New Zealand: ‘The land of the long white cloud’

March 8, 2019

March 6, 2019, Waitangi, Bay of Islands, New ZealandFirst of five parts. When the Maori settled here about 700 years ago, they named their discovery Aotearoa, or ‘the land of the long white cloud.’ Thanks to the Ring movies, we think of New Zealand as green and lush, covered with pines, palms and other plants. But when the Maori first arrived, there were ferns and orchids but not much else. This Moreton Bay Fig Tree is 150 years old, planted no doubt by later settlers. 

For food, the Maori found fish, crustaceans, birds, seals, dolphins, whales and three species of bat, though I can’t swear they ate whales or bats. All the other vegetation and animals they would eat, they brought with them on their outrigger canoes, which were huge compared to this 21st-century model:

The early Maori also brought dogs and rats, to pet and to eat, respectively. Trouble is, the rats feasted on birds’ eggs, including penguins, thus threatening a Maori food source. On their own, those early settlers hunted to extinction the giant Moa, a flightless bird that grew as high as an elephant’s eye — up to 12 feet and up to 510 pounds. Today, the Moa exists only in natural history museum reconstructions — and in crossword puzzles. 

 

Later Euro-Australian settlers introduced the opossum, a great source of exportable fur, right? Except the cute little Pogos who were card-carrying herbivores when they arrived switched to omnivorism, whereafter they battled the rats for control of the bird buffet. Today possums over-run the islands except when they’re run over on the highways. 

 

Compared to other island nations in the Pacific, this one was settled recently — around 1300 AD. It took Europeans 350 years to get here. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed into Golden Bay in 1642 but was outnumbered and scared off by the Maori. [There is a book called Come Ashore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, a 2008 memoir by Christina Thompson, who married a Maori.] You know who — Captain Cook — arrived in 1769, had the gumption to land, and British settlers started to arrive. By 1840, 500 chieftains signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave equal rights to the Maoris and gave Queen Victoria sovereignty over them, bringing New Zealand into the British Empire, where it remains.

 

Today, the Maoris make up around 15% of the country’s 4 million people. Another 12% are Asian, and the rest, of European descent. In 1987, Maori was recognized as the second official language of NZ after English, and in 2006, Sign Language was recognized as the third. 

 

Queen Victoria would be proud: New Zealand was the first nation to give women the right to vote, in 1893. It took the U.S. another 27 years.

 

My excursion that day was a flat-bottom-boat cruise around the Bay of Islands — there are more than 150 but we only saw a few. In all of NZ, there are some 600 islands. We first docked in the charming town of Russell, once an ‘unsavory’ port of ill repute frequented by whalers and sealers. Other than this sign outside one of the very nice local establishments...​read the fine print at the bottom...

​...it is a charming town with plenty of restaurants and quite a few boats in the harbor... ​

​This is the policeman’s house, circa 1870. The sign said ‘the’ policeman.

Evidently one kid’s piggy bank is a Kiwi kid’s ‘money box.’ I’m pretty sure this is the only kiwi I will see, though I’ve seen lots of Kiwis. 

The Post Office-cum-used book store...

The oldest church in the country, Anglican, established in 1836. 

Very toney pizza joint...

Speaking of food... our cruise included a nice luncheon cooked on the boat’s aft burners. I could have picked fish or lamb... I picked venison with blueberry sauce. 

 View from the boat: Jack’s photo of a rock. 

‘Small craft in a harbour that’s still and serene, Give no indication what their ways have been. They rock at their moorings all nestled in dreams, Away from the roll of the sea.’

After the cruise ended back in Waitangi some of us shuttle bussed to nearby Paihia. I bought a new tote bag at the open-air craft market, then shot the oldest surviving building in the little town, this stone shed, circa mid-1800s, alongside the town’s library. Love the water tank.  

Next up: Auckland. #


 

 

 

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