Sunday 20 December 2015

New Zealand Adventures : 5. Merry Christmas from Ko Te Mokai Marae, Snorkel Guidin' in Torbay, On Board a Fishing Trawler and Christmas Holidays come to Auckland...

Ko Te Mokai Marae 'The Slave House'

Kia Ora!

Merry Christmas from summer season down under here in Aotearoa The Land of The Long White Cloud - New Zealand!

Wow, 2015 is nearly coming to an end until it disappears into world history and memories of the past forever; the time to reflect on the second half of the year filled with great exotic and challenging adventures on the other side of the world which will remain cemented in my memory for good and bad.

2015 A year well spent? I do hope so......

Well before the year is out, I managed to squeeze in a few weeks of more interesting experiences I sought to find during my one year here exploring New Zealand which I thought were cool enough to share with you in my last blog of 2015....

Well..the 'first New Zealanders' being the 'Maori' civilisation migrated to 'Aotearoa' close to 700 years ago on Waka canoes, navigating by the stars from the Polynesian islands to settle in New Zealand and establish the Maori Culture.

The mound in Kawhia which is the ancient burial site for the first waka that brought over the first Maoris the New Zealand - you can see its lengths from the head stones.

I was lucky enough to be specially invited by my Waka Sailing Crew to 'Koh - Te Mokai Marae', an authentic Maori Meeting House where in traditional times would be used for debates among chiefs, ceremonies and hosting among the Maori Community. I jumped at the invitation to a coastal town, four hours south of Auckland called Kawhia (pronounced Kar-fee-ah, I say it wrong in the video - oops!) close to Raglan to join in on a training weekend for Maori youths who Waka Ama Paddle - a popular pastime and competitive game for Maoris.

Elaborating from the video about the Marae, you have to be officially welcomed onto the Marae by people who already have been accepted. A group of us were needing to be welcomed and usually begins with a girl in the new group singing a chant for another woman already in the Marae to respond to, as to give permission to enter onto their sacred grounds. Woman usually have to wear a black sarong to enter and following the welcome chant we sat in the sacred land area in front of the Marae which is derived from the Maori God of War Tumatauenga, as Chiefs would have fiery debates and conflicts in deciding community actions in this area of the Marae.

You then have the head of the Marae, in our case Uncle Nick who gave a welcome speech in Maori and a spokesperson in our visiting group responded with a speech which gestured thanks and appreciation for being welcomed onto the Marae and join the community. You then greet each existing inhabitant with a kiss and 'Hongi' - pressing the foreheads and noses together and breathing out to connect and show respect towards eachother. 

Its very intimate and special way to greet a stranger.

The wooden carvings on the outside of the Marae are usually of ancestors and important people associated with the area. The centre carving is of a Maori man named Henry Hull who loved nothing better than smoking a pipe and married the daughter who is one of the female statues on the Marae whom of which are mother and daughter - his ashes are actually buried under the Marae so really I am staying on an ancient burial ground with his spirit acting as guardian over everyone - pretty cool. 

The green tiki necklace on the woman are a sign of fertility and the tongue on Mr. Hull there, a symbol of defiance and challenge. The red and black patterns on the band running along the ceiling of the porch are the colours of blood and red earth 'life' and the black representing 'death' - the white curls and indigenous patterns signifying the tribute to ancestors and family trees which you will see on tattoos many Maoris carry on their skin.  

Inside the Marae....

The 'Whare' - 'house' place for sleeping and ceremonial purpose

The late Maori Queen

Portraits of important Maori woman adorned with 'Moko' Tattooing on the chin - in tradition times would have showed your status and occupation in the society as the face is considered extremely sacred in Maori culture - present day Maoris would have to seek permission from their elders to Moko their face, even at 40 years old!

Because a Marae is a complex there are different rooms used for different purposes. Next door to the 'Whare' is the 'Kai Whare' meaning 'house of food' and is dedicated to the Maori God of Peace 'Rongo' as meals and dining is when the Marae is at peace.

Over the weekend, I would get up in the early morning (6:30 am) and do training exercises in teams, knot tying, beach race relays (running up steep sand dunes), digging hot pools in the sands of Ocean Beach, creating a Haka song to learn the star houses and looking at the night sky to see how to navigate direction from rising stars in the star compass.

Oh....and also getting to learn how to do the Holu from a lovely Hawaiian Nana!

Lets just say I slept well and then awoken by wandering dogs and puppies sheltering from the rain!

