Sunday 22 November 2015

New Zealand Adventures: 3. Meetin' Black Magic, Volcano Exploring, Lordes Devonport and Sailing with Maori's...


Been rainy days of late here in Auckland, so I got busy sharing my latest travel news from down under from cool little New Zealand.....but first let's say Kia-Ora from the summit of Rangitoto Volcano which Maori natives used as a lookout for any unwanted trespassers onto their island just off the coast line of Auckland.

But more on that later....this blog is pretty much a sailing special so hold tight.....

But first, seeing as I had spent some time working on board a boat in Auckland Harbour, I decided to go and explore the Auckland Maritime Museum on the waterfront and I introduce this blog with this opening line from legendary Aucklander Sir Peter Blake, a famous New Zealander Sailor who took his beloved country to victory at the world's most famous sailing race - the America's Cup....I went along with my sweet, elderly Kiwi guide Jean to learn more about why Kiwis are the best sailors in the world and to meet the mighty boat that won the America's Cup back in San Diego, 1995.....Black Magic   

Here she is...the famous victorious boat herself NZL32 - Black Magic which won the 1995 America's Cup in San Diego, USA.

Sir Peter Blake and his Team New Zealand steered this lady through the epic water race, but held her secret weapon under wraps leading up to the race which deemed to be controversial in the competition which were the wings underneath on the keel which helped the balance of the boat in the rough waters.....they were covered up until the very start of the race. 

Black Magic's secret weapon....

One of Peter Blake's Sailing Jackets

I was told that Peter Blake, like all sailors, was superstitious and during the America's Cup race wore lucky Red Socks, the colour of leadership, passion and victory - it led on to a trend in New Zealand and wearing red socks is a good luck charm!.....but its also my favourite colour so both works for me!

After his extraordinary sailing career, Sir Peter Blake turned his attention to Conservation campaigns to help protect the Earths waters which he loved so very much. Tragically, he was killed on board his boat anchored at the mouth of the Amazon River during a environmental project in Brazil, when intruders came aboard and shot him whilst he was defending his boat and crew. As terribly tragic as it was, he is now one of the most famous New Zealanders on par with Sir Edmund Hillary and his life showed how he made so much of it and put those 53 years he had to great use....very inspirational.

Tadahhh.......The America's Cup...well the replica anyway, its actually 2/3rd of the actual size of the real trophy which stays in the country of its last winner. Its called the 'Americas Cup' because the name of the boat to win the first race back in 1852 was called 'America' hence the name of the race forever more is known as that. They also call it the 'Augly Cup' because some people think its the ugly duckling of sporting trophies.....awwww, now thats just mean... 

Other cool Boat stuff.....

This is the rowing boat that New Zealand won the gold medal in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in and all.

The kiwis are a determined lot when it comes to the water.....this little beauty is pretty cool, the 'Tasman Trespasser' was rowed solo and unassisted by New Zealander Colin Quincey across the Tasman Sea (the water that seperates the west coast of New Zealand and the East Coast of Australia) which is known as one of the roughest stretches of water in the world. It took him 63 days and 7 hours to reach Marcus Beach on the Sunshine Coast of Australia from Hokianga in New Zealand - now that's compelled determination! He would sleep underneath the front of the boat and store bottles of water in the hull to balance it....pretty neat. 

Volcano Exploring Rangitoto

As you've probably gathered, I'm a real explorer at heart and being in one of the most volcanic regions of New Zealand, I was intrigued to go hop on board a ferry from Auckland harbour to the Island of Rangitoto to go explore the active but presently dormant volcano, feeling very much like Guybrush Threepwood venturing to Melee Island to sacred totem poles and remote civilisation....well sort of anyway for anyone who knows Monkey Island.

Pretty similar right? hence not in the Caribbean....

But the adventurous little girl in me nudged and kept saying 'How cool would it be to go explore a volcano Sal?'....

Aha, already a Maori adorned frame upon entry to the Island - already getting the tribal feel as I dock at the port of the Rangitoto wharf on my explorations of the volcanic island. Rangitoto is a pretty unique volcano which boasts a fascinating landscape of rugged lava crops, sandy coves and lush native bush.

Like I said in the video, the name of the island and the volcanic cone peaking over the top, 'Rangitoto' literally means 'bloody sky' which is derived from the phrase 'Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua' which in English means 'the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed' , referring to when a Maori chief was injured in a battle on the island.

The Volcano itself erupted from the big 'ole Pacific Ocean in a series of dramatic explosions just 600 years ago which makes it pretty much a spring chicken in the Hauraki Gulf and the last and largest volcano in Auckland's Volcanic Field.

Walking around the dusty red dirt of the island, you'll hear the tropical tweats of kaka, saddleback, bellbird and takahe birdies echoeing through the 40 species of fern and Pohutakawa forest - which is the New Zealand 'Christmas Tree' budding a red, crimson flower on its furry branches. Many of the 200 native plants are unusual hybrids and are pretty rare.

