Paradise Found…Or Every Day is Like Sunday

There probably aren’t many travel guides that recommend a bottle of red wine, 5 pints of that fine Cornish Ale Doombar and some great Moroccan food as the best way to prepare for a 26-hour flight to New Zealand, but that’s how this journey started. Nick Rogers, a good friend from The Refugee Council had chosen the night before I was flying to have his farewell party in Moseley. Nick was not about to spend five weeks in New Zealand and Australia with friends and family having gratuitous fun: Nick has spent the last year fund raising to finance a project to assist street kids in Honduras, so seeing him off was the least I could do. He is a great writer, and a blog of his exploits is available here:

The night was, as these events inevitably are, a bitter sweet evening, particularly sad was it to see Nick say farewell to a Ugandan volunteer and good friend who is a bringer of joy to all those who meet him, despite having a tale to tell that could ring the world with its trail of tears. We were all sad to see him go, but excited with the thought of the experiences that lay ahead for him, and if ever a hangover was worth it, the one that greeted me on Friday morning, the one that felt   like Lucifer had designed it for me personally, was that hangover.

Come Friday morning the snow that had spread chaos over England like butter on warm toast was just a fading memory, and the journey to Heathrow was an uneventful as I may have hoped. Thankfully the metal button on my Levis setting the metal detector of Heathrow airport off was the only frisson of excitement that was to come my way. After the resulting pat down, I felt the security guard and I were physically closer than I have been to some ex-girlfriends, though the level of distain he showed me was disquietingly familiar to that displayed by them all.

Long haul air travel is a strange, almost out of body experience these days, the grey tube of the fuselage and disconnected voices making it a bit like having a communal 26 hour long MRI scan with 300 other souls, in a hospital that is experiencing faint tremors from a distant earth quake: rather than giving the traveller any awareness of the remarkable feat he is about to accomplish of flying half way round the world in 26 hours, that it is. Apart from the iron fist in a velvet glove experience of Hong Kong airport the (never leave a bag on a seat these days) the remaining flight was the unrelenting tedium that the possibilities of any alternate experience deem a success.

After Hong Kong’s Stepford hostesses, the easy charm of Auckland airport’s immigration staff was to be a good omen for a country whose collective consciousness   just seems to smile and welcome strangers with a smile and a hug.  As for friends, well the welcome and the hospitality accorded so far would make every inch of the thirteen thousand miles travelled worth walking in bare feet over broken glass.

The trip from Auckland to Rotorua had enough lush landscapes of hills and valleys so pointed Howard Hughes would have built temples to them, had they been contours on the female body. Imagine the Scottish highlands populated with majestic Ponga Fern and ancient Totara, some a thousand years old, a verdant museum of nature, oh, and no fucking midges! A country where driving is not a test of patience and fortitude, but a constant pleasure of revelation and anticipation at what might appear over the next brow, or around the next bend.  Legs were stretched at a town that might have been the setting for the Last Picture Show, where the pace of fast food NZ style was demonstrated. Rotorua was soon upon us, the lake gleaming like a silver orb in the afternoon summer sunshine.

The summer heat made sleeping in a tent in the back garden my favoured option, the dawn chorus made it an experience to savour, it felt like I was Caliban just awoken on Prospero’s Island from the Tempest:

“The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices that if I had then wake’d after long sleep, will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming, the clouds methought would open, show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again.”

Sadly the parallels with the Tempest, end not there. The Waitangi Treaty is a fine example of the inherent imperialism of language, especially that of English,and perhaps exemplifies this quote by Rousseau perfectly:

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

The language of the Maori was unable to conceptualise the English notion of ownership and soverignty, it being such an alien concept to peoplewho did not see land as a commodity to be bought and sold. They saw land as something that was there to provide sustinance for its inhabitants, these were people who would hold a ceremony of reverence if they were to chop down a tree for use as a canoe. I quote from the following synopsis of a subject that is paralleled where ever the Western boot of progress has trampled the delicate natural flora and fauna:

The Treaty itself is short, consisting of only three articles. The first article of the English version grants the “Queen of England” (actually the United Kingdom) sovereignty over New Zealand. The second article guarantees to the chiefs full “exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties.” IIt also specifies that Māori will sell land only to the Crown. The third article guarantees to all Māori the same rights as all other British subjects.The English and Māori versions differ. This has made it difficult to interpret the Treaty and continues to undermine its effect. The most critical difference revolves around the interpretation of three Māori words: kāwanatanga (governorship), which is ceded to the Queen in the first article; rangatiratanga (chieftainship) not mana(which was stated in the Declaration of Independence just five years before the Treaty was signed), which is retained by the chiefs in the second; and taonga (property or valued possessions), which the chiefs are guaranteed ownership and control of, also in the second article. Few Māori had good understanding of either sovereignty or “governorship”, as understood by 19th century Europeans, and so some academics, such as Moana Jackson, question whether Māori fully understood that they were ceding sovereignty to the British Crown. Furthermore, kāwanatanga is transliterated from ‘governorship’ and was not part of the Māori language per se. There is considerable debate about what would have been a more appropriate term. Some scholars, notably Ruth Ross, argue that mana (prestige, authority) would have more accurately conveyed the transfer of sovereignty.However, it has more recently been argued by others, for example Judith Binney, that mana would not have been appropriate. This is because mana is not the same thing as sovereignty, and also because no-one can give up their mana.

