The New Zealand Diaries: exploring Maori culture (part 1)

What a magnificent adventure and wilderness experience I have been able to enjoy at Te Uwerera National Park near Lake Waikaremoana! It felt quite odd to return, today, to mobile phone and internet connection, more than one car on the road every 30 minutes and to hundreds of tourists. I wrote two blogs over the last few days but need to work out how to copy the text from ipages (the equivalent of word on an ipad) so that I am able to paste it onto the websitr…..until I experience a “eureka”moment in this regard, there will be a gap in my diary.

I am happily settled in my (now rather dusty -looking) campervan and although it is late, I do want to write a few lines. I am in Rotorua now and looking forward to a full day tomorrow, which will mainly involve exploring geothermal activity and Maori culture. So what better time to look back on my visit to Whakatane, my second destination here in  NZ which I reached on 28 December, which provided me with my first glimpses of Maori culture, history and architecture.

The plan had actually been to visit Whakatane’s museum…..which turned out to be closed due to the bank holiday (same system as in the UK-doh!). Instead I embarked on the Maori heritage trail, a pleasant walk alongside the  river and learned about the arrival of the Matatatua trive in Whakatane. Apparently one of the tribe’s ancestors (Irakewa) had arrived there prior to “the rest of the gang” and described the place to his son Toroa by mentioning three landmarks: a cave, a rock and the waterfalls. He had also asked that his daughter Muriwai, who was believed to have spiritual powers, occupy the cave once the tribe reached its destination,  a plan which Muriwai turned into reality.

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Legend has it that when the rest of the tribe reached their destination,  the waka (Maori canoe) in which the women were travelling started drifting; at which point a lady called Warikai called out “I must act like a man” and steered the waka to safety, saving the women and children and inspiring Toroa to find a safer landing spot.  As a result, highlights on the heritage walk include a replica of the waka,  the landmark rocks and the Whakatane heads (rocks at the river mouth)imageAnother fascinating stop on the walk (and one which I would have liked to have explored in more depth) was the marae (meeting house). This one has a  very particular history: it travelled the world from 1897 to 2011, much to the sadness of the Maori to whom the building was so important. It was de- and reconstructed in Sydney, Melbourne, London (1821 and 1924) , before a negotiated return to New Zealand in 1925. Even then it did not find its way home to Whakatane immediately but spent time in Dunedin and Otago.

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The de-and reconstruction did cause damage to the beautiful woodworks and carvings ( notably in Australia where was accidentally reconstructed inside out, leaving the delicate interior carvings exposed to the hot Australian sun) and in other places where parts of it were chopped off to ensure it could fit into museums…..still, it looked really impressive and I wish I had had the time to do the full guided tour. (That said, what a wise decision leaving turned out to be….had I stayed, I would have arrived at the national park after dark which would have been rather tricky)

While only a brief visit, Whakatane and the many marae I saw dotted about in the national park (all Maori owned land)  did refresh my interest in Maori history and culture and so I am looking forward to tomorrow where I will learn more about the Maori at Whakawewawera.Apparently the site where the Te  Awarera tribe now lives is not where they were originally located……the entire original village was buried by volcanic eruption (I think but tbc tomorrow)

Given the geothermal landmarks in and  around Rotorua, I am surprised that the eggy sulphur smell which is usually typical  of volcanic activity is not as potent as expected….I remember swimming in hot pools with in the coffee growing area of Colombia with my sister Julie and my goodness, was that smelly! Rotorua’s aroma is sweet compared to that.

I stayed out late tonight….I went into town to get something to eat and then popped in to see my new friends Anne-Marie and Mike, and Richard (Mike’s brother) and Claire, who, with their kids, were my neighbours at the Te Uwerera campsite. They are the loveliest people and we had some great chats over a cuppa under the starlit skies yesterday evening before crawling into bed freezing (it was so very  cold last night) and they invited me to pop in to see them today which I did. Anne-Marie and Mike run two amazing motels here in Rotorua called Arista of Rotorua (aristaofrotorua.co.nz)and Arista Capri (aristacapri.co.nz),  which I shall be recommending extensively….not only because it is wonderful accommodation but also because they are such fantastic hosts. In addition, they give a large amount of money to cancer charities each year in recognition of the recovery of one of their sons who was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 4 but survived;they also give special support to families with children who have survived cancer (and, I think, also to families who have lost a child to cancer).  Their donations are largely derived from savings made by avoiding fees payable to booking companies such as booking.com and expedia, so direct booking is the way to go with them. They have been so kind of me that I want to think of ways of promoting their motel in the UK…..I will have to come up with a plan when I get home.

Anne-Marie and Mike gave me such amazing tips about what to see and do here and helped me plan my route to Taupo and to my campsite in preparation for the Tongariro crossing. Mike was also hugely helpful in stuffing the  fresh water- pipe of my campervan with a towel and tape (the cover absconded somewhere on the  road shortly after Whakatane…..), a useful temporary form of support given the campervan people have been terrible at responding to my phone  calls, so I have still not been able to arrange for repair. I will probably see them tomorrow as well (and may well take them up on their offer of camping in their drive if the new year’s eve festivities here at the campsite get as noisy as they are predicted to …..).