Obnoxiously bright orange entry stickers dotted everyone’s jackets as we gathered in front of the wakas (Maori canoes). Still tired from the activities from the other day, most of us just stood on the platform, blankly looking at the intricate carving while our Maori guide explained the boats’ traditional purposes as well as their modern, ceremonial functions. The sun was reflecting on the water outside the waka building and after his spiel, we wondered down to the beach to look out at the morning sun.
We couldn’t stay long however for there was more to see. Up the hill was a flagpole with the three flags of New Zealand (the pre-colonial flag of the northern tribes, the Union Jack, and the current) towering over a field. No, it wasn’t the flags that were important. It was the field. Here was the sight of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the controversial pact between the British and Maori tribes that led to the colonization and eventual subjection of the Maori people.
With sweeping gestures, our Maori guide described the scene in 1840. The tents, the horses, the chiefs, the officers, all leading to the mad rush to sign the treaty. Off to the side was the Treaty House where the first British Governor resided and in the distance was the marae, which instead of serving as a meeting house for Maori, serves to embody unity between all the tribes that signed the treaty and the British Crown. We visited each of those buildings before we left the complex, recognizing at each place the injustices that followed after the signing of the Treaty. After that bit of historical sightseeing, we moved on as other tour groups started to crowd the area.
The following is an edited excerpt of my journal entries while on the bus heading back towards Auckland:
11:12 Left Waitangi, now off through the forested hills again. Girls talking about the grocery store Countdown in the back. Our Maori guide singing in Te Reo Maori with his guitar in the front.
11:14 More black cows dot the fields.
11:20 An outlook over fields and houses accompanied by a lesson in the poverty of the area caused by the closing of the freezing works. In the town: murals and closed shops, short squat houses and a kid on a bike.
11:38 Stopping at the “famous Kawakawa toilets” designed by native Austrian and adopted New Zealander Hundertwasser. Known for saying “straight lines lead to Hell.”
11:55 On the road again. Story time: our nature guide’s adventures growing up in the area with Hundertwasser. He spent summers painting the artist’s boat, which is now on display in Europe.
11:59 Finally some sheep.
12:03 Maori reggae accompanying more forested outlooks and rolling fields and farms.
12:13 A grove of leafless foreign trees forma a silver line amongst the green.
12:16 Weaving through the hills on a dirt road on the way to Ruapekapeka Pa, giving us more outlooks and views of cows.
12:18 Stopping. Only bus in the car park.
It was cold on that windy hill at Ruapekapeka Pa. Our Maori guide was peppy and excited. We were chilled and hungry. Yet we gathered as he started his story about the history of this area. This was the sight of the final battle in the War of the North. In 1845, a collection of northern tribes, led by Hone Heke (who cut the down flagstaff in Russell) and Te Ruki Kawiti, held out in their pa (fortified village) against British bombardment for ten days. The Maori used various techniques including the first ever instance of trench warfare to hold off the colonizers, but after ten days they believed they had sufficiently accomplished their goal of embarrassing the British and left the pa. The British went on to declare the siege a victory.
We stood, listening to the elongated version of the story, shivering under the gray sky. But the moment he stopped and we were allowed to roam and hunt for pictures, the sun showed its face and the views the hill offered. We were ecstatic.
1:24 On the road again…How is everything so beautiful?
1:33 Zoning out to guitar chords and the constant up and down flow of the landscape.
1:45 The wind squeals around and through the edges of the front windows.
1:48 “Walking on the Moon” by the Police on guitar.
1:58 Entering Whangarei. Cars and roundabouts and discount grocers and squat houses and churches and bus stops and construction sights and rain.
2:03 Lunch, finally.
3:12 Comparing the Assistant Director to Will Wheton and watching as Yvonne drinks her milkshake in the rain.
3:19 Music resumes.
3:26 “New Zealand, the land of cows and rainbows.”
3:30 Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and learning about the Kate Bush Festival.
3:40 Signs for Highland Games and Pipe Bands as volcanic hills loom and cows roam.
3:49 Winding through tropical forests down freshly paved, wet asphalt.
3:55 Making Hobbiton plans.
4:26 Billboard: “Wood – The natural choice.”
4:35 In a yard next to a petrol station stand horses in coats.
4:54 Auckland, 39 km.
5:12 SkyTower in sight, poking out behind the trees and suburban houses and shopping malls.
5:16 The Auckland skyline now sits across the water as a kumera (sweet potato) is given as a prize.