There are no more on the Volcano now but the roads to access the island and coves were built by prisoners convicted of petty crimes induced by poverty (usually from stealing an apple or something coz they were hungry) and the boardwalk to the summit was cleverly constructed by unemployed Auckland youths....but in the early 20th Century there was a small community living in 'baches' which were simple holiday houses or a shortened word for bachelor pads.....there aren't too many left now on the Island as they said a big fat 'NO' to anymore dwelling construction in 1937.

Here's one that's left anyway...

And so to the summit, with stunning views of the neighbouring Hauraki Gulf and Auckland City...

and the giant crater.....still active, but its like a sleeping giant...

The lava fields are aplenty on the island, with porous rock piles everywhere which you can as the Kiwi's say you get busy 'Tramping across' 

The island also boast sandy coves and bays, of course named after the captains who discovered them as here in McKenzie Bay.....great place to chill...

Lordes Devonport

So having had a little fix exploring a remote island and up and down a volcano, I decided to stop off at the little coastal town of Devonport on route back to Auckland - a charming, hip little historical neighbourhood across the water from the big smoke which was a former navial base and childhood home of their most famous New Zealander singer and songwriter 'Lorde' 

The spacious laid back streets and hobbiton-like community that Lorde would have roamed in her adolescent years and their soooo clean....and I mean really clean! Not a bad place to grow up!

A public tennis court - possibly the same tennis court which inspired the song 'Tennis Court'?

View of Rangitoto at the summit of mini volcano Mount Victoria or 'Takarunga' meaning 'the hill standing above'. The volcano many moons ago was a former 'pa' which is Maori village or hill fort but in more modern times was an old navy site where they would fire a Nintendo Mushrooms have pushed their way up into the real world, which I'm sure are not native to New Zealand but hey its Down Under!

Views of Waitemata Harbour, North Head and little town of Devonport...

 Funky Black-Backed Gull

Catching the sunset boat back to Downtown after my adventures off shore.....

Sailing Waitemata Harbour on a Maori Waka


Now this was a pretty cool experience....I got to sail on board a traditional Maori Waka (Canoe) called 'Haunui' meaning 'Big Wind' - a double hulled boat that Maori ancestors would have travelled across the oceans to navigate themselves to new lands or voyages to find fish and food. The Waka had travelled all over New Zealand promoting and teaching Maori traditions and cultural education to fellow New Zealanders. When I was met by the Maori Crew, I was a little taken back when they first said 'Kia Ora' which means 'May you have good health' shook my hand and then pushed their nose and forehead against mine - I came to know this was the 'Hongi' traditional Maori greeting to a stranger.....the idea is you hold, take a breath and release a breath in order for you both to connect in mutual respect, bringing both your roots and backgrounds together in friendship...its actually a really nice way to meet someone! 

The waka itself made in 2009 from microfibre, if it were a war boat made from khadi wood as below, has a galley across the hull of carved figures which are the line of ancestors to reassure the boat and the passengers are protected by their spirit. A 'prow piece' which would be at the front of the canoe (the second photo below) is 'father of the sky' which breaks the atmosphere and the sides being 'spirit mother' and the underneath of the prow piece breaks the sea - the carvings you see on the each boats illustates the purpose of the boat and the right half of the waka signify the male energy and the left half, female energy. At the front of the war canoe here are two bamboo staffs either side of the bow with feathered rings which would act kinda like dream catchers which would trap any bad energy, transfer through the ancestors and up to the rib cage on the stern which has two ribs - one for physical state and spiritual state. On the 'Haunui' Waka, the netting at the bow is believed to trap the spirit of the dead as they fall down from the stars after their day of passing and bring their spirit and energy to the Waka. The Maori's believe that everything around them is significant and has an energy which has been manifested into something else - on the waka they believe the energy splits, some going under the boat and the rest into the sea to navigate the tides, youths brought onto the Waka are kept in line by being reminded they are in the presence of great spirits and must be respectful in their behaviour and beliefs while on the waka - pretty cool a bit of ancient story telling...   

The giant stones would act as anchors for the wakas, way before they got their hands on anything metal!

Carvings back in the day, were done by stones, chipping away at the wood and affixing paua shells (sea snails) for eyes and decorations - but they are probably the most beautiful wood carvings I have ever seen and can you imagine the time spent doing that!. With the canoe below, they would usually build a fire around a totara tree in the forest to burn it out and then hack away at its roots whilst attaching a flax rope to the tree top and later have many men come and pull the tree down, ancient ways of felling. Like the canoe below, they would have spent many hours spliting the log into layers and hacking away at it with stones to get the hollow form or possibly burn it out with fire - either way they are a very clever bunch the native Maori's...

Alot of Maori design maritime boats originate from Polynesian style boats and would actually bind the boat together by rubbing skin fibre of coconuts together and then plaiting them using three threads, when the fibre gets wet it expand filling the cracks along with glue from a Polynesian nut - so clever! they would also use these lashes to plug in cracks to water log areas of the boat - the days before nails and hammers!

