I caught the Stray bus leaving Rotorua at 12:45pm. In the morning, I wandered around, went to the post office to send more stuff home. I had finally found some decent reasonably priced t-shirts that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy three of them and so needed to send those home. Merry Christmas from Rotorua. 🙂 After the post office, I went to the grocery store to get supplies for the next few days. On the bus, our driver said we didn’t have very far to go, but that we would be meeting up with a local Maori tour guide who would show us some places around the area that hold a lot of meaning to them.
Our first stop was on the side of this road; we hopped off the bus, crossed the road and down this path into the forest. We came down a few stairs to the lower side of a rock wall that had an overhang. In this “cave” area, there were ancient carvings of canoes demonstrating a migration of the Maori people. The canoes were all pointing in the same direction (east I believe it was); that direction was towards their home. They “were homesick.” There was also a face carved of a man with his tongue sticking out.
Our guide held a finely carved and finished wooden (I’m going to call it a walking stick) walking stick but I’m sure it had a fancier name. This was her “weapon” should she need to fight a battle. The Maori people didn’t fight with spears or other weapons that you “throw away” from you at your opponent. They fought hand-to-hand. That walking stick was her connection to her ancestors and if she were to throw it at her opponent would have been the same as “chopping of her arm.”
On a side note, the roads in this area, I’ve noticed, have been lined with these bushes that have so many small yellow flowers. They’re really pretty so I got a few close-up photos to share.
NOTE: Here in NZ, the letters “wh” together make the sound of the letter “f”. So, really it sounds like “Lake Anefenua.” A town we drove through to get up to Paihia (north of Auckland) was spelled Whangerei, prononced like “fongeray.” Pretty interesting.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but it will explain the next paragraph. The people who were hosting us and our local tour guide, Karl and Nads (sounds like Nads [short for Nadine]) and Rooks (probably spelled differently), respectively, were of the (in English) Eel people. This particular area was home to the eel people. Each tribe has a sacred river and mountain. When they meet people of other tribes, a proper introduction would include telling their sacred places. From that, other tribes would know where you came from. After we left the path on the side of the road, we went to a small park on Lake Anewhenua. This little park had a black eel structure on the ground, open inside with informational plaques so that kids can go inside and play. There was a playground that had a small zipline thing with a little swing you could sit on to go down the cable. I may or may not have tried that once. 😀
After the park, we went to “the lodge” to meet our hosts and check into our rooms. The lodge is actually “Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours” (http://www.kohutapulodge.co.nz).
As we pulled in, there was a nice woman waiting in the driveway to welcome us. We had been told by our bus drivers that this lady was extremely passionate about what she does and they weren’t kidding. Super cheerful, incredibly happy, and bubbly; everyone was “darling”. Once we found our rooms, we went to check in and then proceeded towards the main kitchen area, had a drink or two during happy hour. After everyone was checked in, the hosts prepared to “put the hangi down.” Now, when I first heard this said (a day or more before we actually came here), I thought “Oh no, they’re going to kill something and then it will be served for dinner!” Yikes. But no; “putting a hangi down” means that the main courses of food that are to be cooked will cooked by the heat and steam from volcanic (I think) rocks that have been heated to be white-hot, doused in water, covered with cloths that have been soaked in water for hours, and then altogether covered with sand.
Now, a hangi is not an everyday occurrence. A hangi is put down for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and other large gatherings. Also, you can’t use just any old rock. Nads explained that you can find the right rocks by going out to the river on a very moonlit night; the appropriate rocks will sort of glisten or glow by the moonlight. When we arrived, the rocks were being heated up with a gas-flame large blow-torch that made a pretty decent hissing/humming sound. Once everyone was ready and the rocks were hot enough, Karl and Mack (one of the local tour guides-in-training) started by quickly placing the pork on the bottom, chickens on top of that, and then the potatoes and stuffing on top. Karl poured a bucket of water on the rocks on the outer edges not covered by the racks of food, then the team quickly started layering the drenched cloths one on top of the other in a staggered manner. There were at least 5 or 6 cloths placed and then they started shoveling the nearby sand and covering the whole thing so that the heat and steam were retained and cooked the food.
