Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 15: Uluru

So, at last, I have been to Uluru. To the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, to be precise. It was a 24 hour stopover – the flights from and back to Sydney essentially free, included in the globe-trotter ticket I bought for this trip downunder. I arrived at about 1pm at the Voyages Resort, where there are hotels for all budgets, (and the cheapest is dear for a backpacker) all run by the one company that got the government concession here. The first thing you notice as you get off the plane is the heat. It is 36deg here. The Park is some 40km from
Uluru, outside the National Park, adjacent to the new airport. My room is basic, but I shall only be putting my head down in it so I am content.


Kata-Tjuta gorge
At 4pm, I depart on my first tour – the Kata-Tjuta Dunes Sunset tour. Cherry, guide to the 20 tourists and driver of our mini-van on this Discovery Ecotours trip, is fresh, cheerful, and informative. We visit the large rock formations collectively known by the European name of The Olgas, their aboriginal name, Kata-Tjuta. The local peoples – a cluster of three dialect groupings, are known as the Anangu (pr. ‘ananoo’) but the stories of these lands include peoples from all over Australia. The Anangu have been living here for 22000 years, the deep red centre of this island continent – one of the last areas to be populated. We Europeans first sighted it in the 1870s. Tourism began in the 1950s, which was when the National Park was created – a slice taken out of the Aboriginal Reservation that covers the wider area. In 1985 the Land Rights Act returned ownership of the National Park to the Anangu, on condition that they lease it back to the Australian government for 99years. It was at this point that the resort and airport were relocated out of the Park, and the indigineous people began to have at least something of a say in the running of the land they had occupied for so long. None of them live a nomadic life anymore. They wear western clothes, live in houses, and are prey to the demon drink.
But their culture lives on through their ceremonies, rituals, social structure, language, mores. They have managed to restrict access to much of the park – with the voice of the conservationists on their side keen to preserve this unique environment. Everyone has to pay $25 at the entrance to the park, for a three day ticket. 25% of this goes to the local people. About $6. I spent about $400 here in 24 hours, on hotel room, food, wine, t-shirt, hat…. ..and $6 of it went to the indigenous people.

Kata-Tjuta sign
Kata-Tjuta is the ancient sacred site of the Men’s Mysteries for the aboriginal people, where their young men are initiated to this day, and it is to a carefully fenced-off area with clear walkways and viewing platforms that we are taken, into a gorge that is no longer used by the indigenous people, and their gorges are off limits. Here the trees from which the men make their spears and spear throwers grow, drinking up the rich water source at the foot of the rocks. Only yards away from the rock formations, the desert takes over again, with coarse grass the only greenery that breaks the surface. Somehow, on this tour, with the multi-national cohort and our Australian tour-guide, on the carefully managed paths, it is landscape that we have come to see, and the mystery of this place is carefully hidden from us. Cherry cannot know anything about the mysteries, for she is female, and there are female tourists with us. She explains that amongst local people, only men are allowed to come to Kata-Tjuta. It feels somehow as though sacrilege has been committed. Walking back out of the gorge, back onto the bus, we are taken to a viewing platform on the top of a sand dune, from which to watch the rocks gradually change colour as the sun sets behind us. Cherry gets out bread, oil and balsamic, and a seed mix which includes a local tree bark, and pours sparkling wine into champagne flutes for everyone, except the children who get orange juice. I, of course, tickled by the sheer decadence of this experience, have to mix the too, and soon several of us are quaffing bucks fizz, in the desert, watching the sunset over Kata-Tjuta. It is somehow fittingly colonial, distant and distinct from the true and ancient meaning of the place.

Bucks Fizz at Kata-Tjuta

Quite merry by the time we get back to the resort, after buying a better (kangaroo leather) sunhat and a flynet to keep off the extremely irritating desert flies, I bought a plate of raw kangaroo meet and barramundi fish and barbecued it myself on the backpacker-communal barbecues, washing it down with strong aussie wine. Then an early night, and up at 4.30am for the Uluru sunrise tour.

