Sunday, February 19, 2017

Learning about the Maori

Judy served us another nice, full hot breakfast and then we ventured out, not caring what the weather might or might not do. It had rained on and off all night and was sprinkling in the morning. The clouds had thinned, however, so we took our chances with the Skyline gondola and luge ride. The gondola was only about a five-minute drive from Judy's house.

We bought our tickets, hopped in a gondola car and ascended the steep slope to the top. There we walked around the gift shop and café to see what they had to offer. Mem had a coffee while we walked the grounds and appreciated the view. It had finally cleared enough that we could see the distant hills over Lake Rotorua. Our timing couldn't have been better.

Swamphen sighting!

Having fun

Rotorua below

Mem is happy.

Presiding over the city

Before getting on the luge to ride down the hill, we had to put on helmets. This was the low point of the day because the different colored helmets (signifying different sizes) were all thrown into a couple of dumpster type bins. Most of them were wet from rain, sweat, and God-knows-what, and they smelled awful. It was a combination of gym bag and wet dog and I can't say we were particularly keen on putting one of these on our heads. We bit the bullet and did it anyway. I vowed to rewash my hair when I got home.

The luge ride was longer than I expected and an exciting way to travel back down the hill. Our little carts zipped down a two scooter-wide road and we had to break fairly hard to keep from zooming off the track at the sharp curves. At the bottom, we put our scooters onto a conveyor belt which then attached them to a chairlift seat designed to transport both people and carts back up to the top. We took our ride too, dangling our feet into the open air, and enjoying the view. At the top, we road the gondola back down to the carpark.

Even on a cloudy day it's too bright for me.

Chairlift feet

It was still early, so we drove out to the Buried Village of Te Wairoa, an archeological site à la Pompeii. It featured exhibits of volcanic mud-buried colonial homes and their contents spread over a large picturesque site. The cicadas were louder here than I had ever heard them, drowning out conversation and making me wish I had earplugs. The visit route had a scenic trail option that also took us to the beautiful Wairere Falls. Once again the signs lied saying that it would take 20 minutes, failing to mention that those 20 minutes would be spent traveling vertically up and down stairs and climbing over slippery rocks along precarious cliffs. If you stumbled off the edge, no one would ever find you in the dense greenery. It was well worth the effort though. The waterfall was powerful and its mist gave the appearance of rain all around us. The weather had more than held and it was now quite warm, so the spray was a welcome respite from the sticky air.

The kitchen

Reenacting the event (aka, being an ass)


Descending backwards so I don't die

Loud cicada!

This trail was a serious affair.

After climbing back out of the sloping trail, we rehydrated at the cafe and had a snack. We headed back toward Rotorua stopping at Lake Tarawera where several people bathed in the water and unperturbed ducks floated by them. I was still overheated from the waterfall climb, so I waded out up to my knees. Had we brought our bathing suits, I might have gone for a swim in the clear, refreshing water. After I dried off my feet, we hopped back in the car and went back to Judy's for a rest until our Tamaki Maori Village excursion. When we arrived, there was an unfamiliar car in the driveway. Judy came out to the balcony to greet us, carrying her toddler granddaughter in her arms. The little one immediately blew us kisses and waved from the balcony. We were instantly charmed.

Two species of swimmers share Lake Tarawera

A couple hours later a red van pulled up to the end of the driveway to take us to our Tamaki Maori Village experience. Our driver made a few more stops and then dropped us at the office where another larger bus would chauffeur us out to the village itself, some 20 minutes out of town. I was a little apprehensive about this activity because, for complex reasons, I think it's problematic to go ogle another culture for mainly entertainment purposes. However, I was excited to learn more about Maori culture and to see some of their songs and dances (namely the haka), and the experience itself was highly rated, owned and operated by Maori people. While sitting in the office I overheard a Dutch man make disparaging comments about the modern Maori, and a woman in his party immediately called him out on it. I was glad there were people here looking to foster cultural understanding, to balance out those just coming to have a peek at the peculiar natives.

Our tour group was rallied and directed onto a bus, our "waka" (canoe) for the evening. Our bus driver, who had adopted the easier-to-pronounce English name Wallace, amused us on the way there. He appointed one of our group as chief for the night, whose duties would be to represent our group in the traditional welcoming ceremony and lead us from activity to activity. The person chosen had to be male (I wanted to be chief, damn it!) and Wallace chose, seemingly at random, the most unassertive and least chiefly person in the group, a young Welshman named Tyler. Despite his visual discomfort with his appointment, Tyler politely accepted the role and fought through his embarrassment to do what was required of him, apologizing profusely along the way.

When we arrived at the village, our group was herded together with all the other groups into a semicircle outside the village gates. A young man explained the meaning of the welcoming ceremony and the protocol for participating in it, advising onlookers that it was disrespectful to smile, laugh, or mimic the villagers. Soon after, villagers appeared on the ramparts, blowing conch shells and singing to signal the arrival of the warriors. They emerged on a long waka being paddled down a small waterway to the right of the gates. They wore flax leaf and feathered garments and bore long spears. Their faces were painted in the style of traditional Maori tattooing, and their bodies were covered with actual Maori tattoos, which covered their skin from just above the knee to the waist, and some had designs on their backs and arms as well. The warriors made intimidating gestures at the appointed non-Maori chiefs, gifts were exchanged as peace offerings, and once all formalities had taken place, Chief Tyler ushered us into the village.

