Driday 18th June
I returned to the north island after my adventures down south, to take a trip around the less-visited East Cape. I'm already kind of sick of the kiwi experience and its mothering, "make sure you put a jumper on" style of tour-guiding but at this time of year there is no other option for visiting this part of the country as the other bus companies stop running tours out here in the winter and the public bus network does not go this far out. So kiwi it was.
I nearly didn't get on the tour atall as I was stood outside my hostel in Rotorua at the appointed time of 9am but by 9:15 the bus had still not turned up. I had a bad feeling about it so I rung the kiwi office and good job I did as they had me booked for pickup at the wrong place and the driver had just nearly left rotorua without me! Luckily he was not far out and so turned around and came back to get me.
We headed out east from Rotorua through fields of green, winding rivers and terraced green hills of old Maori Pa. The East Cape is the area of NZ with the highest Maori population and is quite culturally significant, perhaps a glimpse of what NZ might have been like had the europeans not been so succesful in their invasion. After a brief stop at an impressive old tree sacred to the Maoris, with a fable attached describing the survival of the baby daughter of an important warrior in between its roots during a war, where we made offerings of ferns/twigs/leaves gathered from around and gave the tree a hug and a pat for good luck and weather upon our journey, we drove up the Waioeka Gorge, impressively windy and palm-forested with a turquoise river at the base. We stopped in Gisbourne, last "proper town" before the wilderness of the remote cape, where we stocked up our food-bags an extremely badly stocked and overpriced supermarket, before driving a bit further on to our hostel for the night at Tatapouri. We were put up in a large house 100yrds from the beach, with sea views and orange trees outside, it was lovely! Quite windy but gorgeous views; we walked along the beach in both directions and got some nice shells then toasted marshmallows around a fire out the front of the hostel, with waves crashing just metres away. It was cold, really cold with a biting southerly wind, we spent a cosy and very chilled evening watching movies under our duvets in our little house. We watched Whale Rider, very appropriate as it was filmed directly around the area we were staying in.
East As is refreshingly different from other bits of the kiwi experience; there are no deadlines or 'leave by' times or rushing to check out, our driver Pedro was so laid back he was almost horizontal, giving us as much time as we liked to faff around and chill and reeeeelax! Usually this would drive me insane, but as I metioned a couple entries ago, I have a sneaking suspicion that I have actually CHILLED out a bit since being in the land of these chillaxed people! Unfortunately I didn't really take best advantage of the late starts as I got up at 6:45am the first two mornings to watch the sunrise from some of the easternmost points of NZ, the first places in the world to see the sun; both mornings were a disappointment however as it was cloudy! It was still nice to be up so early, particularly on the first day, down at the shore with the spray coming up over the wall, very revitalising.
The main emphasis of this trip out around the East Cape is Maori cultural stuff. On day two we visited a Maori Marae, or meeting house, where we were welcomed in song by 'Aunty Ann' and had to sing a traditional song in Maori language back to her in reply, which we had learnt the previous night. The Marae was pretty awesome, I had seen them previously in various musuems around NZ and admired the intricate carving depicting important ancestors of the local tribe. It was interesting, though, to see one that is actually in use regularly, the local families who belong to that Marae have funerals, weddings, birthdays, family reunions etc. there. Aunty Ann explained how the carvings tell us something about each ancestor, the ones with pointed tongues were good with words, those with their tongue out to one side were good storytellers, etc.
Later that day we traveled to our accomodation for the next night, on a farm at Rangitukia. In the afternoon I chose to try my hand at bone-carving, for a bargainous price of $50. I selected my pattern, a fishook or Hei Matau, which is the symbol for luck, strength and safety when traveling overseas. My instructor, Kizzy, drew out the outline on a peice of beef bone then cut it roughly to shape for me before it was my turn to take a hand-held sander to it, to sand away the rough bits down to shape. As I touched the bone with the sander, a big cloud of bone dust rose up and into my face, despite a suction pipe in front of me I knew I was inhaling the dust; when I coughed later that evening I could taste the bone dust in my phlegm, it was pretty gross! Dust aside though, it was a cool experience, I got to file and sand down my pendant using a few different sander heads, then to finally finish it off by sanding with coarse then fine sandpaper. The result was fantastic and to have made it myself a million times better than buying a similar pendant in the shops.
After a second sunrise disappointment owing to cloud, we continued our clockwise journey round the cape, with for a brief look round a church which was really interesting for being one of only two churches depicting both christian images and traditional Maori carvings side by side. When the christian missionaries were spreading their word and converting maoris left, right and centre back in the 1800s, they preached that the maori carvings were sinful because they were false idols; many carved Maraes were destroyed during that time and subsequently rebuilt in the 1900s. Maori spirituality is now very much fused with Christianity.
After a spectacular coastal drive out along a partly unsealed road, we took a walk (or climb!) up to the East Cape lighthouse for views out to sea. These views were what I had in my mind that the east cape was all about; blue sea, rocks, beaches, green green green and a lot of Maori people and carvings and designs everywhere. I could see scenes from Whale Rider and the recent fantastic movie, Boy, around every corner. It was lovely. The sun helped, of course!
Our third night was spent at Te Kaha homestead lodge, a big lodge-building in a breathtaking location out on a peninsula with steps down to the beach from the end of the garden and a hot tub to watch the sunset from. We stopped in Opotiki on the way back to Rotorua the next day where I experienced a moment, getting a coffee in a bakery in town, where I was the only non-Maori person in the packed shop. It was interesting to compare this to how I would have felt in a similar situation in a shop full of aboriginals in Australia; whereas being alone in a group of indigenous people in australia would have frightened me, being amongst the Maoris did not in the slightest. Must muse at a later date upon this difference.