North Island, New Zealand


Our first stop on North Island was Wellington, second largest city and capital of New Zealand. It is a beautiful but very windy port city with hills on three sides overlooking the sea.

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It is a multi-faceted place that would take many days to explore with its famous cable car line, university, gardens, and location of the two-year home for the US First Marine Division in 1942. We visited St. Paul’s Church, which was built by shipwrights since there weren’t enough carpenters; it is also the only place in town the marines could visit and only in full dress uniforms.

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The church is the site of the First Division’s memorial banner and US Flag.

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We saw the city from Mt. Victoria, with its memorial to Admiral Byrd who launched his Antarctic explorations from here; on the road up, we got a glimpse of places used in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy—part of a growing new film industry in Wellywood. The high point of our visit was a guided tour of the Maori art, describing the first human settlers of the islands.

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As we walked back to the ship we experienced the Wellington Quay, with a Lamb burger with beets in a brew bub. We watched teens jumping into the sea from a raised platform, and little kids and their adults enjoying a whimsical playground. Just before the ship we passed the stadium home and museum of the beloved All Black Rugby team.

The North Island looks like a right hand pointing the index finger northwest with thumb extended; between the thumb and finger is the Bay of Plenty with White Island, an active volcano. In a protected harbor with an extinct volcano at one end is the town of Tauranga. The protected beach is used as an outdoor class room and family beach.

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Along this curving shore line, the Maori believe that nine of the original Polynesian canoes from Hawaiiki (Tahiti) landed, settled and establish the strongest tribes. The Maori trace the ancestry to the “waka” canoes that brought them here in about 1300. Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman was chased off by the Maori in 1642, but put the islands on maps as Nova Zeelandia. Captain Cooke sailed by in 1769 resulting in New Zealand being an English colony.

In the palm of the north island hand is its geothermal and Maori heart with its sleeping volcanos, geysers, fumaroles and a major concentration of Maori culture with arts and crafts villages. We had booked an all day tour to Rotorua in the center of the area, but not enough people signed up and it was cancelled, so we settled for a half day visit to Maori sites closer to the ship.

First spot on our tour was Te Wharekura O Mauao school where the Maori language is used to teach all subjects and their culture and history. The picture of students points out that the Maori are blending New Zealand into a mixed ethnic society, but the original humans are refusing to give up their identity. For example, our university educated guide for Wellington’s Pepe Museum said he was one quarter Maori, Chinese, British, with the rest being a mixed bag.

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Next we visited the “marea” meeting place of the Ngati Hangarau, a “hapu,” sub-tribe of the Ngati Ranginui, which traces its origins to the Takitium “waka”. There we experienced an elaborate welcoming ceremony with the men separated from the women. We had to select a male to be our chief who could speak for us and indicate that we came in peace. This was followed by the “Hongi,” the sacred touching of each of our noses to that of their chief. Then we had tea and cookies.

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The Marai had exquisite carvings of each of the families in the tribe.

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After a series of wars, the British cut a deal with most but not all Maori Chiefs. The Treaty of Waitangi granted the Maori full British citizenship and they thought retention of control over their land. The British Queen became their sovereign. By 1900, the Maori lost control of 90% of their land. As with Native American and Australian Aborigines, about 25% of the Maoris died from European diseases and the introduction of alcohol and tobacco. They were kept out of influence on local and national government by granting the vote to free men and later women who owned property. To the Maori, land could not be owned but collectively controllable by a tribe. These misunderstandings lead to 150 years of strife. The persistence of the Maori Tribes has begun to bear fruit. They are regaining control of fishing rights and some of their land. Even some of the forest lands with agricultural tree crops are being returned.

One of the intellectual ideas behind Maori resistance is their refusal to accept the Judeo/Christian/Muslim principle that the universe was created for Homo sapien’s exclusive use and control. The Maori, Native Americans, other indigenous people, as well as a growing number of westerns believe that humans are simply another part of nature. The Maori believe places have a spirt and the images of their ancestors have an ongoing existence. The abalone shell eyes in their wood carvings are looking out.

Our cruise ended in Auckland, which we only explored a little since we were busy packing and getting ready for our flight to Invercargill in the southern tip of New Zealand to visit my wife’s sister. Besides that, it was raining.

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–Jack Riordan





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