Friday, November 23, 2012

Bay of Islands, Bay of Plenty

Nov. 23, 2012

What a busy day!  We left Kerikeri by mid morning, and headed east-southeast to Waitangi.  This is the site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 – the treaty basically said that New Zealand would be a British colony, the people within the country would be British citizens, and that the indigenous people (the confederated nations of the Maori) would retain their lands, their customs, and their culture.  Of course, the British reneged on most of those rights, until the treaty was found and re-signed by Queen Elizabeth’s representatives – but this was the actual location of the first signing.
Looking in the building, we met a woman, Adelaide (I think that’s her name, Kiwi English often drops the last consonant, so we aren’t too sure of her name), who is the caretaker of the property, as was her mother, her grandmother, and a number of generations before her.  She’s Maori, and she explained much of what happened at the treaty signing, the way the government has treated the Maori people, some of the customs and beliefs, and she even took us into the two buildings to show us the gorgeous carvings and explain some of the symbolism to us.   

One building is the hapu (I think I have that word right), the communal meeting room where people gather for any communal event, from a wedding to a funeral to a general meeting to a council with visitors.  The carvings represent the history of the tribe, and her husband is one of the wood carvers who worked on the panels.  Legend is interwoven with fact in the oral history, which isn’t written in words, only inscribed in the pictures and symbols that make up the carvings.  We were truly honored to be shown around by her, and it was fascinating to talk with her about her views of how Maori people are treated.  As outsiders, it seems that things are pretty well and good – but from a Maori point of view, not so.  

This particular site is important – the Maori people have been allowed only two locations to have their traditional court or council – here in Waitangi, and somewhere else.  (Given the way Maori is pronounced, I have trouble figuring out how to spell anything.  Adelaide taught me how to pronounce a few things, but I never can figure out where the accented syllable should be.)  But that’s part of why the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here, and why this entire complex is so vital to the Maori.  

 One of the things I found most interesting was the other building, a more general meeting area where a meal would be shared after any of the meetings in the hapu – Maori students from all over the country participated in creating carved and painted and embellished panels that were displayed in that room.  Each panel was pegboard, and all had traditional netting (like handmade fishnet) forming part of the pattern of the background, often over paintings or dyed to form abstract patterns.  Then a scene showing either that tribe’s location, or something from the history, or some scene from a tribal legend was portrayed through the carvings – for example, maybe a goddess who represents an island, surrounded by the sea and sea creatures, all carved in tradition Maori style and inlaid with abalone (paua) shell.  Or the ancestors arriving in the waka (canoe) from Hawaiiki, over a raging ocean.  The designs and execution of the works were phenomenal, and both Richard and I were amazed that students had created these pieces, with minimal supervision from their instructors.  I find it comforting to know that the artistic traditions of these people are continuing – because one of the unique things about Maori culture is that everyday objects are created to be artworks, things of beauty – “one ofs,” to be handed down as heirlooms from generation to generation.  And apparently the skills to create those “one of” objects are handed down as well.  As a teacher, it’s just comforting to know that the Maori people are working hard to teach each subsequent generation, so that their culture isn’t lost.

Anyway, after maybe 45 minutes at Waitangi, we opted not to go across the bridge to the more “official” (read, colonial) side, and headed south to the next town, Paihia.  Paihia was probably once a lovely beach town on the Bay of Islands, also called the Bay of Plenty – but now it’s definitely a touristy town, and not what Richard and I want to visit while we’re exploring the world.  So I took a few photos of the lovely bay that really does seem to have more than enough islands floating in it, and we headed south again to Opua, where we caught the car ferry across to a small peninsula.  From there, we drove to the town of Russell – this was once where the British Navy went for R&R (as in, alcohol and hookers).  Nowadays, it’s a very pretty and quaint seaside town with a gravel beach, lovely old buildings, and a fig tree that is at least 175 years old.  We wandered around a while, just enjoying this picturesque little place while the sun finally broke through the clouds and made everything even prettier.

We stopped at a holiday park and I checked it out – it was a bit overpriced, we thought, but they had wekas – the weka is very much like a kiwi bird, almost a fraternal twin, but the weka is diurnal, while the kiwi is nocturnal.  And for some reason, kiwis have become endangered by the encroachment of man as well as natural predators (and unnatural – dogs kill a lot of kiwis) – but the wekas have thrived, at least in this peninsula.  So while I wandered around looking over the caravan sites, I encountered three wekas, who seemed to have little fear of me.  One weka even ran after a monarch butterfly and tried to catch it for a snack!  Just a little weka drama.


