Wednesday, April 26, 2006

East As II

Whangara. This is where Whale Rider was filmed and took place. Becasue the village of Whangara is so small, and a lot of where they filmed is sacred (the marae, etc), visiting it as a tourist is pretty off-limits. apparently, after the film was released, tourists came and were walking all over their sacred grounds as if they were film sets, and that sent the villagers into quite a tizzy. Rightly so. So we had to take any photos from a hill above the village:

the top of the Marae, upon which sits at statue of Paikea and the whale on which he rode from the mythical island of Hawaiki to Aotearoa (New Zealand)

The house in which Paikea and her grandparents live in Whale Rider.

View of Whangara from hilltop.

Waka (war canoe) in which Paikea and co. sit during Whale Rider.

view of Whangara

Maori statue from top of hill in Whangara

After Whangara, we drove further east, and hit went to the East cape Lighthouse. This is the easternmost point in Aotearoa, and you must climb 754 steps to get to the top. Once you're there, though, it's well worth the climb:

Steps 735-742 on the way up...

Caroline in front of the lighthouse

East Island (view from lighthouse)

Caro and I in front of lighthouse

Our next stop after climbing all the way back down to earth is Ma's 'hood': the bay fromwhich he and his family and ancestors came. He took us to the church where much of his family is buried, and which he said was where they shot the GnR video for November Rain. However, we randomly happened to catch the video a couple of nights ago in a bar in Wellington and that ain't it. we did have to whip out our cameras to make sure, as it does look very similar, but it still ain't it.

What it does have, however, is a family of baby penguins living under the baptismal bowl, and the sweetest sign on the door of the church telling us about it:

Come ON!
Again, eat them right up...

From there Ma took us to view his whanau's marae, which is the meeting house and centre of each iwi (or tribe's) sacred space. from there, it was a couple of hours to our final destination and stopover: Te Kaha.

Te Kaha is a homestay run by Paul O'Brien (heretofore known as "Chay") and his family. Paul greets everyone as if he's known you forever, affectionately referring to everyone as chay (hence the nickname) and making you feel at home.

Our first point of business once we reached Te Kaha (after reating all the free scones and tea that we could get our hands on) was to get into our togs and hit the hot tub that is situated out front of the house and overlooks the rocks and the ocean beyond. We got there just in time to grab a beer, get into the tub, and watch the sun set. (Sorry, I don't have any photos yet of the sunset from the tub, but should hopefully get some from some friends). here's the tub:

By the time the sun set and we were slightly cooked, dinner was ready, which was a big roast meal of chicken, beef and rice, potatoes, kumara, and salad, followed by the biggest plate of chocolate cake, hot fudge and sweet cream. YUM!

Paul (Chay), who had been out up until then, rolled up with some of the other guests at the homestay (all a few sheets to the wind) and proceeded to greet us with hongi's (the traditional Maori pressing of noses, which symbolizes the sharing of breath and life force) and now it was time for songs.

Traditionally, when guests visit a Maori home or marae, a song must be sung by each side (guest and host) in order to clear the air of any ill will. Ma had prepared us for this, and we had been given enough time to learn two songs: one was written by Dennis and sung to the tune of 'It's a Small world After All':

We are one small group from the East As bus
Life is way too short to be in a rush
We are here to enjoy and not to destroy
It's a small world after all...

And yes, this was stuck in our heads for the next week...

The other song was a traditional Maori tune that was really amazing to learn and sing. The onyl way we could remember the words, however, was if we all took a photo of them:

It was awesome to finally feel like I was not only observing Maori culture, but participating in it, even if only in a limited way.

Following our songs, Chay and his group sunga song to the tune of the "Shut up, Just Shut up, Shut up" song by the Black-eyed Peas, but rewritten, of course.

We wound it up with some group songs, music, drinks, and fun well into the night:


Singing along with Chay

Frome left: Jo from Wales (with her back to us), Anne from Denmark, Rafael from Brazil, me, Martina from Germany, and Caroline

This time with FEELING!

