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Lions Get Steamed Up In Rotorua

May 29, 2005

Lions Get Steamed Up In Rotorua

After being officially welcomed to New Zealand in Rotorua this afternoon, the British and Irish Lions finished the day with a visit to Te Puia, New Zealand's leading cultural tourism attraction.

The visit was a chance for the Lions to sign autographs for fans, meet Rotorua locals, mingle with the media and exchange gifts with Te Puia staff.

Te Puia chief executive Andrew Te Whaiti says visiting Te Puia allowed the players a glimpse of Rotorua's famous Whakarewarewa Valley. Many of the touring party said they will return for a more extensive tour during their stay in New Zealand.

"We wanted to send the Lions away from Rotorua feeling relaxed and welcomed. It was a chance for the boys to stretch their legs after their official welcome at Ohinemutu Marae."

The Lions touring party were each gifted a small koauau (flute) specially carved by Te Puia's master carvers.

Special gifts were also given to Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward, tour manager Bill Beaumont, captain Brian O'Driscoll and front rower Steve Thompson.

Woodward received a tewhatawha, a two-handed axe-like weapon, traditionally used by chiefs to signal the warriors into position for battle.

Beaumont's gift was a taiaha made of totara, O'Driscoll received a kotiate (short weapon) and Thompson was presented with a parata (carved figure head).

In return, the Lions presented Te Puia with a framed tour jersey signed by the whole team.

Te Whaiti first approached the New Zealand Rugby Union several months ago asking how Te Puia could support the Lions visit to Rotorua.

"It is good for Rotorua to get as much mileage out of the Lions tour as possible. It's estimated the economic benefit to Rotorua could be in excess of $8 million ? as a local business we certainly wanted to get behind that and at the same time promote our city to the rest of the world."

Te Whaiti's interest in the rugby tour also stems from his days playing the game.

"I spent a season with London Askean and played a lot of rugby against the clubs which some of the Lions players play for ? such as Leicester and the London Harlequins. I'm really looking forward to meeting some of the newest rugby stars to emerge from those clubs."

Te Whaiti also spent three years playing NPC rugby for Waikato, so will be particularly interested in the Lions' provincial games.

Te Puia was chosen as the most appropriate visitor attraction for the Lions to visit because it offers a variety of tourist experiences.

"The Lions received a powhiri at Auckland airport on arrival and had just been welcomed officially at Ohinemutu during the afternoon. Although Te Puia has a great Maori cultural programme, we knew the Lions had been shown a good sample of culture during the day so we focused on showing them our geothermal valley and carving and weaving skills."

Te Puia was rebranded only two months ago to better reflect the visitor experiences on offer. The attractions fall under three sub-brands: Maori culture, the geothermal valley and the New Zealand Maori Arts And Crafts Institute.

ENDS

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