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 3: Waitangi

Waitangi God carving
Success with the car, fortunately – courtesy of a nice young man at Auckland Central Police Station who stamped the print-outs of my scanned documents as corresponding with my passport, and allowing me to drive until next Saturday on this stamped photocopy. AVIS were satisfied, and I finally got away from Auckland in my automatic Mitsubishi Lancer at about 10am. I have to say it performs pretty well, and I am content with it.

The drive north from Auckland along State Highway 1 is blessed with stunning scenery, which ranges from the volcanic to the sub-tropical into the deciduous and quasi-savannah, descending finally to the delightfully tranquil Bay of Islands.

Here are the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, and the very experience of ancient, native New Zealand that I hoped for, and will treasure for a long time to come. Some 2-3 weeks before the main tourist season, I was fortunate enough to get all three Maori guides at once, practicing their ‘spiel’ together on the season’s first Guided Tour. There was a young man, brimful of enthusiasm and belief; an early 40s woman, wiry, earnest, at once worldly and mysterious; and an older man, in his late 50s or early 60s, wrinkled with wisdom, solid, knowing, both serene and simple. Their tour began with the young man walking backwards before me relating the creation myth of the Maori people, telling me the names of their gods and goddesses, and some of the foundational stories of their people. It was fascinating. They asked me questions and I had to confess my own genuine interest in the ancient peoples of the world and the oral tradition of native wisdom found the world over; my own interest in the Celtic oral tradition in Europe; my genuine interest in the Maori, more than in the settlers, on this, my first trip to New Zealand. Indeed, as I told them, since arriving in New Zealand yesterday evening, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is my first stop, my first ‘tourist attraction’, the first place I wanted to see – three and a half hours non-stop drive north of Auckland.

Largest war canoe in the world
The young man took me down to the shore and introduced me to the largest war canoe in the world, the tribes whose stories are carved pictorially into the sides of it, the wood and twine technology of its making, its annual 6th February launching into the sea where it soaks up water, doubling its 6 ton weight, and the joints seal as the wood expands. They dance the Haka on either side, chanting to the Gods of the Sea and of the Winds – that the water will keep it afloat, and the winds guide it in the right direction. The tall prow and stern act as lines of sight to the stars, sun and moon for direction, and it takes minimum 80, optimum 125 men to carry and row it.

Then we began to walk back up the hill to the lawn where the treaty was signed, and the woman took over, telling me about the Busby’s – the christian priest who was the first British resident here, the story of his house, how the australians didn’t like him and sent only half the materials he ordered to build it, such that he had to redesign it and build it half the size, how he was a good man to whom the Maori owe much, because he defended their way of life from the fate that befell so many others. He went back to England and died of an eye infection, but his wife and children remained and his wife taught the Maori people the ways of the pen – before this their wisdom was always spoken and sung, passed from generation to generation, but Mrs Busby taught them to read and write and this was an immense help to them in dealing with the onset of the future. She is so completely accepting of the inevitability of British rule, even proud of the flags that we gave to this country, yet her affection for the Busby’s is down to their protection of her ancestral inheritance. All through this I nod, make noises of understanding. My initial rather dismissive question “who was this Busby”, meant to say, “I am interested in the maori not in the invaders” has been answered very earnestly – the Busby’s, although in some sense the representatives of the invasion, were also its temperers, the careful supporters of the Maori way of life in the face of conquest, and clearly are held in high esteem to this day.

