainable travel. On a personal level, I am very proud to work for a company that wants to use our influence to create meaningful experiences done in a positive way for the local people AND the planet AND the traveler.
As a Traveler you might be wondering, what makes your vacation a sustainable travel experience. Our Sustainable Travel Partners adhere to the 3 pillars of sustainable travel.
3 Pillars of Sustainable Travel
1. Travel that is environmentally friendly (reduce, reuse, recycle)
2.Travel that supports the protection of cultural and natural heritage (restoring historic buildings or saving endangered species)
3. Travel that supports the economy and social well being of the people in the places we visit. (ranging from upholding the rights of indigenous peoples to supporting fair wages for employees)
There were more than one billion international travelers last year – I believe that provides a billion opportunities to make the world a better place, safeguarding the world's cultural and natural treasures for future generations. Look for upcoming features on some of the leaders in the Sustainable Travel movement.
When you contact me to plan your next Virtuoso travel experience, consider taking a look at how luxury, comfort, and fun can all be achieved in a sustainable fashion.
For now I must dash. Talk soon!
HOLLY MANN: As an Independent Contractor of Vista Travel Consultants, Inc. a member of the Virtuoso Network, my access to the highest quality of vetted global travel partners allows me to create rich, culturally immersive, and liberating travel experiences.