New Zealand Part The Third - Smellytown, Lake Two, or... Rotorua!

05/03/2003, Triple 1 Five cafe, Rotorua

Breakfast in the sun on Tutanekai (the Maori Romeo, along with Hinemoa for his Juliet, and a happy ending, because Hinemoa kicks ass!) Street, in the sun. I don't feel at all bad for not having followed the news for a week or so - I imagine if the world decided to collapse on me, I would find out soon enough. As it is, I feel very much updated, and even more loved, through everyone's livejournals. Thalia even made a Happy Birthday icon based on Te Pehi Kupe's moko (which I promptly told her - isn't it sad when you are so deep into it that you can tell the individual chiefs by their tattos?:), and the Team have found me the words to Happy Birthday in Maori, and yes, it scans!

And this is the lake - the island in the middle, Mokoia, being where Tutanekai lived, and consequently where Hinemoa swam to in the middle of the night.

Culture today methinks... the whare taonga [treasure house - museum], the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, maybe their cultural feast evening later (remember the kumara, girl!)... or maybe just a walk around the gardens & shops of Rotorua, which seems very much post-season relaxed to me... and now, with some beautifully tart cranberry juice, the exciting prospect of pancakes with bacon and bananas. Almost like our famous family liver recipe!

(15 minutes later) Well, that was... different. Don't think I would ever even have envisaged the idea of bacon smothered in maple syrup and dusted with icing sugar. But there you go. I feel like I've got well enough energy for more than just one day...

A random bubbly bit of mud. Very hot!

And this one's called Nga Mokai a Koko - Koko's pets. Well, if he ever let them in there, they would have been cooked, as the mudpool is 76C hot!

06/03/2003, 1030 Rangiuru Street, Rotorua

Obi-Kitty lives here! A cuddly kitten in almost spotless Padawan whites, with one sky-blue eye and one sea-green one. Cuuuute!

A second-hand shop in Rotorua flies the pink glitter flag!

06/03/2003, St. Faith's, Ohinemutu

How strange to find all the accoutrements of an Anglican church reinterpreted in Maori. Ohinemutu, now a suburb of Rotorua, is actually the oldest part and still firmly in Maori hand (though why one of them was wearing a camouflage kilt is beyond me. Not that he didn't have fine legs, mind). The baptistery, in faded gothic script, says 'bring the children hither' in Maori, and etched on the window of a light-flooded and flax-mat-covered chapel is a barefoot Jesus clad in nothing but a kahu, walking the waters of the lake beyond.

Walking the waters of Lake Rotorua... Maori Christ!

The pulpit is held up by ancestral figures (so, they weren't demonised here? I'm impressed) and covered in brown and tan taniko woven panels, the apse is a small version of the wharenui [tribal meeting houses] of which I've counted three in Ohinemutu, at least two still in use and out of bounds to strangers. Right down to the carved pillars and painted rafters, this is a Christian marae [meeting place], and no worse for it!

Outside, half the gravestones are still in Maori, and inside, half the services are... somehow, this feels more real than the cultural performance last night, even though that was miles (sorry, kilometres - New Zealand is firmly on the metric side) better than the silly one in Auckland. And no cross-stitched red- white-and-blacks either. These people were dressed in harakeke and paint (though dammit, Meri's moko looked devastatingly real), and yes I did rise to the challenge of having my photo taken with two scowling warriors. Anything for the friends at home, eh?

The women are being pretty, the men are being fierce, and the others play guitar

And here I am, surrounded by the, um, cream of Maoritanga...

The feast afterwards was once more proof that Kiwis of whatever persuasion make for excellent cooks. The starter buffet was just... unh. Raw catfish marinated in coconut milk and green onions? Must try that some day. And the mussels... say no more. They understand about seafood here, they really do. The main courses, cooked in the rather drab modern equivalent of a hangi [earth oven], was fine too, and I now have my kumara experience under my belt too. Like fibrous potatoes, crumbly and sweet, and golden yellow. Haven't decided whether I like them, but there ya go.

Our Maori guide, an utterly silly person named Hakim for no good reason, also showed us how to treat harakeke (very useful), and a lone kiwi bird showed us its butt (very cute). Now I think I'm off to the village green by the lake to watch boats and Maori kids, who dress like gangsta rappers but think nothing of walking down the street casually flicking their hands and shoulders in a waiata-a-ringa [trad Maori action song]. Grace, thy name is Maori. No, seriously.

Of course I had to hire a canoe from them. I mean, really...

One canoe trip along the shallower regions of the lake (bastards wouldn't let me out any further) I find myself in the Government Gardens stuck between two boule fields (it's called bowling greens here though). Seriously a Brit-descended bastion, it's as if people even toned down their Kiwi accents for the occasion. Outside this enclave, I'm losing count of how many people I've caught speaking Maori... it's definitely still done, even among the youths who dress like gangsta rappers. And a game is under way now, among much quiet chatter, hand and foot signals and laughter.

Far more impressive than what Hamill called a canoe, this is the prow of a Maori war canoe that once held up to 100 bloody noisy and intimidating warriors.

Later that day

My skin still smells, and it's not the sweaty after-effect of the museum and its utterly risible earthquake/volcano eruption movie, even though it was fun in a silly sort of way (tohunga [Maori priest] battling CGI Maori monster, anyone?). Nor was it the admittedly moving presentation on the 28th Maori Battalion, the remembrance of whom was being served Maori-style by a fresh leaf on the floor in front of their portraits every day. Also, you're expected to wash your hands upon leaving any major Maori taonga [treasure] exhibition, to symbolically cleanse yourself of the tapu [taboo - yes, that's where our word comes from!] they carry. But that's not why I smell.

The reason for that is an extended stay in the Polynesian Spa on the lakeside. Water that was positively yellow with sulphur and turned the silver bead & wire in my Padawan braid black within seconds *sigh*. Interesting realisation that while 32 C can get quite cold after a while, 42 are the bare maximum of what's bearable. My motel pool must be close to that, as it's really painful getting in but warms and pinks you through and through.

Like Roman bathhouses (and unlike the rather spooky remnants of the 1900s Rotorua bathhouse now housed inside the museum), you're best entertained in company - I'm sure the swarm of Koreans were!! Nothing like a puny but warm and non-smelly pool of your own that you can immerse yourself in after a long cool evening by the lake. Naked, because nobody else is using the damn thing. Bliss. And now, Kiwi cuisine, once more! (off to have dinner)

Wow. That was... exciting. Imagine making a salsa from pears and blue cheese instead of tomatoes...while everything else stays in place. And the whole thing over fish, with potatoes and walnuts. Why isn't there a Kiwi restaurant in Europe, I wonder?

If Henry Moore had been Maori... a bit of modern art in Rotorua

07/03/2003, Rotorua town centre

This is now officially Dan North Town. Not only was someone playing and singing Four Seasons in One Day at the bar across the street, and sounding a lot like him, but the funny PA (mercifully without the funny light show - that's only on at night) at the corner of Tutanekai and Hinemoa St played Elvis Costello's Alison, a song I haven't heard since... well, since I last saw Dan really. And that's 8 years ago now.

On to Wellington
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