Sunrise over Uluru

Uluru Mala Face
There’s only five of us this morning, and our tour-guide, Jessie, is more experienced and more knowledgeable than Cherry was. Jessie takes us to the viewing area for sunrise, and we watch the colours change, drinking coffee and eating a light breakfast of cereal bars and muffins. Then he drives us around the base of the Uluru, telling us some of the tales of the aboriginal culture that tie aspects of this great rock into the history and mythology of both the local and many more distant peoples. It is quite fascinating. But the tension between landlord and leaseholder is so evident. All the literature from the Voyages Resort, and all the various tour-guide companies that operate here, include the statement from the Anangu that they would rather people did not climb the rock. Yet of course the climb is available and allowed and tour-guides take you up, and we watch the long line of tourists climbing the precarious path – with a steel rope to guide you – up onto the top of the rock. As Jessie explains to us, in the ancient tale of the Mala ancestors, it was a great wise elder who climbed the rock here, to plant the totem-pole announcing the beginning of the men’s mysteries ceremonies. The totem pole is echoed in one of the rock formations. The tourists tread this processional way, as if clambering up onto the High Altar in the Vatican, oblivious to all insult. I saw the request from the Anangu, and did not climb. I did not buy the postcard that said “I respected the wishes of the Anangu and did not climb,” but was amused to see it in the rack.
Uluru snake lair
As we drive around the base Jessie tells us a fabulous story about a snake ancestor and her eggs, and the shapes on the sides of the rock that pick out moments of the tale. It is quite fascinating to the see the mythology mapped onto the geology in this way. We leave the bus at a car park and Jessie takes us to see one of the rock-paintings – barely more than a classroom blackboard, really, with a jumble of signs and symbols used to aid in passing on the oral tradition.

Uluru rock paintings

We go right up close to the rock and see into one of the pools of water that collect at its base – surrounded by lush vegetation, small lizards, and more tourists. Then its off to the Cultural Centre – the exhibition space of the National Park, where everything has been prepared by/on behalf of the the Anangnu, and there are shops selling local crafts and artworks. I buy a hand-crafted snake, to remember the story. There are aboriginal women, sitting cross legged on the floor in one of the shops, painting. They chat amongst themselves, in a world completely their own, oblivious to the tourists standing watching them, somehow in another time and place from us altogether. Even now, in their presence, in this shop, I feel that their mystery is hidden from us. It is carefully managed, and very effective. The storyboards in the exhibition tell a little, and then fall silent. Here and there it is mentioned that the true ending of a story is reserved for initiates only. Perhaps, in the end, it is a mark of the victory of the aboriginal people here, that outsiders do not know, cannot understand their ways, their mysteries. They have kept the strength of their magic by keeping silent. It is good.

Having completed the circumference we pull in for a last stop at a viewing platform for a good view of the rock, and Jessie and I take each others’ pictures.

Jessie - Uluru guide


Then it’s back to the resort, for an hour wandering around the visitors centre, where I learn more about the geology and the natural history of the place, and at last back to the airport and back to Sydney.

I am glad to have been there at last, to have at least touched the surface of the mysteries of an ancient people, to have gained, at least, a knowledge of the power of its silence.

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 14: Sydney

Me at the Opera House Back to Sydney! Delightful dinner with fellow Kaotician (and its original founder) Phil Morle and his wife at their lovely home overlooking the bush in Hornsby, followed by a day out in the City seeing the sights, drinking tea outside the Opera House – and several beers in Sydney’s gay village, Surrey Hills. A lovely day indeed. And then back to Sean’s for the weekend – to make him a new website!

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 13: Last Day NZ

The last day’s drive was long and exhausting, from Queenstown all the way north east to Christchurch. Lake Pukaki on the way in the bright sunlight was in one of its very bright blue moods, according to the lady at the tourist stop, who sold me a breakfast bar with a smile. Lunch in Fairlie’s award winning bistro was really delicious, reading through the local paper with an excellent coffee and a warm chicken salad worthy of a town a good deal larger than little Fairlie. And finally Christchurch – initially a very unappealing and seemingly endless strip of low-rise warehouse-style industrial and commercial buildings beside the road, and then suddenly, at the centre, a veritable Upper Stratford-in-the-Wold (if such a place can exist) more typically English than you’re likely to find anywhere outside the nether regions of Shropshire or Herefordshire, utterly quaint, whilst at the same time circled with enormous modern high-rise towers, in the lake of industrial units. A very strange city indeed – all at once picture-postcard English village, international windy city, and highway strip town. The Heritage in Cathedral Square – like all the Heritage Hotels I have stayed in in New Zealand, was lovely, and the restaurant here, in the old Government building next to the hotel tower, particularly good. Last but not least, the Antarctic Centre at Christchurch Airport is an experience not to be missed! – though I should have left longer than an hour to get round it all. And so goodbye to New Zealand, and hopefully see you again!

