These past 3 days have been packed with activities. We had a unique cultural experience with New Zealand’s indigenous population, Maori (see wiki). We travelled a little outside of Rotarura to a traditional spot. The Marae is a meeting place for the Maori people that is like a church and gathering room where the population comes together for a meeting. You need to remove your shoes before entering and there is no eating or drinking inside. Inside, we were greeted in a traditional manner and welcomed into the family. They sang a song, our group sang the American national anthem. We then lined up shake hands the Maori way – shake hands, touch noses to share a breath, and touch foreheads to share our thoughts. It was a strange way of greeting – almost how you feel in Europe when they kiss both cheeks. As Americans, we have a large personal space that is rarely compromised, especially when first meeting someone. However, it was their traditional way and we all shared the experience.
We then share Koi, a feed or a meal. After, We had a long day listening to Garry talk. He was a unique guy – he was half Maori and half German, has 7 kids but has never had a monogamous relationship, practices herbal medicine, hunts to eradicate the invasive possum population, and generally lives in the bush. He talked a lot by sharing his perspective which really forced us to question him. He also showed us some bush medicine. He combined tutu leaves in oil to create an extract. When combined with bees wax, it created a balm. The bush medicine information provoked the strongest response from us. Since all of bush medicine was is foreign to us, it was difficult to accept his info as facts. I couldn’t see how the balm would cure cancer. However, I used the balm on my lips and cuts without any side effects.
They prepared us a large dinner with 5 different kinds of meats they hunted and vegetables grown from their garden. After our minds were filled with new knowledge and belly’s filled with koi, we retired to the Morae. All 31 students, 2 professors, 2 spouses, and 3 kids on mattresses and in sleeping bags sprawled on the floor. It was the largest slumber party I’ve ever had.
Out 2 days were filled with activities. We began November 20, by walking through a rainforest. We discussed different techniques for managing and trapping possums. These introduced species have multiplied in New Zealand and are damaging the ecosystem. We didn’t see any on our walk but our leader pointed out and identified lots of new fauna, mostly ferns and large trees. The bush walk was similar to our Terrestrial Ecology field trips led by John Hall. We stopped a lot and looked at different trees – a little dry, or wet, in the rainforest but unique enough.
After lunch we geared up in bathing suits, wetsuits, booties, and helmets to go white water rafting! This was much more exciting and adventurous. Our 6 person boat was had a guide Jose who led us down class 4 rapids on an 8km river. We paddled hard, screamed over every drop, ducked under bushes, relaxed in the on calm water stretches, an splashed other boats – it was tons of fun!
In the afternoon, we had some down time. The guys all gathered with Sean to learn the Haka. This dance is now performed to get the tribe’s energy pumped up to envoke fear to oIt was traditionally performed before a battle, but in modern times is used used in sports – like the All Black Rugby team. The women are not allowed to participate because they are sacred and will not be the ones hunting or fighting. Us women, instead balanced the energy on the Marae by practicing yoga with Meghan.
The next day, November 21, we broke up into 3 groups to rotate through the day’s activities. I began my day with a bush walk by a waterfall. We were lead by a woman, Bubba, who studied and practiced herbal medicine. I found the information really interesting and chatted with her through the walk. We discussed opposing pharmaceuticals and along with our conversation, she pointed out different plants and their traditional purposes and modern day use. The waterfall was a nice 7 m drop where we watched a whitewater raft go over.
Next, we listened to some information about managing water quality in the lake next to the Morae. Water management is different than it is in the US – as I will write about in my final paper.
We finished the rotation with another outdoorsy activity, stand up paddle boarding. I had demoed some of these with the Boat Locker at home but this was a really fun experience taking a paddle through a stream with flows from a cold spring pool.
We departed the Morae in the afternoon after thanking and saying goodbye to our new Moauri family. I appreciate how they shared their knowledge and I learned a lot about a new culture by talking to these individuals. It opened my eyes to a unique culture. My own perspective couldn’t have completely changed in these few days but I certainly gained a more worldy view.
As we got on the bus to return to Rotarura, we found out the big local news news: the Tongariro mountain erupted yesterday! They were predicting the pressure was building the day of our hike but no one could predict when it would blow. There were people hiking through when it erupted and that could have been us!
Off the bus, we entered society again at Rotarua, at the same hostel we stayed at before the Morai. I took a run through the park which was one of the most unique paths I’ve ever taken – through geothermal pools. The tectonic plate under New Zealand creates a fault with cracks that allow the heat from within the Earth’s core to rise up. In water, the gas heats the pools and mixes in minerals. Along the path, there were bubbling waters and muds and steam floating off of the surface. There were also man made pools for people to sit and dip their feet into.
Our program has spent a lot of time together in a group. It’s a unique study abroad experience that instead of gaining independent experiences through traveling. we are managing group relationships. The group dynamic had changed a lot since the beginning of the program and even more throughout our trip trough New Zealand. I’m having hugely mixed emotions with the end being so near. I’ve loved meeting and getting to know everyone in this group – some people deeper than others. Learning about other has also taught me a lot about myself – one of the most valuable lessons of this abroad experience.
We’re now on our way up north to Auckland on the bus with our storytelling driver – time to stop for morning tea, I’m sure going to miss this snack time in the states.