Outside Auckland, the countryside reminded me mostly of Ontario. While I sat in the back of the car, the road ahead resembled the 401 section between Ottawa and Toronto, with trees, grass and a rare house or two seemed the only distractions. All there really was to see as a passenger was nature in its truest form, as even passing traffic was uncommon. We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day, a welcome change from the South Pacific drizzle we had endured for most of the trip. The weather was enjoyable as it was the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The climate was similar to Santiago, in other words, warm enough for t-shirts during the daytime. The stretch of road had few rest stops with picnic areas or service centres. Gas stations seemed to be primarily off the main road in villages we passed by bearing local native language names. From time to time, we passed urban areas with familiar names from our Ontario trips, such as the towns of Hamilton and Cambridge. How many countries and regions where the predominant language is English have a Hamilton, Cambridge or Kingston? I guess the settlers started this trend to combat home sickness. After all, it was a long trip back to the British Isles from Down Under. A few minutes south of Cambridge, New Zealand, we approached our first checkpoint: The Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
After about two and half hours on the holiday road, we arrived in Waitomo. It was an absolutely fantastic natural paradise. The entrance to the caves was on top of a hill, where a modern visitor centre was located. The tickets included a guide, a clause that could not be waived. The park's administration needed to control the number of visitors inside the caves to protect the internal environment. People breathe out carbon dioxide and since there are no plants to transform this gas to oxygen, large groups could potentially endanger the habitat for life forms deep in the darkness. The tour begins with a descent into an intricate network of limestone caves formed over 30 million years. The limestone contained fossilized corals, sea shells, fish skeletons and other marine organisms. Stalactites and stalagmites came into being through water dripping from the ceiling or flowing over the walls leaving behind deposits. These cave decorations take millions of years to form and provide a precious glow when in contact with interior lighting. This area was named The Cathedral. Afterwards, we boarded a small boat for the following part of the visit. While we lined up, the guide explained everyone had to remain quiet and refrain from any photography. We were going to see the glowworms and any noise or camera flash could fatally frighten them. I remember my father telling Brian and I: "I wonder what happens if you fart." After that comment it was difficult for Brian and I to remain quiet but we managed. The glowworms were amazing! They seemed to mimic glowing party strings dangling from the ceiling and illuminated the entire cave.
Afterwards, we headed one hour and a half eastward, to the village of Rotorua, in Bay of Plenty. This region began a transformation into a spa destination in the early 1880s, drawing in visitors from all corners of the island. The settlement sits in the heart of the North Island, meaning it is as easily accessible to New Zealanders in the surrounding urban areas of Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. The tourism industry is still the largest source of employment in the district, attracting visitors from far and wide interested in the regional geothermal activity, specifically the numerous geysers and bubbling hot mud pools. Visitors can dip their feet only in designated pools where the human body can tolerate the temperature. The bodies of water can get particularly warm, as the water is heated by magma underground. Geysers are springs characterized by intermittent discharges of water ejected several feet up in the air followed shortly after by a light vapour cloud. These are formed through particular hydrogeological conditions which are rare on our planet explaining why this phenomenon does not occur in many places on our wonderful planet. Generally these fields develop near volcanic areas or areas prone to violent earthquakes. Feel free to visit http://www.geonet.org.nz/ where you can see the seismic activity updates to the minute, and it will be easy to see how frequently earthquakes occur in New Zealand. Most of the area was engulfed in an unpleasant yet familiar sulphur smell - resembling the stench of rotten eggs - leading the city to have earned the nicknames of Sulphur City or Rotten-Rua.
Whakarewarewa is a protected area within the city of Rotorua in the Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand. Remnants of the Maori fortress remain when it was first occupied in the 1300. The aboriginal definition of the name means a gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao. The Māori occupied the fortress for several years, never losing it during a battle. They peacefully moved out of the settlement opting to relocate in search of lucrative opportunities in the bigger cities. They had mastered the geothermal activity in their valley using it as a source for heating their homes and cooking their meals. The Pohutu Geyser in the settlement means explosion and can spray up to a height of 30 m. The park itself holds several hundred mud pools and slightly under 10 active geysers to explore. Architectural structures are limited to a typical gate with a triangular top finish leading to a longhouse. The longhouses generally served as a city hall or town assembly where people would gather for community activities. There were no shows or locals wearing the traditional outfits, perhaps due to the time of the season we were visiting. We were disappointed as we thought that there would have been more opportunities in Whakarewarewa to encounter demonstrations of ancient traditions and learning more about the proud heritage of the natives. Nevertheless, the overall natural beauty throughout the North Island gave us a craving for Wellington and the South Island. Unfortunately, we would have to keep that interest in our future trips as we were already scheduled to leave New Zealand to return to our normal lives and routines.
|Maman, Brian and I at the gate to Whakarewarewa|
Relations between the European settlers and Māori groups had gone through highs and lows. As mentioned in my previous blog entry, it was only until the 20th century where a greater awareness had emerged of a Māori identity. Prior to these years, their identity and culture had taken a back seat in the local way of life. Aboriginal groups struggled to engage the federal government through legal processes in order to protect and increase their standing in a wider New Zealand society. Their efforts were in fact successful to the point they became incorporated into the national image. They migrated from their original settlements toward larger rural townships and cities following the World Wars in search of opportunities for employment. This exodus contributed to the adoption of a more metropolitan culture and a disconnection from their traditional social controls and tribal homelands. Their standards of living and quality of life improved, granting them access to healthcare, income, skilled employment and access to higher education. The Māori participate in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, leading Western lifestyle and maintaining of their own cultural and social customs that survived the arrival of the Europeans.