Some views of the picturesque centre of Christchurch – with the memorial to the suffragettes who succeeded in making New Zealand the first country in the world to extend suffrage to women:
### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the Christchurch photos.
Pictures of the penguins at the Antarctic Centre:
### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the penguin photos.

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 12: Coach-Cruise-Fly

Tandem Paragliding
OK so the second gig of the holiday, presenting to colleagues at Otago University in Dunedin, has gone well, and I am back in Queenstown, for the day trip to Milford Sound, and fun on my return! The day began early with a several hour long coach drive through three deep u-shaped glacial valleys across to the west coast of south island and Milford Sound. Here we joined a small ferry for a cruise down the fiord and out into the Tasman Sea briefly, then back up the fiord, to the small airport where I took the twin-prop Britten Norman Island Hopper back to Queenstown, sitting next to the pilot! To round off the day, I took the gondola up the mountain overlooking Queenstown, and completely on the spur of the moment went (tandem) paragliding, off the top of the mountain and back down into town. See here for slideshows of some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen in my life!

### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the paragliding photos.

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 11: South Island

View from Queenstown Airport
So today I arrived in the Scotland of the southern ocean. And it really is that. The scenery, as you fly in over the snowcapped mountains down into Queenstown, is what can only be described as gobsmackingly spectacular. I was blessed today with brilliant sunshine and deep blue skies – a blue only rivalled by the blue of the rivers and lakes that sit in the dips between the mountains. It really is stunning.

Having flown from Wellington to Christchurch, and then from Christchurch to Queenstown, in the final leg of a rather non-sensical itinerary, I then drove to Dunedin, via Alexandra and Milton. The scenery, however, made it well worth it – including such sights as Roaring Meg:

Roaring Meg

and a host of amazing vistas, courtesy of the mountain ranges of the south.

Queenstown Dunedin road

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 10: Te Papa Museum

New Zealand Forest after European settlement
The road from Tongariro to Whanganui, and on down from there to Wellington, takes the whole morning to drive, but past some very stunning scenery – including a wonderful waterfalls.

At Wellington itself – the capital, although a smaller city than Auckland, but similarly a harbour town – I went straight to the Te Papa (‘the People’) National Museum, which proved to be well worth it.

Here were a number of excellent exhibitions about the flora and fauna, the history of New Zealand, and the tectonic geology of the country – including audio-visual record of the 1995-96 eruptions at Ruapehu, over
the chateau where I stayed.

Grand Chateau under volcanic eruption in 1995

But all these were crowned, for me, by the permanent exhibition “Blood, Earth , Fire” which documents how the arrival of humanity has devastated The Land That Was – only 1000yrs ago an untouched island paradise.

New Zealand Forest before and after European settlement

It is quite stunning how, in the 700odd years that the Maori were here, humanity had already begun, inexorably to take its toll, for all that their ways trod more lightly upon the earth than ours. But the shere
orgy of destruction that the creation of the virtual England of grass, sheep and cows unleashed upon this land in the space of 80years from 1840 to 1920 is truly awesome to behold. The exhibition does not pull any punches, making it clear what impact the Maori had, but not pretending that the Europeans were anything but a million times worse. One of the most poignant parts of the exhibition was a memorial to the dozens of species known to have been lost in this process.

Testament, also, is given to those who, as early as the mid-1930s, began to question this savage repurposing of what was once ancient native New Zealand forest – with trees thousands of years old – into the short-term gain of introduced European grassland for introduced grazing animals bred mostly for export. Today’s New Zealand, it is clear, vehemently defends what is left of its natural heritage; the tide of destruction has been halted.

Herbert Guthrie-Smith quote on the destruction

Also documented here is the sad tale of how the European settlers signed the wonderful treaty of Waitangi and then proceeded to welch on every aspect of the deal, disenfranchising, disinheriting, and simply hoodwinking the Maori out of the lands. The full, formal apology for such treatment from none other than Queen Elizabeth II, quoted in full in the exhibition, is testament at least to the beginnings of reparation – the ‘Claims’ now being heard by Moari people for rights to their own land. Interesting too to note the large numbers of Scots – some refugees from the Highland clearances – Dalmatians, and Chinese, who helped to swell the numbers of English settlers. There were some 100,000 Maori on New Zealand before the Europeans arrived. Now some 4.1million people live here altogether – very very few of them pure-blood native Maori. The fourth floor of the Museum includes an enormous Meeting House for all the tribes and peoples and New Zealand – it gives a really good feeling that, for all the darker side of the colonial history, honesty and a willingness to make good past mistakes characterise the present.