Traditonal Hangi Cooking

This was really cool to see - a traditional way to cook food by indigenous New Zealanders. A 'hangi' is a method used by cooking food using the heat of the ground. In our case, a hole is dug in the soil and a steel drum was filled with rocks and covered with logs which were burnt till they smouldered and the rocks piping hot (I was told that in Maori law that if you could hold one of those rocks for 10 seconds then you get food for the rest of your life...apparently) 

Then crates of food are lifted on top of the rocks, stacked and covered with sheets and oil to cook for some hours with a steel drum placed over the top to make it like an oven. Usually a piece of string is tied to a potato through a hole and you would know the food is cooked by pulling the string and seeing if the potato comes out, if not, the food has been there long enough to cook - pretty neat! In the case of our food, they would just feel the soil around the hangi to see if it was hot.  

Touch rugby on the lawns of the Marae

A traditional Whare made from flax crops and leaves of indigenous plants

Standing at the door of the Marae with a Maori Lady wearing a Moko on her chin

After your time spent on a Marae, there is a goodbye ceremony where the head of the Marae (Uncle Nick) would give a good bye speech in Maori and a chant is sung before giving thanks to them with kisses and hongi to say farewell and to move on with your life....

The nice thing about it is that I'm officially part of the Ko-Te Mokai Marae family where I am welcome to enter the Marae and know I can go there again in my life.

I don't think I could have asked for a more authentic experience and plan to go to more Maraes during the rest of my stay in New Zealand. 

Snorkel Guidin' in Torbay

Having been in Auckland City for quite a while now, it was time to go make the most of the start of the summer season here in NZ so I decided to go volunteer with an organisation 'Experiencing Marine Reserves' with raising awareness about marine reserves and the sea life found within them by assisting a free community snorkel day to supervise local kiwi children and adults in the Torbay Bay neighbourhood.

Of course I had no idea about the marine life found in the shallow waters here but getting kitted out in a really tight banana yellow wetsuit, I was asked to be a supervising snorkeler - not really knowing such thing could exist to supervise the swimmers in the waters whilst snorkeling as they looked for fishies....

 Torbay Marine Reserve

Here's some pics from the beach and tor of what we got up to..

The idea was to try to educate and raise awareness to the local community of Torbay about the marine life lurking below the waters in the reefs of their reserve - the water wasn't fantastically clear, but we were still able to take a peek at some small triple finned fishies endemic to the waters of New Zealand.

Unbeknown to us, next door on adjacent Torbay Beach was the annual Peter Blake Torbay Regatta where 420 boats and yachts were racing in the waters nearby - I hung around the prize giving ceremony for the talented young sailors wearing their red socks and low and behold New Zealand Olympic Gold Winning Sailor Jo Aleh was special guest to the regatta and let me hold her Gold Olympic Gold Medal! Wow!

Wow, a real Olympic Gold Medal!

A highlight of the Regatta was seeing the entire youth of Kiwis scurrying in their red socks on the beach for sweets shot out of a cannon! Pretty funny....

Its funny, when you have a built in compulsive curiosity for novel experiences and adventures....well this time it took me on aboard a new vessel on the waterfront...a 32 metre fishing trawler 'San Tongariro' moored in Auckland harbour.

Of course, who's ever been on board a real fishing trawler? this was my chance! would be kind of interesting to see where our fish comes from...

The trawler had been out for 10 days at sea and had come back to drop the 90 tonnes of fish (yes 90 tonnes the trawler can hold!) on the Auckland shore for the Fish Market

On Board a Fishing Trawler....

Very comfy spot!

Even got to take the stern line off for them on their voyage back to sea! 

Christmas Comes to Auckland!!

So Christmas has come to Auckland City and the town has been in full swing in creating a festive atmosphere for New Zealand Summer....

One cool thing they have Downtown by the waterfront in the abandoned Silo Towers is a 'Christmas Forest' run by the Auckland City Mission for the homeless- you give a gold coin donation and get a pair of 'angel wings' to write a well wishing message on, then go a wandering through the many pine trees till you find your favourite tree and tie your wish to it - some were really cool, I like this one....

'Don't be afraid to be who you truly are and see those friends who truly appreciate that' 

and I think my other favourite was 'May the Lego live on and God Save The Sharks' and 'All I want for Christmas is you (and a scooter)) The smell of pine is gorgeous and you hear nothing but the sounds of twittering bird song and bellowing song of visitors having fun with the echoes of the towers - its a fab idea.

Santa has also been making his presence known, can't exactly miss him on Queens Street with Rudolph and co in tow, even though I sometimes think he's going to come alive and start walking through the skyscrapers like in Ghostbusters! I think giant Santa may slightly be an understatement but hey its Christmas!

Thats all from me for 2015 before it disappears forever.....have a very Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year 2016 and see you next year!

In the meantime, I'll be bidding farewell to the most gigantic cruise I have ever seen leaving Auckland harbour

Bon Voyage!

Auckland, New Zealand

With Lonely Planet Travel Guides New Zealand 


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