Well, gang, it’s official. Kathleen and I have been in New Zealand for one full week now. I’m glad the time hasn’t gone by too quickly; the days have been going by at a pretty slow pace – which is great. We’ve been filling up our days with loads of things to do and seeing a lot of the country. Only one week in and I’m certainly in love with this place already.
Last Saturday we bid adieu to Auckland and snagged a bus up to the Paihia region of the Bay of Islands.
It was about a four hour bus ride, including a thirty minute stop for food, and seeing as the bus took off at 7:45am I had planned on sleeping for the entirety of the trip up north. However, that plan quickly changed once the bus left Auckland and entered into the countryside. You know the pictures of New Zealand you always see in guide books? In movies? On postcards? THAT was the New Zealand we got to see on our ride up to Paihia. We witnessed green rolling hills, breathtaking landscapes, and fields upon fields filled with sheep. New Zealand may look similar to Oregon on varying levels, but not even in Oregon is the grass that green. I wish I had snagged some pictures, but I was seated next to a grumpy guy who kept throwing me glares as I gawped towards the window.
Soon enough, Kathleen and I reached the Bay of Islands.
Despite people giving it somewhat of a bad rep, I actually liked Auckland. The city atmosphere reminded me of Portland in a way, and both Kathleen and I felt incredibly comfortable navigating ourselves throughout the city (only once did that screw us over (see previous entry)). That being said, while I really liked Auckland, I fell head-over-heels in love with Paihia. Though it’s a smaller city, my goodness, it is absolutely lovely here. Gorgeous beach, gorgeous ocean, gorgeous hills, gorgeous views, gorgeous everything.
Our first two nights here we had an awesome roommate named Meg, who we hung out with quite a bit and watched some movies/TV on her laptop together. While we’ve had damn good luck when it’s come to rooming with some pretty stellar ladies, Meg’s been our favorite roomie so far. We’re gonna see her tomorrow briefly in Auckland, since she forgot her phone charger when she took off this morning.
Anyway, on our first day we took an awesome hike up to the top of a huge hill to overlook the vast majority of Paihia.
On our second day we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which has been my favorite part of our New Zealand travels thus far. Coming to New Zealand, I knew one of the things I wanted most was to learn more about Maori culture. You can’t spend an entire year in a whole other country and not learn a little something about the history, right? I knew most of the basics coming here, but I wanted to learn more. I’ve known about the Maori grounds in Paihia since I saw Whale Rider way back when I was a teenager and was eager to visit the site firsthand.
Kathleen and I caught a fifteen minute video before the tour started giving a very brief summary on the history of New Zealand and how the Maori’s and European’s came to inhabit the same land (complete with some mediocre reenactment segments and bad period costumes). Then, after grabbing some coffee, the tour began.
We started in a small hallway where we viewed some historic remnants – the actual signed treaties translated in English and Maori, a tribal leader’s spear, old portraits, etc. – and learned some more of the history of New Zealand’s declaration of independence. Next we moved outside to view…
Ngatokimatawhaorua, which is New Zealand’s largest ceremonial canoe. Created in 1940 to celebrate the centennial of the signing of the treaty, it holds about 130 people. Because it’s a war canoe you pretty much have to be a dude in order to ride in it (there have been some exceptions in the past though, like Queen Elizabeth). It’s a really beautiful piece of work, and apparently they pull it out on Waitangi Day every year and set about rowing it in the waters of Paihia. I think I know where I’ll be on February sixth of next year.
Next we saw this erect mast, the naval flagstaff, which marks the exact location where New Zealand’s declaration of independence was first signed one hundred and seventy-three years ago.
Finally, we moved onto the Maori Meeting House, the place I had been dying to see all day long.
The Maori Meeting House (Te Whare Runanga) is nothing short of stunning. This hand crafted building tells stories, keeps track of the Maori calender, presents Maori gods and mythology, all on just the walls alone. The house is so beautifully built; one could spend hours looking at all the sculptures and designs laced throughout it. Our tour guide told us a few stories found on the walls, namely that of Tangaroa (the water god), whom you can see the guide pointing towards in the picture above. We learned that when Tangaroa is holding his tongue he is at ease, but when he lets go, hold on tight, cause chances are your boat’s gonna sink faster than the Titanic. It’s easy not to piss Tangaroa off though, just don’t eat too many fish from his seas and make sure to say thanks after finishing up your catch.
Then we killed a little bit of time in the Treaty House, which was an interesting place to say the least.
Finally, we ended with the cultural performance. We witnessed six performers reenact Maori customs and rituals, which was both enlightening and fascinating. I was kind of enamored with the whole thing. There were fighting demonstrations, singing and chanting, the Maori language, and an awesome bit that involved intense stick catching abilities. All the performers were amazingly talented. Kathleen and I wished they had asked for a female representative chief from the audience though. One of us could have definitely delivered a better speech than the guy who ended up representing us.
Both Kathleen and I purchased necklaces on our way out of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the gift shop. We’d been seeing necklaces with Maori symbols on them since first arriving in New Zealand, so we’ve had a little bit of time to think about the ones we like most. Kathleen got a fishhook necklace (Hei Matau) which means prosperity and safe journey across water.
I’ve been drawn to the Koru – the spiral – for a while now. Koru symbolizes new beginnings, new life, and personal growth. What better symbol to represent my time here in New Zealand?
Later that evening, once we were back at the hostel after our exciting day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Kathleen and I agreed that we wanted to treat ourselves to a nice “splurge” dinner to celebrate being in New Zealand for one full week. We donned the only dresses we brought with us to New Zealand, got all gussied up, and hit the town (there’s no picture proof, but trust me, we were looking super snazzy). We went to this nice restaurant called 35 Degrees South Aquarium that’s located on Paihia’s waterfront. We each ordered fancy fish dishes (I tried swordfish for the first time ever), and we split a bottle of wine between the two of us. I love any chance to get dolled up and enjoy good food, so needless to say it was a pretty fabulous night.
We also definitely got invited to an incredibly inebriated girl’s birthday party, and we wanted to go but the bar they were driving to was over a mile away and we didn’t exactly feel like walking in the cold wearing our short dresses. She didn’t offer us a ride, though she did tell us her coworker would give us a lift, but we could tell that he was totally planning on ditching the party and not going. So, alas, we had to miss out on the event. Sorry, Katie.
As for today, our last full day up in the Bay of Islands, Kathleen and I took a trip out to Russell. Russell’s a quaint little town that’s just a fifteen minute ferry ride from Paihia annnnnd… yeah, that’s about it. We went into a cool art gallery, but that was literally all we found to do in Russell. At least the ferry ride over was pretty.
So what does this week have in store for Kathleen and myself? Well, we’re finally taking on our first WWOOFing gig. We’re heading back down south to Rotorua, where we’re going to spend four days on a bee farm. Seeing as it’s winter, I’m not sure how much actual work we’re going to be doing with bees, so I’m assuming it’s going to be a lot of yard work, which is fine. I’ve heard Rotorua is gorgeous, and that’s where the hot springs and mud pools are, so I’m incredibly eager to see what that area of New Zealand has in store. Plus for four days Kathleen and I get to do this shtick over and over again:
I’m not certain what the WiFi situation will be at our WWOOFing Host’s place, but hopefully I’ll be able to get somewhere on Wednesday to update my blog. Anyway. Until next time.