Te Papa Meeting House

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 9: Three Worlds

Mount Ruapehu Today, in the Tongariro National Park, I have been to three places: a Maori land of mountain gods Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe; the area used for the filming of Mordor in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and some amazing volcanic landscape. All three map onto one another in a jumble of reality and virtuality that was at times slightly confusing. The Mountain Peaks were gifted to the New Zealand people by the chief of the tribe whose land the park now covers, in a bid to save them from the ravages of the encroaching farmers who now had the right to buy land from individual Maori – something which set against the old communal way of life was a legal
nonsense guaranteed to serve the interests of the settlers and not of the Maori. In 1887 it became one of the very first National Parks in the world, and grew in size over the coming century as the government bought out the holdings around the peaks.

I learnt this from a rather shabby audio-visual in the local visitors centre, where the whole thing was split into two, and the left-hand projection was some six inches lower than the right-hand projection, making everything rather weirdly disjointed; worse, some kind of degradation of the film meant that everything blurred jaggedly in the strangest fashion – I have never seen the like – and some of the audio seemed to be lost, such that important speeches were lost entirely against the backdrop of inane music and disjointed photographs, speech-silences that ended in new voices rounding off conclusively with summarising “and so”‘s. In short, it was dreadful, and detracted rather from the message it was trying to convey.

Mount Ruapehu

The other virtual world mapped onto this landscape, however – that of Mordor – whilst an incomparably better audio-visual experience, nonetheless fared little better for me, today, when weighed up against what I would consider to be the real star of the day – the landscape itself. This, of course, I viewed through an entirely more modern eye than that of the old Maori legend, or of the smorgasboard of European folklore that is shoehorned into Tolkein’s epic. This eye was a nineteenth century eye, the eye of the picaresque, the Victorian eye that delights in the wild and in natural landscape, and then returns to the 1929 champagne chateau for gourmet food and fine wine.

Sauron Loses his hand

My guide was a nice enough chap, and showed me all sorts of interesting places. He had been the environment Officer here in the Park for Jackson’s production, ensuring that the mosses and lichens were protected with carpet, and that walkways were built to minimise trampling, and that all the areas heavily churned by the trucks and other vehicles were lovingly returned to the wild with the minimum of disruption. Now he drives people around giving tours, telling stories, and takes people for walks and ski-ing trips. Seemed like a pretty nice life: good on yer Scotty.

Gollum Leaps Down on Frodo and Sam

We collected some of the plastic rubbish left behind by the snowboarders and toboganists, as we wandered through the rocks and crags of Mordor, stopping to wonder at the spot where Sauron’s hand was cut off by Isildur’s father, at the spot in the Emin Muil where Gollum leaped down from the cliff to attack the sleeping Frodo and Sam, at the spot where Frodo and Sam rested on a spur of rock as the lava of Mount Doom flowed around them at the very end. Here where the great Ruapehu spake his Mannah to calm the young North Island freshly brought to the surface of the southern sea by Maui’s hook, the Great Battle at the end of the Second Age was fought, and the tourists ski down slopes of freshly machine-made snow, strewn across the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park.

Rock where Frodo and Sam lie with lava flowing round them

Indeed, the landscape certainly won out for me today, particularly when, in true Kiwi style, I went ‘tramping’ as they call it here, (that’s hiking for the Brits) from the Hotel out to the Taranaki Falls – a lovely 2hour walk through countryside at times not dissimilar from the Yorkshire Dales, at times closer to North Wales, and other times somehow quite lunar, and at all times populated with the most fascinating flora and the calls of strange and wonderful birds. An absolute delight, from start to finish, and – as always for me when walking – a marvellous opportunity for reflection and meditative thought.

### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the Takanaki Falls photos.

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 8: Into the National Park

Huka Falls
Well today has been pleasantly slow and quite lacking in excitement – a welcome respite after yesterday’s highlights. I stopped off to take a walk down to the better lookout of Huka Falls, and another round the Taupo Museum, had a rather nice Clam Chowder in an eatery in Taupo, then took the long way round (and more scenic route) down the west coast of Lake Taupo to the National Park, and on up to Mount Ruapehu and the
Grand Chateau hotel – which is splendid.

Here it is time for a relaxed dinner in their splendid Edwardian style restaurant, while the rain pours down outside.

