You know how sometimes things in life align and present, nay – knocks you over the head with an opportunity that you’d be an idiot not to take? Well, like a big flashing arrow on the Road of Life did an opportunity to visit Oz arise. I would meet my sister, we would get to spend Christmas with some long lost Australian relations, win/win.
I took a couple of extra days off to visit New Zealand because I was going to be in the neighborhood and it isn’t exactly a country you can take a quick detour through otherwise. Also I WOULD GET TO SEE THE HOBBIT PART 3 PREMIERE! IN THE EMBASSY THEATER! (I’ve been mildly obsessed with New Zealand since the original Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, I pregamed this trip by isolating myself for a two weeks just to watch all 30+ hours of the Making Of. Which is the sole reason I bought the Extended DVD set.)
Because this blog is ostensibly dedicated to “history”, here’s a little bit about New Zealand: (And – oooooh: jobs and immigration….)
The Maori were the first and most dominant people to inhabit the land, which they called Aotearoa “Land of the Long White Cloud.” According to legend, they believed the land was fished from the sea by the god Kupe. This is why one of their national symbols is a fish hook. Fast forward about a millennia and the first white man, a Dutchman named Abel Tasman, first saw the land, but it took another 150 years before the land was charted and claimed for the Crown by Captain James Cook. The majority of European settlers (called pahēka in Maori “pah-HEE-ka”) were whalers, sealers, and missionaries. But – as in just about every case of the white man “settling” a land inhabited by indigenous peoples – disagreements arose over use of land and resources.
In 1840, the English and Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which is considered New Zealand’s founding document. It had three articles establishing English sovereignty, protecting the Maori, and providing for the use of Maori land/resources by the English. Naturally, this treaty has been interpreted in many ways: either the English have sovereignty over the people and the land/resources, or the Maori people have English protection and citizenship but retain rights to their land which they can let the English borrow at their discretion. Also, there were translational issues, as some English words and concepts don’t have a direct translation to Maori, making more difficulty when the two peoples try to sort out the interpretation. (This is an on-going thing, hence the present tense.)
From absolutely no direct cause of which I am aware, New Zealand has been referring to itself and its North and South Islands by its Maori names – Aotearoa, Te Ika A Māui and Te Waipounamu respectively. According to ESPN, the New Zealand national cricket team played under the name Aotearoa in 2015 as part of Māori language week. At least all the swag in gift shops said stuff like “New Zealand Aotearoa”. Perhaps it comes from a celebration of their multicultural heritage. Perhaps it is some form of apologism. Perhaps I’m approaching all of this from the wrong perspective, but then Americans do have a different take on race relations, minorities, and indigenous peoples as other parts of the world.
Speaking of history, I was unfortunately able to witness history in the bad way on my way to Wellington. I had a six-hour layover in Sydney and was wondering if that was enough time to go through customs twice and get to and from the airport. I decided it wasn’t, and that was a very good decision, as Sydney – nay, Australia – was experiencing its first terrorist attack. Some crazy guy had decided to take a coffee shop hostage in the financial district of Sydney, which meant the roads would have been shut down and access to the airport probably restricted. This was the end of 2013 so America had been running news stories on terrorism every other day, but it was interesting, and a little bit sad, to watch it all unfold on the tv in virgin territory.
The flight to Wellington was uneventful. I’m fairly certain I flew Qantas airlines, and I highly recommend them. The in-flight movie of my choice was What We Do In the Shadows, a mockumentary based in New Zealand about modern day vampires. Also highly recommended. (Note: one of the directors and stars, Taika Waititi, is directing the Thor: Ragnarok film. The other director and star, Germaine Clement, is known from his Flight of the Conchords work.)
My seatmates were an older couple flying back to Wellington from a wedding. One of the things you have to do on the plane is fill out this customs declaration form that seemed pretty thorough. I started talking to them after I asked them for help with it. They offered to drive me to my hostel from the airport, as it was on their way home. It was a good thing they did, as I’m not sure there were any taxis after 11pm from the airport. It was also interesting to note they just parked on the street right outside the airport. What a difference from IAD or DCA.
The hostel I stayed at was called The Cambridge, which I found out the next day was right across the street from the Embassy Theatre of Lord of the Rings fame. Way cool. Also right outside my hostel door was a gigantic statue to Queen Victoria. Which was fitting because Wellington is located in the state of Victoria. In fact, nearly everything is named after her. It is comparable to America and Washington. I forgot what was behind the obsession. Maybe it was her extraordinarily long reign, or the fact she was queen when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Unknown. The hostel was also in the shadow of Mount Victoria, a mountain plunked right in the middle of the city, which had some great sketching locations as well as recognizable LOTR filming locations. I would put good money (up to $10 or so) that I found the Shortcut to Mushrooms and some Mirkwood.
A wimpy and halfhearted theme of this trip was getting some sketching in. I have, like, a million watercolor colored pencils left to me by my grandmother so a set of those came with me. I spent half a day up Mount Victoria taking photographs, sketching, and possibly humming the LOTR hobbit theme to myself, which, if pressed under oath, I will deny.
Wellington’s climate is similar to Ireland’s – lots of fog and rain with pretty mild temperatures by American standards. I was there in December, which is equivalent to our June, and I still needed a sweater. Something about the way the weather moves up from Antarctica and the lack of mountains to obstruct the weather. At least in Wellington. The weather was a little more even up north. My first day there was absolutely gorgeous – about 70* and sunny. All of the colors of everything are so vibrant. I haven’t even been able to photoshop my pictures to the right color contrast to my satisfaction. My second day there was very misty, like a cloud had decided to sit on the city, and the wet just sort of saturated everything. From what I gather, that’s very standard Wellington weather. Later, when I flew north to Rotarua, it was much more like June weather – sunny and warmer for a more reliable period of time.
The city is very city-like, but also very small. I easily walked from Mount Victoria to the other side of the harbor and the government district in maybe 45 minutes. The people are also very friendly. I had a nice chat with the guy working my hostel’s front desk and several hotel concierges, especially the one at the Gandalf site, which will get explained next post. The hostel concierge recommended a lot of his favorite places for food and music, and then told me under no uncertain terms that “There’s more to New Zealand than Lord of the Rings”. He is of the opinion that on the one hand, LOTR actually brings people to the country, but he hopes they learn more about the country because there is so much more than just hobbits and wizards…
… which I will discuss next post. If you stick with me, Dear Reader(s), you’ll get to read my adventures in Parliament, in Te Papa Tongarewa, and chasing down wizards and hobbits because I am a huge dork.
Sidebar on this post’s title: Kia Ora is a Maori language greeting which means “Be well/healthy” and basically translates as “Hi.” It is also used as a farewell and to express thanks. Very similar to how “Aloha” has entered the American English vernacular.