The sails were also woven from flax crop fibre

Anyway, enough maritime history - this was sailing one of these Wakas!

Before you set sail on a Waka, the crew and passengers join hands in a circle with the skipper on the deck and gives a Maori blessing, wishing us a good and safe journey at sea and wish for the spirit of 'Tangaroa' who is the Maori god of the sea to watch over us on a voyage however long or short it is - sweet as right!

Johnson, one of the Maori crew was what I guess you could call was in charge of the Helm or the steer man with the giant paddle and would have to do the hard work of pushing the heavy paddle in a circular motion to steer the Waka out of the harbour. The paddles are interesting, as they are dedicated to a Maori individual and in this Wakas case is the grandchild of an ancestor who passed away - the paddle is adorned with a carving in tribute to them and the paddle head depiciting the Maori sea god that controls the tides of the ocean. The carvings adorning the deck and centre of the waka are 80 to 100 year old carvings which were rescued from an abandoned Marae and given a new home on board 'Haunui'. I think they're beautiful.

'Blessing Stones' on the deck were stones given to the Waka or were picked up from different islands and thought to transfer the positive energy from a place onto the Waka. Its about leaving a part of yourself on the vessel as its crossed your path.

When you steer a Waka, you fix on a point on the horizon and keep the centre of the Waka aligned with that point - the thing you have to get your head around is if you push the paddle left (which is HEAVY) - the waka goes right and visa versa. This was how the Maori's navigated the seas by the stars and the night sky constellations. Many Wakas have a 'star compass' with 'Raki' meaning 'North', 'Whitinga' meaning 'East - where sun is rising', 'Tonga' meaning 'South' and 'Tomokanga' meaning 'West - where sun is setting'. The other names meaning the directions of different winds and the houses in between these winds and magnetic points. The Maori's know that the sun will set in the opposite point to where it rose and can work out their direction from the rhythm of the sun's movement, using longitude and latitude and tell the time from the shadows on the deck of the waka.

Maori's don't wear watches or timing equipment at sea, but go by the movements of the sun, the moon and all the natural signs around them to navigate and venture direction. Even knowing birds habitual and feeding behaviour, the appearance of rubbish on the ocean and even cloud formations can tell them if they are near land - and if they don't get any natural signs or are confused of their location, they simply hold the sails and stop sailing until a natural or spiritual sign comes to them again....the attitude is 'we get there, when we get there' ha!

So I had a go at steering the Waka myself...

Its pretty heavy, you need to be looking around you 360 degrees whist battling the pressure of the tide - especially on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour where there are many boats sailing all over the place. Stanley, the Maori skipper told of stories where Skippers knew the tides and currents of the oceans so well, he could tell his crew were sailing in the wrong direction whilst he was sleeping down below in the hull!

And then the sails are opened, the cryptic patterns illustrating what the Waka means; 'Big Wind' and we go speeding back to shore.

Once you sail on a Waka, you are officially part of the 'Maori Voyaging Family' and are not refused permission to aboard the waka - so I was invited to come back as volunteer crew to come help on board when it sailed. Even as a novice they were pretty welcoming and happy to teach me knots and the protocol of sailing a Waka, sailing the canoe is probably the least complicated form of sailing, the way Maori's like it and the way I like it too. Last weekend we took a large New Zealand family outing out onto the harbour to celebrate the grand daughters graduation from medical school, except the weather was pretty different with very strong winds!

To finish the maritime adventure off, I was invited to go visit another Waka called 'Aotearoa One (New Zealand One)' at Gulf Harbour in Whangaparaoa Peninsula which is about 30 minutes North of Auckland City, which had been funded and built by the Maori University and was laying dormant in the marina needing some TLC and repair work.

The prow piece on the bow of the waka is thought to be representing the Manu bird in flight - but you can make what you want out of it. This Waka is slightly bigger than 'Haunui' so I went on board to take a closer look... The carvings on the stern are said to be of Maori chiefs with the carved feathers representing the rainbow which separates the positive energy networking through the Waka which is steered by a wooden bar as the tiller at the stern.

Sleeping bunks for the waka crew during their four hour-on-four hour off shifts

A little while later, I heard soft squeaks and looked down to see the unique spirit of the Waka had brought over some feathered friends to say hello down below in the waters....because Wakas don't make much noise whilst at sea, it is known for dolphins and whales to approach the vessel to say hello out of curiosity and the mammals of the sea are well respected by the Maori's who believe everything has a spiritual and kinetic energy.

So, thats all from the past couple of weeks from my life here in Auckland, I hope to by Christmas spread my wings just like this shag bird here who was putting on a great show next to the Waka and get exploring the rest of Aotearoa.

Till next time with news from my adventures, I'll leave you with the sunset over Auckland's Waitemata Harbour from Devonport on a beautiful pre summers evening..

Auckland, New Zealand

With Lonely Planet Travel Guide New Zealand

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