On the way down from Rotarua to Taupo, I passed this amazing installation making excellent use of the local volcanic conditions to power today’s society:

Geothermal Power Station

At the Taupo Museum I was treated to an award winning garden, and the portraits of two 19th century Maori chiefs:

Award Wining Taupo Garden - Chelsea Flower Show no less

Rutene Te Uamairangi Rahui - 19th cent Maori chief in Taupo museum

another 19th cent Maori chief in Taupo museum

On the way down from Taupo to the National Park – taking the scenic route down the west of the lake – I was blessed with some incredible vistas, worth stopping for a few minutes to breathe in the view, and take a snap:

View of Lake Taupo

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 7: Chief Tourist

Warrior welcome
So this morning I had the Great Sights bus tour that took in Te Puia, the Agrodome, and Rainbow Springs. Really from the sublime to the ridiculous. Te Puia we only had an hour at, but was quite fascinating, and I determined after only 15minutes there that I would be coming back to spend the afternoon there. Te Puia is kind of “the Maori Experience” – on the one hand slightly commercialising the culture, but on the other run by and for Maori, and really supporting the perpetuation and survival of the culture. As well as the interpretation areas, for tourists, (including a Meeting House, like the one at Waitangi, but somehow more for the tourists than for the people?) it is also a living museum, incorporating an active teaching carving workshop with many (male) students who learn the dances as well as the carving arts, and a weaving workshop where the (female) students learn the weaving arts with the twine derived from the native flax. The carving is much finer today than of old, with modern tools, but the designs are traditional. I noted with interest that I recognized the flax plant as one my parents had in their back garden, a great big thing it was, beside the tiny apple orchard at the top of the garden, with sharp blade-like leaves that shot out of the ground. Here it was, at Te Puia, being scraped down with an abalone shell, the fibres parted and woven into thread, from which all the clothes of the Maori were made.

Maori Carving Workshop

Also here, of course, were the two geysers of Rotarua, Pohutu and the Prince of Wales’ Feathes geysers, which, perhaps in concert with the earthquake in the Philipines this morning, were both in an unusually active state, and treated us to a fine display the whole time we were there.


Then, all too soon, on to the Agrodome, where we were treated to an hour and half of sheep. I was bored to tears, and actually a little annoyed to be wasting time here when I could be back at Te Puia. The man on stage showing us a range of different breeds of sheep was a boorish, ugly, rather gross man who seemed to sum up for me all the worst aspects of the settler culture that arrived here 150 years ago, and in the space of a century cut down most of the trees, and almost decimated Maori culture. Fortunately for us all, the Maori have fought their way back from near extinction and are now a vibrant force in New Zealand politics. The sheer depth, power, and substance of their fierce warriors puts to shame the brash, shallow arrogance and aggressiveness of the ‘simple farming folk’ who know nothing but how to dominate and destroy. As this man sheered a sheep on stage for us, it was like watching the rape of Aoteoroa played out in allegory.

Next stop, none too soon, was Rainbow Springs – essentially a rainbow trout farm using natural springs, dressed up as a conservation site, with a shed housing a Kiwi bird and some display cases with a gecko or

Lunch with a view

Last stop, the SkyLine – a sort of ski-lift thing with gondolas instead of chairs that goes up to a restaurant. A nice buffet, overlooking Rotarua – with quite stunning views – and then back down. Impatient to return to Te Puia, I walked back into town, and enjoyed a stroll from Kaurui Park, with its mud pools and steaming vents. And so back to Te Puia, where I went straight to the great monument where the supreme beings are represented in a great circle, for all the world like a Maori Woodhenge.

Maori Woodhenge

And indeed there are twelve such beings, and yes they map onto a Maori zodiac, tracing out the heavens and the turning of agricultural cycle and the mysteries of the people as they mark the passing of the phases of the year. Here indeed, without question, is the Myth of the Eternal Return, as Mercia Eliade described it, in its south pacific form.

### sadly the tag-based slideshow I created in 2007 is no longer supported by Flickr ###
Please visit the Flickr album to see the Maori Woodhenge photos.