We followed directions in our guide book (“New Zealand Frenzy” – sort of an off-the-beaten-track guide) to get from Russell to Bland Beach.  The author doesn’t exactly give great directions, we have a so-so map that lists only main towns (some of which don’t seem to exist, so we lose our markers), and sometimes intersections just aren’t marked with signs.  So, the upshot is that we tend to spend quite a bit of time driving blind.  This was one of those afternoons – long periods of driving and trying to figure out which direction to go at an intersection, or trying to understand what the author of the book meant, or trying to figure out exactly where we were because this town we’re in isn’t anywhere on the map.  Well, it turned out we were going in exactly the right direction, on exactly the right road, because we managed to find Bland 
Beach.  It was very pretty, with beautiful views, and 
we found the holiday park.  It was about 5:25 PM, still very sunny – but the office of the park was closed, the gate wide open, and two empty trailers were plugged in but no vehicles and no humans in sight.  The restrooms and showers were locked.  It was almost as if the humans had been transported by UFOs, leaving only the empty shell of a trailer park behind.  We decided there was no way we were spending $40 for power and locked up bathrooms. 

 So we headed further down the road – and even though this was only about 2 km, it seemed to take forever – up and down more hills, around winding roads, and through clear cut forests and piles of logs.  Until we came to the Dept of Conservation campsite at Wharanguru Reserve.  It was open, staff was there to check us in, and after some discussion about avoiding the boggy area in the center, we found a beach-side campsite and Richard parked the caravan with no difficulty.  We settled in, and I went down to the beach to explore – there’s an oystercatcher (big black bird with red legs and a long red beak) who has built a nest and laid one very large egg, and she sits on the egg and warns everyone to stay away, while her mate goes around collecting food.  And the flocks of seagulls seem to listen to her as they’ve left the egg alone – she’s quite the intimidating mom.

Anyway, as I was watching the birds and looking for shells, another caravan came in and tried to park next to us – the young woman driving the smallish van somehow got into the boggy area and of course became stuck in the mud.  So I climbed up from the beach, neighbors from both sides came running, Richard came out, and we all pushed on one end, then the other, and eventually got the van out of the rut and she was able to park.  Fun and excitement!

But the REALLY big excitement of the evening – I was again out, watching the water and the birds – and the man on the other side of the van-that-got-stuck was fishing – I noticed he caught something that seemed really big, and was fighting him!  So I went over to watch, and it turned out that this was a stingray who swims by this shore every evening, about this time, and that’s who was caught on the hook.  The man and stingray battled it out for nearly half an hour, the ray occasionally flapping on the surface or sticking up his tail menacingly.  The man’s wife brought out scissors – they weren’t going to keep (or eat) the ray, but he didn’t want to leave a lot of line attached to him, either – so they fought back and forth, and the man pulled the ray closer and closer to shore – more people came over from the other end of the beach – a few people helped the wife try to reel in the ray by pulling on the line, but as the ray came closer she got out of the water (to avoid that spine) – the plan was that she could cut the line close to the ray – and suddenly it snapped, and off went the ray.  One man said, “That was a tough battle for nothing!” but I said, “No way, that was really exciting!” and the fisherman laughed.  At least he now has bragging rights!

That was our really big day – an impromptu Maori experience, a tacky town, a short ferry ride, a quaint old reformed town, three wekas, a lost ramble, a ghost town trailer park, and a fish story. 

Nov. 24, 2012

 MORE excitement!!!!  We were having our tea/coffee and muffins this morning, chatting, when I noticed black dorsal fins across the inlet – DOLPHINS!!!!!  A large pod of dolphins, happily surfacing and swimming inland, and one exceptionally splashy dolphin!!!  I ran outside and told our neighbors (the young women whose van got stuck last night), and we all stood and watched the pod swim by.  A short while later, as we were chatting with one of the park rangers (he brought by a map), the dolphins came back, closer to our side of the inlet – so of course I ran out and watched them again.  (The ranger said he’d gone out fishing early in the morning, and the dolphins all came and played around the boat – I’d be thrilled!!!!)

After a walk up and down the beach, looking at shells and rocks covered in oysters (no wonder the oystercatchers nested on this beach), we decided to head back to Russell.   There were gorgeous views along the way, including what I guess is an isthmus, if an isthmus can connect two parts of a peninsula?  I know they connect larger land masses, but this was such a narrow part of our large peninsula that it appears to be an isthmus.  (Such a cool word.)  Or, if one were a canoe-er or kayaker, it would be a haulover.  At any rate, there were gorgeous views and we stopped to enjoy them a bit – because that’s what Tiki touring is all about – traveling without a plan, enjoying whatever happens along the way.

In Russell, we drove up Flagstaff Hill - a British flag was put up here in 1840, after the signing of the treaty - the Maori cut it down.  Back and forth for about four flagstaffs - after further parlaying, negotiating, and peace making, a flagstaff was finally put up and NOT cut down.  A piece of it remains today, as a symbol of the lasting peace (however uneasy) between whites and Maoris.  It's a beautiful hill overlooking the inlet and the islands; down a bit and on another hill is a giant sundial on a mosaic - the mosaic is a map of the area, and the sundial is numbered right to left, because the sun goes from east to west arcing to the north (since we're in the Southern Hemisphere) - it was very interesting!  And another wonderful view.

Richard is online, I’m catching up on the blog, we’ve enjoyed some sun and a hot lunch, and we’ll head back toward the mainland this afternoon. I'll post photos tomorrow, when we have more time online.

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