The English language version recognises Māori rights to “properties”, which seems to imply physical and perhaps intellectual property. The Māori version, on the other hand, mentions “taonga”, meaning “treasures” or “precious things”. In Māori usage the term applies much more broadly than the English concept of legal property, and since the 1980s courts have found that the term can encompass intangible things such as language and culture. Even where physical property such as land is concerned, differing cultural understandings as to what types of land are able to be privately owned have caused problems, as for example in the foreshore and seabed controversy of 2003-04.The pre-emption clause is generally not well translated, and many Māori apparently believed that they were simply giving the British Queen first offer on land, after which they could sell it to anyone. Doubt has been cast on whether Hobson himself actually understood the concept of pre-emption. Another, less important, difference is that Ingarani, meaning England alone, is used throughout in the Māori version, whereas “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” is used in the first paragraph of the English.The entire issue is further complicated by the fact that, at the time, Māori society was an oral rather than literate one. Māori present at the signing of the Treaty would have placed more value and reliance on what Hobson and the missionaries said, rather than the words of the actual Treaty.

Māori beliefs and attitudes towards ownership and use of land were different from those prevailing in Britain and Europe. The chiefs saw themselves as ‘kaitiaki’ or guardians of the land, and would traditionally grant permission for the land to be used for a time for a particular purpose. Some may have thought that they were leasing the land rather than selling it, leading to disputes with the occupant settlers. A northern chief, Nopera Panakareao, also early on summarised his understanding of the Treaty as “the shadow of the land is to the Queen, but the substance remains to us.”, even as a British official later remarked that the Māori would discover that the British had acquired “something more than the shadow.”. Nopera’s later reversed his earlier statement – feeling that the substance of the land had indeed gone to the Queen; only the shadow remained for the Māori.

Walking Bo a boxer with a personality bigger than most people was the first job, a public space cut out of the bush  along side a trout stream that stretched and coiled back on its self like slack elastic. Blue Gum trees monumental columns stretching up to the sun added a drama to the landscape, Australian imports that dot the landscapes like dead possums, another Australian import that now litter the roadside like bloody brown cushions. The high banks suddenly dropping to water level, where the pale mud offers a sticky platform to cast a fly for the crafty Rainbow Trout that lurk in the shadows and eddies. An afternoon of fine Kiwi hospitality at a Taupo barbeque, a great mixture of fine food, water fights, humour and social commentary followed, via a visit to the stunning Huka falls, frenetic azure torrents breaking into a natural lagoon forming a natural play ground, accessible but unspoilt with a empathy for the natural world that seems second nature to Kiwi sensibilities. The modern water sports that buzzed around Lake Taupo seemed in stark relief to the Volcanoes that stalk its South shore, ominous reminders of the elemental forces that flung the immense black boulders that pepper the lake shore about like sling shot.

Tuesday, and it was time to get on the pedals, albeit on a bike two sizes too small with forks that juddered like the “fastest Indian”, fitted with a saddle that on an twenty mile extended ride up a 1650 ft hill that left me feeling I had just had an appointment with a rhino masquerading as a proctologist, the views were stunning and the exercise welcome, and the damage to the prostate is hopefully temporary…

Wednesday started with a quick run to stretch the post bike ride cramp, a deserted wooded jetty on the shores of Lake Rotorua provided the perfect spot for some quiet reflection on the nature of NZ, a landscape so dramatic and verdant that it would make Wordsworth o.d. on superlatives, but illuminated by  an unforgiving sunshine with no ozone to temper its scathing intensity, a sun that never forgives a forgetful mind or anyone arrogant enough to not pay it due respect with lashings of sun screen and wide brimmed hats. Populated by people who seem to have little truck with the social climbing and hollow materialism that seems obligatory in much of the northern hemisphere, people who seem to have a natural affinity for the land and an understanding of how to both enjoy and preserve the precious wildlife that populates both the land and the oceans.

Thursday, and a coastal drive to the batch, a drive that transcends language such is its stunning vistas, a drive that also might just be NZ’s best kept secret, such is the modest nature of its inhabitants, or perhaps they just don’t want a constant caravan of coaches and mobile homes choking and clogging up the blacktop that winds around the mountains as it delivers an endless gallery of stunning seascapes. An evening catching up with friends old and new ended up being a night of the long wines, if there ever was…

Friday was greeted with a hangover that delivered a head full of fireflies but a tramp through the bush up a fast flowing stream to a hidden waterfall that could have come out of Lord of the Flies as I regressed to a primitive state proved to be a natural cure.

Saturday was my first encounter with the mighty Boris, a small but quick aluminium boat, that bounced of the waves delivering a ride like aquatic mountain bike, fast and furious fishing fun, and yes I even caught one!

Sunday was back in Boris, a flat calm day when the glinting sunshine lay out a diamond studded highway to fishing heaven, great volcanic views caressed the eyes, as we floated serenely suffused in golden sunshine while we pulled in: Snapper, Kahawai, Gurnard, Terakihi, Trevally, Mullet, Kingfish, topped with pots full of Rock Lobster on the way home that provided a perfect end to one of the most perfect days I can ever remember.

Monday was tinged with sadness as the school reunion ended as Richard went of to confer in Auckland and we returned to NGO to refuel and repair, and to do the washing.

Wednesday was a trip to Otumoetai to get a bike that fitted a little better, taking in a walk up the steep 850foot Mount Maunganie, where the view from the top offered a panorama that speaks for its self. As dusk fell the trip to get the bike proved worthwhile as the pain of the last ride was banished with joyous blast up and down Mount Ngongotaha.


3 thoughts on “Paradise Found…Or Every Day is Like Sunday

  1. julie

    Great post! NZ sounds amazing -glad you are having a blast! But hope you don’t like it so much that you want to stay there and not come back to Blighty!


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