Fascinated by this circle, and snapping away, I didn’t notice one of the attendants come out of the ticket office, and was a bit startled when she stopped me and said I wasn’t allowed to take pictures – then she noticed the sticker on my jacket, still there since the morning, and realised that I was actually a paying customer, and was effuse in her apologies, gave me a hug, and a ticket for a performance that was to take place in about half an hour. Happy with this, I wandered around a little, taking in the recreated Maori village – a very communal way of life they led – and gathered with all the other tourists for the ‘cultural performance’ at the Meeting House. The hostess came out of the Meeting House at last and approached us all at the gate, in full costume, and explained what was about to happen. The performers were going to dance the formal welcome of one tribe to a visiting tribe, and therefore amongst the tourists one of us (a gentleman) had to be chief. Yes you guessed it, I volunteered (keenly) and was chosen immediately. So, at the front of the crowd at all times, with the hostess by my side (and slightly behind) I led the group from the gate slightly into the grounds between the gate and the Meeting House. A fierce young warrior, wiry and lean and dressed only in a short skirt, carrying a large spear, came out of the house and down the path towards me, performing the full dance of challenge, eyes wide and tongue extended in defiance, brandishing his spear in ritual poses as part of the dance. Then at my feet, he placed a fern leaf, and, as instructed, without taking my eyes off the warrior, whose eyes I had fixed with mine from the moment the dance began, and bent down, catching the leaf in my peripheral vision, and picked it up, carefully, to hold by my side for the rest of the performance. Then, the four other warriors and three other maidens joined in the song and dance outside the front of the Meeting House, completing the welcome, as the first warrior beckoned me forward and into the House with his spear and his dance.

The Meeting House

So (with our hostess at my side prompting me all the time) I led the crowd up the steps, where we all took off our shoes and hats, and on into the Meeting House, where I was given the seat of honour, in the front row before the stage. They then all gathered on the stage, in their fine costumes, and performed a number of traditional dances. The brief highlight, before we could continue, was that of course I had to join them on the stage, briefly, to shake hands with each of the warriors, and touch noses twice, gently, with each, in the traditional greeting. It was really quite wonderful. I beamed with absolute pleasure throughout the entire experience, and only towards the end of it remembered to get my camera out and take any pictures. It was an absolutely wonderful pleasure to be so welcomed to New Zealand, properly, in the traditional Maori manner – an experience I shall truly never forget.

The stick game dance

Maori warrior doing the Haka

Now all I have to do is to work out how on earth I am going to get this leaf back to the UK! Australian biosecurity certainly won’t let me take it through.

This problem, however, was solved in an interesting way by the evening’s entertainment – the Tamaki Village concert and meal. This was not better, nor worse than I had experienced at Te Puia in the afternoon, just different, in some ways, and yet the same thing, in others. I felt perhaps, at times, that the edge of commercialisation of the culture was stronger in the evening than in the afternoon – there didn’t seem to be much about the Tamaki village that was putting something back into the culture, like the teaching institutes at Te Puia, it was a business, and it was proud of it. But at times the performance was somehow better, more authentic for being in the forest, albeit that the village seemed as fabricated and unlived in as the one at Te Puia. The food was so-so. I was again Chief – this time of the coach, and one of three, and it was another of the three of us who got to pick up the leaf offering. However, at the end of the evening, we were each presented with a little wood-carving round our necks, representing the Maori god of wisdom, and this, albeit not the leaf from Te Puia, will do well as a souvenir as my day as Chief Tourist, consuming Maori culture as it has been presented to me in exchange for my tourist dollars.

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 6: The Real, the Virtual, and the Surreal

Me at Bag End
So I spent the beginning of the week in Auckland, mostly in my hotel room, cooking for myself, and preparing a Keynote presentation on my Mac to deliver to an audience of academics and web professionals at Auckland University for [CODE], the Centre of Digital Enterprise, who organised the Seminar, on Tuesday evening. My presentation, based on a chapter I have written in a forthcoming book to be published this Autumn, is entitled “Virtuality: Time, Space, Consciousness and a Second Life”. Essentially it’s about reality and virtuality not necessarily being that different, or as opposed as one might at first think, particularly from an experiential
point of view.

The seminar went very well, and I was well received, and have made some interesting contacts at Auckland.

Then today I drove south to Rotaroa, arriving in the evening after a long day’s driving and two rather interesting stopovers. The first was the Waitamo Caves – the Ruaraki cave to be precise – where I discovered that the glow worms are not actually worms but maggots, and what glows is not actually them but their faesces. So “glowing maggot shit” doesn’t sound as good as “glow worm” in the tourist books. The stalagtites and mites however were fairly impressive, though not as impressive as ones I have seen on the south coast of Spain.

Then I went to Hobbiton. Yes, really. To the set used by Jackson to film the sequences in the Lord of the Rings movie that take place in Hobbiton. Really quite an experience. I was struck by the fact that Hobbiton, as a virtual place that has never existed, exists with such power in the imaginary through Jackson’s films, yet the ‘real’ place is just a tired sham, a mock-up facade of seeming with no substance but what our memory of the movie can give it. The virtual, in short, more real than the real, in this case. How apt.