And there it had to sit for 2.5 hours. Between putting the hangi down and when it was ready, there were two activities that you could pay $10 each to do. One was to learn how to do a Haka, a traditional tribal dance that is currently performed by the rugby team before the game (google a Haka). It is performed to show off the strength of the people in an effort to give what I would call an intimidation factor. I didn’t do this activity but I was able to watch it and the take videos of group performing their Haka.
Once the Haka lesson was over, there was a weaving class that I did participate in. We wove a bracelet out of flax which is a plant that grows and is very plentiful. The leaves can be cut into strips and are very strong and are “basically indestructible” when it’s dried. It took probably about 15 minutes to make the bracelet. Once this was done, it was just about time that the food was ready to come out of the ground.
The guys (Mack and Noah [a wwoofer from Germany]) started shoveling the sand off the cloths and throwing it back into the wood box that it was kept in. Once enough sand was taken off, they carefully started taking the cloths off one-by-one to uncover the racks of nicely cooked food. Some of us snapped a few photos and then the guys took the racks off the stones.
We were then directed to move into the dining room which was set up with traditional Maori flax-woven dishes lined with tinfoil. Nads explained that it was Maori custom to get everyone fed (or eating) as quickly as possible and that all the meat and potatoes would be cut and ready in three songs or less. They then turned on some really nice and lively music and the host team fell to working on getting the hangi food ready and into the buffet-style serving dishes. The teamwork was impressive. And in under three songs, the buffet dishes were heaped and ready to serve. The potatos (sweet and regular), salad, fried bread, and stuffing (hopefully vegetarian but I’m pretty sure it was) were delicious!
After dinner, Nads explained a little bit of Maori culture surrounding the hospitality (in Maori language “manaakitanga”) and the hangi. There was quite a bit of food left over when everyone was done eating. This food wasn’t going to be thrown away for fed to the animals; it was going to be packed in meal-sized containers and brought to the community’s elderly people the following morning meals-on-wheels style. However, when school is in session (it just let out for the southern hemisphere summer-time holiday), the meals are brought to the local school and given to the kids who may not get a full meal every day. You see, this community, Murupara (pronounced as “Moodoopahdah), has been left with high unemployment rates by outsourcing and mechanization of the logging industry.
SIDENOTE: The “R” in NZ pronounced sounds like one single hard roll of the tongue so it’s not just Moodoo, but sounds more like “Moordopaardah”… forget it… I’ll just say it to you when I get home…hahahahhaa!! This town used to be thriving and now it is pretty run down. It reminded me of driving through the Makah Indian Reservation in very northwest corner of Washington State when we were there this past August. Karl and Nad’s vision for this tourism business was inspired by five words “Changing (or helping) our town through tourism.” In the Maori culture, there seems to be a strong tribal and family ties; they care for each other. Karl and Nads are using this business to help give back and help their town. By running this business, they’re employing some of the local Maori people, they’ve raised enough money to send the school kids on a bus tour around the islands of New Zealand (as most of them can’t afford to pay on their own). With the Stray buses coming through, they’ve worked with the school to allow Stray travelers to spend time with the school kids. In return, the kids wrote letters back to Karl and Nads saying how much they loved the leftover hangi food and enjoyed getting to know the backpackers from other countries. It helps broaden their perspective of the world; let’s them know that there is more to the world than just their town. Karl and Nads are also working to get colleges to sponsor Maori school graduates so they can get higher education. What this family is doing for the community is immense and inspiring.
After dinner, it was time for story telling by the bonfire that Karl had built. We started off though by saying “Kia Ora, my name is…” Kia Ora (pronounced more as one word “kiora”) is the Kiwi greeting. I was, and am, grateful for the kindness and friendliness I’ve experienced by the New Zealand (Kiwi) people so far. I thoroughly enjoyed this native New Zealand cultural experience and am glad I ended up participating.