Went to bed late that night, and woke up next morning feeling grand (really!). Had a big breakfast laid out for us, and we all just hung around and took in the incredible view until we had to leave:


Parting shot of Paul

Group photo

me, Kasper, Martina

view from Te Kaha window

Back on the road

Kiwi Traffic Jam

It's worth mentioning that I took this same trip when I was here last year, although they've reversed the route. I had a wonderful time the first time I did it, and am so glad I did it this way again. It's a tremendous experience with a small group of people, and you really get a clear idea of the beauty of this land, its people, and particularly the Maori culture.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

East As, Part I

Here's part One of my vacation last week:

18/4: Arrive in Taupo after a 6-hour bus ride. @ 4:00. Check in to the Taupo Urban Retreat (which looks awesome from the outside). Slowly begin to realize that this is one of the lower-end hostels in Taupo, despite the excitement of the $10 BBQ dinner (including two glasses of wine) that night. Caroline (my friend from Uni) and I decide that, in spite of the rain, we’d like to stretch our legs after the massive bus trip, so we grab our rainjackets and decide to hike up to the “Honey Hive”, which has, among other things, FREE fruit-wine tastings! By the time we hike up to the very wet lookout, which is not far from the Honey Hive, we realize that it’s already 5:00, which is when it closes. Oh well! Try to take panoramic photos of Lake Taupo from there, but the clouds and rain keep the shots from being really pretty. Got a couple of shots of a rainbow, but it looked better in person.

We returned to Urban Retreat completely soaked, and found our 6-person room STINKY!!! The combination of the rain, no ventilation, and 3 obnoxious German backpackers who lay their wet clothes out all over the place made the room smell like an armpit.
when Caro and I finally decided to go to bed (after waiting an hour for our BBQ and drowning our sorrows in cheap red wine from a box), the German kids come bounding in, turn the light on, and then proceed to talk in full voice for-EVER. No concept of there being enyone else in the room who may be trying to sleep.
This repeated in the morning after their alarm woke us all up at 7:00 am. Great way to start the day!
19/4: We met the Kiwi bus, and our driver Marama (nicknamed Ma, since apparently North Americans have trouble pronouncing it properly -- myself excluded!), and thus began our ride from Taupo, thru Napier (an art deco town) and finally to Gisborne that evening.

We went straight to the grocery store and bought wine and fixings for a BBQ that night (notice a trend?) prepared by Ma and another Kiwi bus driver on holiday called Dennis. Had a great time sitting out on the deck of our hostel (Surf Chalet) and watched a video of Whale Rider after dinner.

20/4: another 7:00 am wake-up, this time thanks to the two Dutch girls travelling with us who happily and loudly took phone calls at the crack of dawn. Is this a European thing?
Went outside and chatted with a Brazilian girl who worked at the hostel and had been in NZ for 1 year and 2 months...just working, hanging out, and surfing. Ah, the life!
After breakfast, Caro and I went for a walk along the beach and ran into some surfers:

Headed back for a 10:00 am departure, which was actually pretty prompt for Ma and his "ish" time.

Molly, the Chalet's dog, moping on Ma's car seat because we had to leave.

On the way to our next destination (Rangitukia, for a farmstay) we stopped off at Tolaga Bay, which has the second longest wharf in the southern hemisphere. The wharf itself is pretty pointless and not being used at all anymore (since it's use was primarily to load goods and supplies before roads were built), but it still makes some cool photos:

Under the wharf

Claire and Caro next to the wharf at Tolaga Bay

Our next destination was Rangitukia, and the Eastender Farmstay:

The 'farm' of the farmstay is not actually a functionaing farm anymore, although at the time it was a sheep farm, and we stayed in what were formerly the sheep-shearers quarters. While a bunch of folks went for a harseride (I did it last year and my butt's still sore) Caro and I decided to try to find our way through the hills and pigs and cows to the beach: them right up.

The cows here just stop everything they're doing and stare at you. It's a bit threatening, actually.

See? (This one we affectionately named 'The Evil Cow' as it looked like it would snap any minute and attack us.)

Not so cute are they, folks?

Jackpot! (wait, now we have to go back around the cows again...)

We returned to the farm to do some bonecarving. Some of you have seen the ones I did last year. As well as greenstone (or pounamou or jade) Maoris carve amulets out of cow and whale bone and wear them around their necks. The person who makes them is to put sweat and energy into the carving, then wear them around their necks and close to their hearts. Then, when returning home, you give the amulet to a loved one. It's quite a nice thought, actually.