Waitangi Meeting House
At last, the old man takes over, and leads me towards the meeting house. His weight and gravitas, tempered with joviality, at once respect me as the paying tourist, and suss me out as the intriguing stranger who seems to have more understanding than most. He leads me up to the meeting house and tells me about the sculptured wooden frame – their great ancestor Kupe who was the first to come from Hawaiki (Land of the Ancients – about 950AD) stands proud at the apex of the frame. He left a small group here, returned to Hawaiki, and later (about 1350AD) his grandson arrived with a great migration of people on a huge flotilla of wakas (war canoes). The grandfather at the top, the grandson at the bottom, with the central beam running up between them. Then it is the grandfather’s outstretched and protecting arms that run down the sloping roof on either side. He leads me up onto the porch, where we take off our shoes, in respect. This is a meeting house where the community gather to worship, to discuss, for meetings, for funerals, for the important things of community life. Each tribe has such a house, and this is the house of all the tribes, here at the Waitangi Treaty grounds. Inside there is a meeting going on, people sat on rows of chairs, in modern dress, some with laptops, a few standing at the front, one talking, all in their wonderfully lyrical native tongue. He takes me in – this is a special moment – normally if there is a meeting the tourists don’t enter – but brought in by him I follow, honoured and a little awed. He whispers to me, telling me about the carvings on the beams, how each tell stories about one of the tribes of people who are here, or about their gods. Here is the carving of the story the young man told me about the creation of the first woman, and how she had trouble with her pregnancy and gave birth through her ribs under her armpit. Suddenly all the people in the meeting house stand up, and begin a communal song. It is uplifting and mournful at the same time, and deeply deeply spiritual. Yes, ‘spiritual’ is a word all three of my guides have used in almost every other sentence, when describing the Maori, and they maintain this spirituality to this day. Indeed as the gathered people sang I could feel my own spirit answer with both respect and humility amidst what was both an alien and an all too recognisable otherworld. Here the tales and the images are so strange, and yet the truths so familiar to one who has studied the Celtic, Norse and Vedic traditions. Yes these are not Indo-Europeans, and the similarities in the stories of the Celts and Indians will not extend to the Maori, but the sentiment and the human truths seem all too recognisable. I tell the old man I can feel it. I find myself using the kind of gestures I use with those I know in England who share my interest in Celtic mythology and the oral tradition of the druids. He seems to understand. He leads me behind the people as they sing, to the far end of the hall, where he introduces me to the central column, the Guardians who protect this house. I am honoured, nod my head in humility; I touch my fist to my solar plexus and then open it palm outwards to the column. It is a gesture meaning my heart and honour and strength are offered in recognition of your rule in this space. The old man seems to recognise, somehow, what I mean. He leads me back, behind the singing crowd, out onto the porch, where we rejoin the young man and the woman. He tells them, immediately, “He feels it” and they both smile warmly at me. It’s as if suddenly I am accepted by them in a way they did not expect of a tourist. We wander slowly away from the Meeting House, back towards the Busby’s house, and there is such a strange but warm feeling of togetherness, although necessarily so brief, and in all truth across the gulf of cultures and backgrounds necessarily all too shallow, a connection nonetheless that has my soul standing to attention. They seem almost sad that it is all over, and we all shake hands and wish each other well.

I walk away, utterly enchanted. Here, in New Zealand, is a culture still alive and well, literate, English speaking, with unbroken connections and continuity from the ancient past. I could learn so much from these people, if only I could find what I could usefully give in return. I promptly went into the shop and spent $400 on wood carvings and jade jewellery, like any good tourist should !!

I then went and checked in at the Copthorne Bay of Islands Hotel and was given Room 230 ūüôā

Portugal July 07

In July 07 I spent a week in Portugal with an old friend who has recently moved out there, staying with him and his young friend in their little flat near Sintra where they are living prior to my friend moving further south to the Algarve. We visited Sintra, and the Quinta de Regulare and Feather Palace there, and went for a drive in the lovely cabriolet beetle I hired out to the temple of Diana and the circle of Almendres Рthe greatest stone circle in the Iberian Peninsular. It was a lovely few days break, in baking weather (compared to the floods at home).

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Scotland 2005

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In the summer of 2005 I made a visit to the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. ¬†I have been to Scotland many times, and this proved to be the first of many more visits – almost annual from now on. ¬†My parents first took me when I was a child, and we went to Skye, and perhaps also to the Uists, though I don’t recall exactly. My next visit, under my own steam – in a Mazda 323 – was in 1995, when Luke and I visited Edinburgh, Drumnadrochit on ¬†Loch Ness, paid a toll to drive over the new bridge to Skye, and went to Mull and my first visit to Lochbiue, and to Iona. ¬†In 2001 I went with Jan for my first trip to Lewis, where we spent a week in a little cottage on the main road up from the ferry port on Harris, and spent almost every day at Callanais Stone Circle.

On this trip, in 2005, I went to Skye, and returned to Mull, to again visit Lochbuie and Iona.