At the Height of Cultural Events
11.05.2015 - 12.05.2015
Aotearoa is a unique country in many different ways. Both halves are special in their own way and offer an amazing experience for anyone. While the North tends to be mostly warm and muggy, the further south you go, the colder and less muggy it gets. The clear air of the South makes it great for doing outdoor activities, which is how it has become so famous for its adrenaline activities. If you're interest in volcanoes, beaches and geothermal activity, the North Island is your place to go. The South being traversed by the Southern Alps is considered more scenic on the other hand. And what I was to experience the upcoming days was what made the North stand out the most - its cultural richness.
During the hours I had spent on the bus by now, the others and I had learned heaps about the Maori culture. Like Kupe, the Maori chief who was first to arrive in New Zealand. He traveled from the mythical homeland Hawaiki in a canoe called the Maataa-hourua. He is said to have landed near Wellington, in the south of the North Island, in a place called Whanganui-a-tara and when he first spotted the land he said, "He ao, he aotea he aotearoa" (It is a cloud ..a white cloud .. a long white cloud) - the Maori name for New Zealand.
Doing a big leap from Maori culture to a different one - the Lord of the Rings culture. Not particularly an actual culture, but for many thousands including me, it is a more than just a book to get hooked on. That day, I fulfilled myself a dream. That day we were heading into a different world, we were heading to the land of the Hobbits, we were heading to Hobbiton! The minute I woke up that day I was excited as a little kid. Having read all the books and obviously watched all the movies. The Lord of the Rings had captured my imagination. Being at one of the actual movie scene which is still maintained made me walk around stupidly with a big smile all day. When we pulled up to the welcome center, it couldn't go fast enough. After what felt like years of waiting, we finally got on the special tour bus which would bring us to the once so secret location of the film set. Over green hills, fog hanging in the air, we entered the Shire, the land of the hobbits. But it wasn't until we walked on the famous path Frodo, Bilbo and so many other characters took when they left Hobbiton that we were totally beside ourselves... We were in Middle-Earth.
The Hobbiton guide tried hopelessly to get the groups attention, but everyone had their cameras out and was in the zone. The whole scene looked exactly as like in the movies. Even the fog and clouds disappeared and the blue sky gave the place the last touch it needed to be fully authentic. The only thing missing were actual hobbits walking around, then I'd have thought that I'd be in the movies. Even without the hobbits, close attention was paid to every detail. (Fake) fish was outside to dry, fruits were laying outside of the little hobbit holes and requisites displaying the job the particular hobbit. On top of the hill, watching over the village, was the most famous hobbit hole of all - Bilbo Baggin's. Of course we weren't allowed to come in After another hour or so of strolling around, taking in as much of that place as possible, we entered The Green Dragon Inn. The complimentary ale was followed not long after. In my mind I could swear I heard hobbits chanting the Green Dragon song:
"Oh you can search far and wide,
You can drink the whole town dry,
But you'll never find a beer so brown,
Oh you'll never find a beer so brown,
As the one we drink in our hometown,
As the one we drink in our hometown.
You can drink your fancy ales,
You can drink them by the flagon,
But the only brew for the brave and true...
..Comes from the Green Dragon!!"
It wasn't easy but at one point we did have to leave the Shire. The amazing feeling that place gave me, I'll never forget. The journey continued to the town of Rotorua. The North is known for its geothermal activity and in the region around Rotorua this is extremely strong developed. Steam coming from under the streets, boiling mud pools and geysers. The town is also known as Sulfur City. The Maori call that place Whangapipiro (Fong-a-pe-pero) - the evil-smelling place. That description was more than fitting!
As the next cultural highlight that day, we were about to visit an authentic Maori village. Of course it wasn't original, but it was reconstructed as original as possible. We didn't know what we could expect from spending a whole night in a re-creation of a traditional village from the 1600's. But we were about to find out. At the front gate we were welcomed traditionally by one of the tribe members and gathered inside the village to do our first duty as a new "tribe" - voting our tribe chief. After Sam was named chief, we and other tour groups which were then different tribes, came together for a Maori ceremony of ensuring the different chiefs are coming in peace or were foes. Following the ceremony, the tribe welcomed us in their village, everything being as authentic as possible. Lightened up by torches, we were introduced to different Maori traditions, like games, daily living styles, the world-famous Haka, weaponry displays and the preparation of the feast. Its called hangi (a meal steamed in the ground on hot rocks). The feast with some traditional Maori kai (food) and more Western-style dishes was delicious. After the hangi, most of the other groups left and only a small number of us stayed for the overnight experience. Having the entire Maori Tamaki Village for ourselves, a full belly and heaps of friends around, the whole night was a memorable adventure. Hot tubes were to our disposal as well. Not too traditional, but much welcomed by all of us It was an unforgettable Maori cultural experience which in addition to being in Middle-Earth earlier that day made the whole day beyond special.