Halfway through our bonecarving, we had dinner which was a traditional hangi meal. This is a meal made up of meat (usu. chicken and lamb), potatoes, kumara (NZ sweet potato), stuffing, and cabbage, and cooked in the ground. It comes out kind of casserole-like and veeeeeery hearty.
We wrapped up the evening with table tennis in the barn, and beers around the fire.
The next morning, a bunch of people woke up at 5:45 to walk to the top of a nearby hill to see the sunrise. Rangitukia is the first place on the East Cape to see the sunrise. I stayed in bed.
Later in the morning, however, I took a walk up the same hill, but obviously at a decent hour:

on the way up, i ran into this fella

view from the hill to the farm (that's it in the distance)

me on the hill

That's it for today...look for East As Part II tomorrow!

Ode to a flatmate

She's mad. MAD, I TELL YOU!
I think I've finally figured it out. She keeps blaming our differences on me being a student, but won't explain what that means. I think this is what she meant: She had this romanticized idea of me stepping off the streets of NYC (via a Sex and the City episode) and expected me to fix her life for her: go out drinking and dancing, introduce her to men, etc.
Since I couldn't give two shits about her and her sad life, she decided she would make mine miserable.
So there. Only two months in and I've already made my first enemy!

Monday, April 24, 2006


Hi all,
Had a wonderful vacation around the East Cape, only to return to find my broadband connection gone (I cancelled it before I left and forgot). So I can't upload any of the grand photos I took for another few weeks or so. They'll be worth it, I promise.

On another note, today is ANZAC Day here in NZ. It's much like Memorial Day in the States, except it commemorates NZ and Aussie soldiers:

"Anzac Day in New Zealand is held on 25 April each year to commemorate New Zealanders killed in war and to honour returned servicemen and women. The day has similar importance in Australia, New Zealand's partner in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli. The ceremony itself has been continually adapted to the times, but has also steadily acquired extra layers of symbolism and meaning.
The Dawn Service
A typical commemoration begins with a march by returned service personnel before dawn to the local war memorial. Military personnel and returned service-men and -women form up about the memorial, joined by other members of the community, with pride of place going to the war veterans. A short service follows with a prayer, hymns (including Kipling's 'Recessional' or 'Lest We Forget'), and a dedication which concludes with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen':
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.At the going down of the sun and in the morningWe will remember them.
The Last Post is then played, followed by a minute's silence and Reveille. A brief address follows, after which the hymn 'Recessional' is sung. The service concludes with a closing prayer and the singing of the National Anthem. "

Everyone's off from work today and it's raining, which seems fitting.

Love you,

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Passover/Easter! (take your pick)

Thus ends the long weekend on this side of the world. What with Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, it's been a very relaxed weekend.

Friday and Saturday were absolutely gorgeous, and I used it as an opportunity to do some exploring, as I hadn't for quite a while.

I walked down to the harbour and around the bays, and took the following photos:

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waterfront from Oriental Bay

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more views from Oriental Parade and Oriental Bay

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making my way from Oriental Bay to Evans Bay

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view of the harbour and Wellington

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more Wellington

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dog exercise area near Evans Bay

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my favorite - I swear I didn't make this up!

Tomorrow I'm taking off to (Lake) Taupo, where my friend Caroline and I will be picked up for a bus trip around the East Cape. We return to Taupo on Saturday, then are back to Wellington on Sunday. I promise to take lots of photos...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Darwin's Nightmare

Right now, the festival-du-jour in Wellington is The World Cinema Showcase. Yesterday afternoon I went to the first of a hopeful few films that is being showcased as part of the festival: Darwin's Nightmare (click here for the film's website), which was made in 2004. It's a startling and stark documentary that takes place in Lake Victoria, in the heart of Africa. I can't possibly give a synopsis that adequately describes the situation there, but I highly recommend the film. If nothing else, you leave feeling once again that there is so much going on in the world that is beyond our consciousness.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I'm managing to keep up-to-date on all things New York/American via the following sites. Theyre part of my morning routine:


Heh...don't get too carried away with all of those photos of where I'm living. It looks like I'll be moving on soon. My flatmate and I are not, shall we say, "seeing eye-to-eye", so I'll hopefully be out of here sometime next month (May).
I've pretty much found another place, which I'm very excited about, but I don't want to jinx it since there are still some details to iron out.
Till then, feel free to wax romantic over my photos, but don't get used to them. :)