I was stoked to catch up with my Uncle Lindsay this morning before heading off towards Masterton. I last saw Uncle Lindsay at my cousin Rachel’s wedding in February 2006. It just so happened that he was up in Palmerston North for a national Baptist convention…great timing.
Also pretty stoked that I got to vote today. New Zealand general elections on this Saturday. I voted for the Green Party.
A huge thanks to Moetatua and Christa for putting me up for a couple of nights in Palmerston North. Those two nights had horrible blustery cold rainy weather.
The Manawatu Gorge road was closed this week due to slips, so I had to take the winding and steep Pahiatua Track road over the hills to the Wairarapa. It was slow going up the hill, but blisteringly fast on the downhill.
Once again, the rural New Zealand letter boxes failed to disappoint. This one a converted refrigerator.
A strong westerly blew me all the way to Eketehuna, only 42km away from Masterton. It was tempting to keep pushing on, but the sky was threatening to attack with a vengance once again, so I deciced to check out the local campsite. Great idea that, because not only was it only NZ$5 for the night (I slept under the veranda of one of the vacant cabins instead of pitching the tent) with shower and kitchen, but it rained cats and dogs as soon as I got into the campsite.
A real damper was put on the evening however when news was relayed by some family friends of the owners who came to collect the camp fee. The owner, Rachel van Der Wel, was killed in a car crash only two hours earlier.
I had the privelidge of once again being able to visit a school at very short notice today. Takaro School in Palmerston North was the school, arranged by Moetatua Turoa.
I know that the students have computer class this afternoon, so I really hope some of them check the blog and see this post. If you are reading this, guys, then check out the links below. And leave lots of comments if you want!
I spoke to about 40 students about my journey around the world by bicycle and skateboard, telling them stories from the road and sharing some things I had learned about myself and life.
I told them about the following episodes in the journey:
“I am impressed that you could arrange me to speak at such short notice,” I commented as I met Marama and KJ Allen at the Maori Studies Department (Te Tari Maori) at Wanganui High School.
“Well, technically it’s not possible,” KJ admitted. “But you’re too good an opportunity to pass up. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
I was stoked to speak to my first school group in New Zealand. The students lapped it up, and I thorougly enjoyed it. I felt as though my delivery of my presentation is getting smoother, and it felt good.
I spent the rest of the day updating the website, which was about a week or more out of date, due to the wee Whanganui National Park episode.
From Wanganui, I am heading to Palmerston North, and then on to Masterton to meet up with an old friend from uni days, before carrying on to Wellington. Slowly making my way south!
As I pulled out of the closed campground, I noticed the Ranana Hall and Marae. I stopped to take a photo of the picturesque location, and three people walked out of the gate.
“Hi there,” the tall man with a ponytail said. “That’s a strange looking bike.”
Small talk ensued, and after my explaination of what brought me to the remote marae, the tall man said “Let me shake the hand of a crazy man!”
“Come and have breakfast with us. We’re just going for a walk, and you can join us if you like before breakfast,” he continued.
I gladly accepted, and we started walking. We were a group of four, with Moetatua, Michael, Christa, and I.
“I’m Rob,” I said.
“Ah yes, a suitable name for one of our treaty partners,” Moetatua said, slapping me on the back, laughing deeply.
This jovial comment took me by surprise for a moment, and well and truely thrust my mind into the reality of the struggles between The Crown and the Maori tribes of Aotearoa (New Zealand). As a white New Zealander living in the South Island, my experience is that we are blissfully ignorant of the cultural concerns that are daily realities of the Maori community in New Zealand.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 30 minute walk, discussing a variety of topics with Micheal and Moetatua (both Maori, both heavily involved in the education sector in New Zealand), and Christa (Swiss and Moetatui’s partner). I had often felt challenged overseas when I was asked what the official language was in New Zealand. “Well, English, and um…Maori,” I would reply.
“Can you speak some Maori?” I would be asked.
I was embarrassed that despite Maori being an official language – a language that is an integral part of the cultural heritage of New Zealand – I only knew how to count to ten and say hello.
I brought this up with the trio, and they sympathised with me. “So often an economic value is put on a language, and the importance of learning a certain language,” Moetatua said. “However, there is such a great economic value for Te Reo, apart from the obvious need to nurture the Maori cultural values and heritage in New Zealand,” he continued, citing tourism opportunites in Rotorua.
