The last part of my holiday was in Paihia, on the very north part of the North Coast of N.Z. Even though it’s a coastal town, it’s still totally different to Coromandel. Luckily the town hasn’t been overdeveloped and like many places in New Zealand, still not too touristy, or commercialised. I decided to go to the Maori Cultural Performance, at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. They picked me up at 7.45pm. Everyone said “Kia Ora” to me when I got on the bus and we got there by 8pm. The guy who was telling us about the performance we were going to see and about Waitangi, was good. They seemed to be really serious about their protocols and their history than anywhere else in New Zealand but I guess this is Waitangi we’re talking about, where it all started. I liked the whole protocol of the skilled warriors coming out to greet visitors. They’re not sure whether the visitors are friends or enemies, so they do a sort of Haka, with their weapons and offer the visitors a peace offering of the fern.
The men (chiefs) chosen from the crowd, pick up the fern, stand and wait while the warriors do some more tongue stretching and thigh slapping and then everyone is welcomed into the Marae (meeting house) by the women, who sing the welcome song, the Haranga. It’s dark of course, when all of this is going on and is more effective with everything lit up. The show that they do is good and it gives a history of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori people and their culture. I had been to this show the last time I was here too but really wanted to come back and do it again. You could ask the cast questions and get photos taken with them afterwards. Then they drop you back to your accommodation. But having been to the performance, a second time round, I feel I have more understanding of the Maori customs and history. Waitangi Treaty Grounds also give an excellent guided tour of the grounds, called Embrace Waitangi. Our guide that day, was excellent and very informative. www.waitangi.net.nz
I did prefer Russell though and spent quite a bit of time there, instead of in Paihia. In the 1830’s, after the Europeans arrived, Russell used to be known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific”. It was full of thieves, murderers, vagabonds etc and got itself a bad reputation. The Maoris requested the British to send over a representative. The Treaty of Waitingi was signed to bring peace to the land, in exchange for sovereignty. Prior to the Treaty, the Confederation of Tribes flag was flown in Russell. But there was one Maori chief, Hone Heke, whose enthusiasm for the Treaty waned because after the Treaty, the British brought in laws which took the land from the Maoris and Hone Heke looked on this as a betrayal.
After the Treaty, the Confederation of Tribes flag was replaced with the Union Jack. So Hone Heke cut it down and another one was erected. He cut it down again and after the fourth time that he cut it down, the British threatened to cut off his head and made him swear that he wouldn’t do it again. He swore he wouldn’t. So he got his cousin to do it instead! This started the first major battle between the Maoris and the Europeans. Russell (or Kororareka, as it was known then) was burnt to a cinder and rebuilt and renamed Russell. You’d never guess, nowadays, that Russell used to be a den of iniquity. It’s such a peaceful, little town, with two main streets, full of lovely arts and craft shops, looking out onto the bay. It’s a great place to watch the sun set. Last Friday night, there was a boat race from Auckland to Russell and from where I was sitting, on the balcony of the hostel, I could see the green lights on the masts of the boats as they came into Russell. It was lovely.
As part of the Labour Day celebrations, they had a Trolley Derby. When I saw the advertisement for it, I thought, what the hell is that…….a bunch of people pushing shopping trolleys down the street? No, but it was a race though, with different age groups racing go-karts down the hill and whoever did it in the fastest time, won the race. You should have seen the go-karts, they were made from all sorts of contraptions……from shower curtains to one legged kids skooters! Where I was watching it, was the end of the race and the rules were, that whoever saw the drivers coming round the bend first, had to cheer, to warn us at the bottom of the hill, that they were on their way. They had to have pushers to push them up one part of the hill and hopefully, on their own steam then, they’d make it down to the bottom of the hill to the finishing line. Some of them just about made it and others, came around the bend billowing in orange smoke! One of the winning drivers was giving out, that his pusher had fallen asleep on the grass but he still won the race!
This weekend, they had an arts and crafts day, on the Sunday. There was a market on in the town hall, with all the local artists and craft makers showing their wares. I went into one shop and there were two outfits on mannequins which I’ve never seen the like of before. One outfit was a strapless dress, which flowed out from the waist and had swirls like a flamenco dancer’s dress. It also had a shawl and a head piece. It was made from felt, Merino wool and silk and the colours/dyes in the dress were gorgeous. It was the colour of fire, with reds, amber and yellows. To me, it screamed passion, fiery, hot! It’s something I would wear but unfortunately it was beyond my price range – it cost 1,100 New Zealand Dollars! It was made by Sandra Thompson, a local artist.
I did do a tour to Hokianga, with Awesome Tours. It’s a beautiful place, with a beautiful harbour and this is the place where Kupe, the Maori’s ancestor, stayed after he discovered Aotearoa (New Zealand). The best part of the tour for me, was getting to see Tane Mahuta, (the Lord of the Forest), a 2000 year old kauri tree. We had a Maori guide, Tawhirii, on this part of the trip. The Maoris believe that if they protect the land, then it will look after them. They are pretty serious about their protocols and pray before they do nearly anything, like cut a tree, go fishing, carve wood, weave flax. So when we got into the Waipou Kauri Forest, he brought us to where the tree was. Because I’m not the most observant of people, I wasn’t looking in the right direction, and when Tawhiri said, “there he is”, I thought “where is it?”‘. Then I looked behind me and said “Oh my God”. There was this massive tree and I mean massive. I couldn’t grasp the size of it. It was 51 metres tall and nearly 14 metres in girth. Then Tawhiri, following Maori protocol, sang a song in Maori, in respect to the elder of the forest, Tane Mahuta. It gave me shivers down my spine listening to him. It probably sounds daft that someone was standing there singing to a tree, but I had goosebumps listening to him. The Kauri tree is spiritual to the Maoris. Tawhiri’s a big guy, with a powerful set of lungs and his singing rang through the forest.awesomenz.com