It’s unusual and unwelcome to wake up to the smell of last night’s fish and chips. However, were sharing a lodge with two bedrooms and the lady in the next room was heating up the remnants of last night’s meal in a microwave for breakfast. She’s Canadian, which might explain this eccentricity.
It was an early start down to Rotorua for more activities, unfortunately zorbing, zip lining and something else expensive and energetic didn’t appeal to ‘Business Class Hiawatha’ and we were to take a walk into town when we got there as our activity.
Soon after getting underway we stopped at Tairua to buy some pastries and coffee for breakfast. I had great expectations of my pick yet it was neither cheesy or particularly marmite tasting. I absorbed the blow as the bus trundled south.
What was clear was that apart from near the large cities it was single carriageways all the way and in this part of NZ lots of cattle in the fields. In fact dairy products and meat still remain the major export with this and other products going to their largest buyer, China. The UK and Europe are negligible as buyers nowadays but I long remember ‘New Zealand Butter’ as a popular brand back in Blighty. The other great export to the UK was lamb. This has declined as we can get lamb from nearer home now and fewer folk wear wool or eat sheep meat. When was the last time you ate lamb?
The economic importance of China comes at a price I read. As Australia kicks back against China’s growing regional military threat and takes actions such as the AUKUS submarine initiative then New Zealand chooses to emphasise its ‘independent’ foreign policy in order, probably, not to antagonise the inflow of Chinese dosh (£11 billon pa or about half of all exports.) The Chinese are also developing a greater profile and increasing subsidy of the Pacific Islands such as Samoa. Access to these countries could be militarily useful to a roaming Chinese navy and loan indebtedness to China helps solidify the loyalty of the island governments. These islands have traditionally looked to New Zealand as a developing or defensive partner.
The countryside remained very verdant, and rolling, as rain started to fall. It was the first time in a few weeks since we’d seen the heaven’s open. Rotorua is a largish town of over 50,000 and apparently 80% of the population is Māori. The town sits on the edge of a large lake and has considerable thermal activity. A reminder is the pungent aroma of bad eggs that greets you – sometimes as a faint background smell or occasionally quite halting. As a settlement it has loads of hotels but the town held little charm apart from a striking early 20th Century Bath Hall.
This was built to develop the therapeutic attraction for visitors of taking the waters. The visitors being of European descent. Throughout New Zealand the Māori heritage is emphasised and a ‘catch up’ appears to be underway to atone for 19th and 20th Century European settler racism and abuse such as suppressing the culture and language with the inevitable marginalisation. Unlike Australia these Polynesian people only beat the Europeans by 5 or 600 years to the land mass but when the white man got here, with his superior weaponry, the Māori independence and way of life was to be fatally eroded. Formally the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 made all the 500 tribes cede sovereignty to The British Crown. I think we can well imagine that wasn’t an arrangement that was between two equal partners. White settlers had differing attitudes, and laws, as to land ownership and the type of farming. The deforestation is awful to behold from the 19th to the 21st Century.
There are over 850,000 Māoris in NZ today (out of the 5 million) but despite the fine words, positive law provision and increasing promotion of their indigenous identity and rights many Māori people have their challenges socio economically. This manifests itself with lower educational achievement, higher substance misuse, worse health outcomes and high levels of penal imprisonment. However, away from this misery the tour party had a splendid night of Māori culture.
We were driven to a ‘village’ where some of the tribal traditions were explained, formal greetings were demonstrated between tribes and there was much wonderful singing and dancing. In our introduction we were asked to repeat Māori language words, the first, a welcome greeting of ‘Kia ora’. Yes, this phrase does not originate from a carton of orange squash I regularly consumed at The Odeon during the 1960s.
After this we were given a banquet where the meat had been cooked traditionally underground.
To elevate this ‘exchange’ we finished on a Q&A session with our Māori host. Merrill, she of the 7.30am fish and chip persuasion, cut to the chase and asked him about racism from the whites!
Being a class act he decided against being honest and making all the white tourists, who made up the couple of hundred guests in the room, uncomfortable and talked about the open approach of the Māoris with all people they interfaced with instead. He did identify the government as a ‘difficult relationship’. I suspect that may stretch all the way back to Queen Victoria in 1840 and the multifarious abuses and back sliding the Māoris have endured for well over a century afterwards.
Stuffed with food, culture and wiser we returned to the hotel.