We returned from the walk, and I was formally greeted onto the Marae, in accordance with cultural tradition. Following introductions, we had breakfast. A buffet of delicious left-overs from dinner the night before, fresh scrambled eggs, porrige, and fresh fruit.
Was there any deep cultural or stereotypical significance in the fact that Christa (Swiss) ate only porrige and fresh fruit for breakfast, while everyone else (including me) seemed to gravitate to the left over pork fried rice, stewed chicken, eggs, and potatoes?
The group was at the marae for a weekend of workshops, learning about the Recource Management Act, and how that affects the local iwi (tribe/clan/people group) and their various claims in regards to the Treaty of Waitangi.
After breakfast was a ‘closing ceremony’. For the first time since my primary school years, I heard Maori spoken in public, as a functioning, live language. It made break into tears. How is it that this language is such a non-existant part of the daily lives of New Zealanders? I appreciated anew my Mum’s efforts to learn the language, attending night classes for many years.
The short visit to the marae was an extremely thought-provoking time for me. What a mine-field of misunderstanding, lack of desire to understand, and potential for so much more awareness there is in regards to Maori heirtage in New Zealand.
A huge thanks to the group I met today for their warm hospitality and thoughtful discussion. Not to mention the laughs and joy eminating from the marae, even in menial cleaning tasks at the end of a long weekend of learning!
“There’s a bed for you in Wanganui,” Michael said as we were leaving.
“Will you be there tonight?” I asked.
Later that day I had made it to Wanganui and was staying with Michael and his vibrant household in their home overlooking the Wanganui River.
Later that night, I met KJ, a relative of Michael, and we arranged for me to speak to students at Wanganui High School the following day. All very last minute, but I already had video and a slideshow sorted from a previous presentation, so I was keen!
I was up early this morning, making porrige in the Lodge’s self-catering kitchen. Mandy and I were chatting, when…
“Would you like to borrow a canoe?” Mandy asked with a tone of motherly concern.
There was not much arm-twisting required to get me to accept. When Joe heard of the plan however, “What? You can’t pull out now!” he said with a grin. “You have to finish the mission as you planned!” he jested. Or perhaps he was serious. Perhaps I was just wimping out. Perhaps I should just stick to the mighty rubber KonTiki.
“What will the foreign tourists think that saw you yesterday? They’ll think you couldn’t handle it,” he continued in his mocking tone.
“Either that or they will think I am smart,” I replied.
That seemed to please him enough to relent. “Meet me down at the water in a few minutes,” he said.
Mandy, upon hearing of my lack of food, piled me up with enough to last a week, and sent me on my way.
At the river, there was a two person Canadian canoe waiting for me. I donated the rubber KonTiki to the Lodge, and transfered the bike and gear to the canoe.
I couldn’t help but think that I was going from rags to riches. Low on food and on a crappy slow rubber tube raft to loads of food and a decent water craft (complete with lifejacket). Joe and Mandy, you guys are legends. Thank you so much.
On the canoe, I was free to enjoy the spectacular gorge scenery on the Whanganui River. Gliding smoothly and effortlessly along with the current, with pulse-raising rapids every now and then, the ride was awesome. What would have taken at least two days on the raft took 4 hours in the canoe.
Joe was scheduled to be at Pipiriki at 2pm that afternoon to pick up some guests for the lodge in the jet boat. I met him there, where the canoe was transfered to the jetboat, and I was on my own with the bike again. Stoked. On firm ground again. Thanks again to Joe and Mandy at The Bridge To Nowhere for all their awesome help!
The road from Pipiriki to Wanganui is mostly gravel, and winds along beside the Whanganui River all the way. For the rest of the afternoon I cycled, enjoying moving faster than only just faster than walking pace.
Jerusalem was a fascinating stop. An historical convent with nuns still living there, with a rich Maori heritage. The photo below is of a carving at the front of the church. A ‘Maori Jesus’. A refreshing depiction indeed.
The church itself is pretty, with Maori motifs all around.
I pushed on past the convent and ended up sleeping under the veranda of a closed campground near the river.