A female villager signals the beginning of the ceremonies with a conch shell.

The warriors arrive in their waka.

The warriors intimidate the crowd.

The village Chief

Our group moved from hut to hut where we would receive a short educational lecture on a certain aspect of the culture. One was about haka and I was again disappointed that women were not allowed to participate. Others were about the waka, tattoos, poi dance, and finally, the hangi, a traditional meal cooked underground. We would partake in this meal later on so they wanted to show us how it was done. I have my doubts about whether all of the food served to the visitors was actually prepared that way, however. There was a limited amount of space in that hole in the ground, but the hangi was an all-you-can-eat affair.

Our waka's apprehensive menfolk learning the haka

A lecture on the significance of waka design

Two women demonstrate poi (which are swinging around so fast you can't see them)

Next we were ushered into the wharenui or "big house", a communal space where the villagers performed several songs, dances, and chants, including the haka. It was an exciting and moving experience for a music lover like myself. Afterward, our chiefs led us into the dining hall where we sat with our bus mates. By now people had begun to loosen up a bit, chat with one another, and bond as much as could be accomplished in the few short hours we would be there.

The food was nice and included lamb, chicken, and fish cooked in coconut milk, root vegetables like potato, sweet potato, and carrots, green salad, and the typical New Zealand dessert, pavlova. We ate to our hearts' content and then were treated to a few more songs as part of a short closing ceremony, sans warriors and maidens in full regalia.

We left the dining hall and got back onto our buses. Tyler was made to call role and then say a few words about his experience. He gave a short, funny, thank-you speech, and then sat down, relieved that his job was done. Wallace then told us we would be singing all the way back to Rotorua and that each country represented would have to sing a piece from their homeland. Our mix that evening included Waltzing Matilda (Australia), Gangnam Style (South Korea), It's Not Unusual (Wales), and Don't Stop Believing (USA), among others. We also sang "The Wheels on the Bus" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain". During the latter, Wallace took the bus around a roundabout a few more times than necessary to make his turn. By the time we got to Rotorua, everyone was in good spirits and feeling the camaraderie.

I was glad to at least learn a few things about Maori culture, no matter how brief it may have been, but I think it's every tourist's job to take the initiative to go deeper into cultural understanding by educating themselves about other people, rather than leaving it up to the historically disenfranchised culture to teach it to them by way of entertainment.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

An Afternoon in The Shire

We rose early and shuffled bathroom privileges with the Polish couple who were checking out of the B&B that day. Judy heard us stirring and began to prepare breakfast. When we got to the table we found it covered with a smorgasbord of options, including cereals, yogurt, fruit, milk and juice, French toast, sliced bread, a frittata, and bacon, among other things. Finally a hot breakfast! It was more than two people could ever dream of eating, and we were appreciative of her efforts.

The drive to Hobbiton took about an hour and was a lovely journey through only slightly curving roads, rolling hills, and all the cows and sheep you could ever want. It rained lightly on and off, and then the sun would peek through the clouds. We hoped the weather would hold somewhat so that we wouldn't be completely soaked during our jaunt through The Shire.

We got our tickets and went to the waiting area where we would be picked up by one of the large green Hobbiton tour buses. We loaded up with about 30 people and were driven into a nearby paddock on a narrow winding road. Outside lay pasture after pasture of sheep and black Angus cattle. The cows were even unfenced in areas and stood at the roadside just outside the bus windows. There were even darling babies!

We pulled up to a trail head and got out of the bus. Our guide, an English bloke named Jake, led us down the path and into The Shire. The tour took about two hours and Jake pointed out several interesting set details and provided bits of movie trivia along the way. The couple of rising hills comprising the area looked just like they did in the movies: magical and welcoming. I honestly wished I could buy up the place, kick everyone out, and move into one of the Hobbit houses (even though they were mostly just facades). The detail was incredible and we got more insight into the painstaking effort put into movie-making.

A real garden!

Outside the beekeeper's Hobbit hole

The only fake tree in the place

The surrounding scenery

For once I feel tall.

Sneaky little hobbitses

The Party Tree in the distance

Bilbo's house

After the walk, we were invited to have a free drink at the Green Dragon Inn pub. It was dark and cavernous inside, decorated with dark chunky wood and rustic decor.  A fire burned in one corner. We each grabbed a cup of ale and ginger beer, respectively, and sat outside at a picnic table. There we watched three flies get drunk off a previous visitor's spilled ale. Then The Shire's only inhabitant, Pickles the Cat, made an appearance and I followed her around a bit for a chance to stroke her calico fur. The weather had held and we really enjoyed ourselves. It was time to get back on the bus.

The Old Mill

Inside the Green Dragon Inn

Seeking out the cats, as usual.

Lake-front property

As we drove back to Rotorua, large grey clouds rolled in. I had a bit of a headache so I wanted to stop back at Judy's to grab some water and recombobulate. We had been discussing riding the Skyline Gondola up the hill (and the luge down!) if the weather held, but as soon as we pulled into Judy's place it started to rain. There was no view to speak of so we called it off, opting instead to have lunch at Eat Streat again. We had more Italian pasta at a place called Nuvo, and then made a stop at the Countdown supermarket nearby. It was raining miserably hard by now and we got completely soaked. We decided to have an evening in with frozen pizzas.