Friday, January 10, 2014

1 January 2014: Auckland and Rotorua

Our morning started more slowly than most as many of our students were out enjoying the international New Year’s Eve celebration.  Today’s activities were relatively simple: drive to Rotorua and enjoy an evening of Maori culture, including a traditional dinner.  We traveled from Auckland and its background of volcanic silhouettes to one of the few sites on Earth where geysers occur (Yellowstone National Park and Iceland are the other regions).  Our arrival in Rotorua was greeted with tell-tale sign of geysers: the smell of sulphur oxide (the potent odor of rotten eggs!).  The students deposited their bags into the YHA (Youth Hostel Association) and were off to explore the small, but tourist-friendly, town of Rotorua.  A few students found the choice (Kiwi for ‘excellent) pub that has Irish plates for lunch specials, then all were ready on time (as always, it seems) for our evening at Te Puia.  Te Puia is a family-run Maori experience that includes guided tours of the geysers around the facility, background on the Maori tribe (iwi) living in the area through time, some of the cultural practices of the Maori, including weaving and wood-carving, traditional song and dance of the Maori, and a meal cooked in the Earth (a hangi).  Our first experience at Te Puia began with our guide, Carl, pulling our group aside from a large group of tourists, and leading us on an entertaining tour of the facility.

Carl was quite the tour guide: he sprinkled humor among the Maori stories, answered questions our group had on Maori traditions or the natural phenomena all around us, and perhaps extended the truth of some stories (for effect, clearly).  Everyone got a kick out of Carl and he was terrific to have as our guide for the afternoon.  One of the fascinating things we learned about the delicate nature of the ground surrounding the geysers.  As the hot water/vapor/gases escape the ground, the minerals from the water drop around the geyser as the water evaporates in the air.  The minerals then form deposits that appear thick and solid, but they are anything but!  The crusts formed by the minerals can easily crack and break, and the subsequent holes can be large enough to swallow whatever caused the break in the first place.  In the past, Moa, large flightless birds that weighed up to 1000 lbs sometimes broke through the crust and died after either failing into the hole and the boiling water below or died after failing to get out of what could be a relatively deep hole.  Furthermore, the Haast Eagle, an extinct raptor that lived in New Zealand prior to humans arrival, would sometimes attempt to retrieve a sunken Moa and end up getting stuck in the hole as well. Oops!

Following our tour, we had the opportunity to witness a traditional welcoming of strangers into the home of a Maori tribe.  The host family sent a warrior out to make an offering of peace to a representative of our group (we tried to convince Sean Harrison of our group to do the honors to no avail).  Upon our ‘chief’s’ acceptance of the peace offering, we then entered the home (a reception room lined with traditional wood carvings) and were ‘officially’ welcomed by the tribe.  After several songs, the audience had the opportunity to learn a Maori dance performed by the women of the tribe or the war dance, called the ‘haka.’  Kristen Maddock (Biology/Pre-med, 2019) and Lara Guindi (Biology/Pre-med, 2016) learned and performed the poi dance, which involved the swinging of a white ball attached to a length of red twine.  Out of the group, our women were the best at the dance! Following the poi dance, our host family performed a haka, the war dance used to simultaneously excite the performing tribe and terrify the witnesses!  After a rousing performance, the family welcomed all of our young men to the stage to learn the steps/body slaps/shouts performed during the haka.  I haven’t seen the video yet, but I felt like our group was pretty threatening!  Following our haka, we soon made our way towards dinner…

The Maori traditionally cooked meals in the Earth and called the meal a ‘hangi’.  A hole would be dug, then filled with hot coals, then the food, and then covered with a plant material to prevent the soil from spoiling the food during the day-long cooking process.  After our evening of song and dance, we watched as our hangi was removed from the ground.  The food, potatoes, kumara (sweet potato), lamb, and fish, and more, looked and smelled sumptuous!  We made our way to our tables and then enjoyed the fruits of the Maori family’s labor….my goodness…this meal will undoubtedly be the best meal of the trip!  It would be misleading to say that our students and James Moran (Natural Sciences) and I ate well tonight; we ate gluttonously!  Of course, we’ll need that energy come the next few days!

Our night ended with another trip around the geysers and hot chocolate for our efforts.  What a tremendous experience!

Carl talks to our group about the silver fern, one of New Zealand's national symbols.

 A Maori warrior blows on a ceremonial horn that welcomes us into his family's greeting house.

Kristen Maddock (Biology, 2019) and Lara Guindi (Biology/Pre-med, 2016) perform the poi dance.

Kate O'Driscoll (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016) and Lara Guindi (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016) listen to Carl talk about the geysers at Te Puia.

Kate O'Driscoll (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016), Lara Guindi (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016), Chris Lorch (Nursing, 2019), Jason Lorch (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016), Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2016) , and Jack Capetola (Chemistry, 2016) in front of the major geyser at Te Puia, Pohutou.

Our traditionally-cooked Maori meal (hangi) just after it was removed from the ground!

Our group getting ready to enjoy an incredible Maori meal!

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