Overnight, we sailed north in roiling seas from Gisborne around East Cape, the northeast corner of New Zealand. From the dock in Tauranga Harbour, our multifaceted excursion took us south to Rotorua and Te Puia. First, we were welcomed into an intricately carved Maori meeting house with formal greetings, exchange of the hongi, whakapapa chant, and haka. Songs, dances, and stick games followed, the significance of each explained by our guides.

In the dark of artificial night at the Kiwi Conservation Center, we watched two kiwis use their highly developed sense of smell, long beaks, and sensitive whiskers to forage for insects among the leaf litter. Flightless, rotund for their size, and nearly blind, kiwi are fascinating and endearing birds. No photos were permitted as even a small amount of light can disrupt their nocturnal behavior, but we certainly enjoyed seeing them up close!

Part of a larger geothermal system on the edge of the 240,000-year-old Rotorua volcanic caldera, Whakarewarewa terrace features several active geysers that regularly erupt hot water and steam into the air. In this region, rainwater percolates deep enough to be heated by molten rock far within the Earth; the hot water then rises to the surface and generates geysers, fumaroles, mud pools, and hot springs. Today, the bubbling mud pools gurgled, boiled, and plopped even in a downpour – natural playfulness with a strong sulfur smell.

We also toured the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, a nonprofit educational organization founded to train new generations in traditional skills, provide demonstrations to the public, and preserve Maori culture. Mentors and students showcased their abilities and answered questions as they worked with wood, bone, and pounamu carving, as well as flax weaving. Our visit concluded in a gallery of completed student pieces, each stunning in its complexity and artistry.

This evening, guests were treated to two National Geographic Orion special events: a multicourse gourmet dinner and the crew show! Exceptional food was followed by songs and dancing that highlighted the hidden talents of the crew who have treated us like family during the voyage. What wonderful ways to share good spirits and memories as our trip around New Zealand enters its final days.