Report from Tomorrow - Vol 43
1USD = S$1.69 (S$1 = 0.59USD)
In April we visited New Zealand or Aotearoa, a Maori word meaning Land of the Long White Cloud for this beautiful country. While NZ and S'pore have the same number of people, NZ is 460 times larger, a reason to like it before we even landed. We drove 1765 km over nine days and saw only a part of the North Island. While we were there they had a high of 23C (73F) - a far cry from the LOW temps of 21-22C we see in S'pore! Nights were about 12C (53F) and we reveled in how wonderful it felt.
The terrain of NZ varied from hilly to mountainous, but seldom flat. Even in the broad valleys, you are never out of sight of mountains. The people of this land (Kiwis) are a very rugged and outdoor people. I don't think there's such a thing as an indoor Kiwi - except maybe one or two stuck in Auckland.
This place is empty! There was hardly anyone on the roads. The towns all close up by 7PM, leaving some restaurants and bars open, but few groceries or pharmacies open. Where do all the people go?
At one point we stayed on a farm that was about one tenth the size of all of S'pore. Instead of 0.4 million people, the farm had only 6000 sheep and 800 cows, half-dozen dogs and one family. What a contrast!
While we initially enjoyed having western food, we quickly tired of Kiwi food (meat plus two or three vegetables), which almost always included "chips" (french fries) in copious amounts. After 8-9 days of this we were more than ready for rice or noodles and some chilli sauce.
At a small town fete we were astounded to watch sheep be sheared in less than one minute. Later we were told the record for this type of sheep shearing was 22 seconds! At the same place we watched a log chopping competition. These were serious competitors with their own gleaming axes who chopped through logs one foot in diameter in less than 30 seconds!
I went deep sea fishing for the first time, fishing for marlin in an area 24-42 miles off shore. We used six stiff short fishing poles with huge reels, each with 60 or 85 pound line. Each rod and reel cost NZ$1200-1500 - expensive gear! Even the lures were dear at NZ$80 each (we lost one to a shark). While we saw no marlin, we did catch a mess of small (3 pound?) tuna and some red snapper. When we were being taught about the gear the captain explained what would happen if we had a strike. You stand there with a back brace on and the rod attached to the brace. "And you know what that means", the captain said, "at this point you and the fish are one. Make sure you win".
Mary & I went on a biplane ride! What a blast! This was an enormous 25 year old plane powered by a monster nine cylinder Pratt and Whitney engine. The plane was originally used for crop dusting and these are still made today in upstate NY. It was unbelievably noisy! Even sitting right next to each other we could not shout loud enough to be heard. The wash off the propellors was overwhelming. After only 20 minutes I felt like I'd been beaten up. Now I know why biplane pilots use leather coats and helmets. We declined the opportunity for loops and rolls, settling for a tour over the town of Taupo, it's lake and the nearby geo-thermal fields.
In the 1300s the Maori people came from the islands hundreds of miles to the north and by 1500 had established contact with over 60 countries, including the Vikings. Today you'll find the Maori all over the island - fully integrated into every aspect and corner of NZ.
When the English began to settle here the Maori had many of the same experiences as American Indians - wasted by white man's diseases, and their huge sequoia like (kauri) forests were razed. Fairly early on treaties were signed and the Maori had a relatively peaceful and prosperous relationship with the English. Today some of the tribes are quite well off, as they own large tracts of land which they lease.
The Maori fared well compared to natives in other countries because they were such fierce warriors. Even with superior weapons the whites gave up fairly quickly. The land was so rugged and the Maori so fierce and scary, that the whites signed treaties which they largely kept (quite a contrast to most histories with native peoples).
The Maori were cannibals who ate their enemies. Unlike the Iban in Sarawak, who honored their enemies by eating them, Maori insulted their enemies by eating them. Much of the Maori art shows bulging stomachs to warn you what will happen if you mess with the locals. One of the traditional dances of the Maori is called the haka where the warriors jump around in an intimidating manner, bulge their eyes and stick out their tongues. The NZ national rugby team (the "all blacks" because their uniform is black) love to do the haka at their opponents before a match.
In some sense NZ was less interesting than other places we've been, because it is fundamentally an English culture and hence familiar. We went there not for the exotic culture, but for things familiar - mild weather, beautiful open land, good cheap beer - a touch of home. It was great and we look forward to some future visit to this beautiful land.
As usual, we stayed in Bed & Breakfasts and enjoyed the chance to meet some Kiwis and hear of their country. Our list follows:
Waiata Farmstay B&B
Sarsen House (Te Popo Gardens)
636 Stanley Road
Thorbold Cottage Homestay