Tamaki Wharenui within the Clan Marae

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Of all the Pacifica Islanders of Polynesian descent, the Maori have been most successful in maintaining their pre European cultural traditions. Within New Zealand, particularly in the North Island and areas like Rotorua Their clan structures remain strong, each with their Marae (communal or sacred place that serves religious and social purposes) and often including a Wharenui (Big House, Meeting House, Carved House) where we were greeted.

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Our bus driver/entertainer Cairo (not sure of the spelling but that was his pronunciation) appointed Ian as our Chief for the evening to represent us at the welcoming instructed him on the correct response to a peaceful welcome and then taught us all  how to respond to our hosts with an enthusiastic Haere mai !Maori 4 small

Anyone who has watched a NZ sporting team have seen the Haka performed. It is a traditional war cry/challenge very useful for preparing a team for competition, but is also commonly used for welcoming distinguished guests or for ceremonial occasions. A very significant Haka was performed in 2012  by the 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment performing a haka for fallen comrades who were recently killed in action in Afghanistan.  Maori 5 small Maori 6 small

When visitors arrive at a Marae they are met by armed warriors who, with fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of weapons, impress on the visitors the strength of the clanMaori 11 small

They then make a peace offering of a leafy branch. If the branch is picked up, the Clan Chieftain then greets the visiting Chiefs.Maori 7 small

There were three busloads in our visiting party so He had three Chiefs to greet. Ian is very tall so was instructed to squat a little so he and the Chief met nose to nose. After the greetings we followed our Chiefs through elaborately carved gate into a thickly forested area, with traditional huts to see displays of female and male crafts like:

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 Poi, a performing art involving swinging weights in rhythmical, geometric patterns, with and accompaniment of singing and dancing. 

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Weaving with flax produced garments like cloaks and kilts, shelter and useful things like mats. The woven patterns were used to pass on culture and stories.

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These young men explained the significance of carving and tattooing in their culture.

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The clan Chief invited us to a concert featuring both traditional and contemporary songs and dance.Maori 8-Poster small

The tattoo “Family Comes First” seems incongruous on this amazingly ferocious expression!Our Haka

Our Chiefs did their best against some pretty fierce competition. The fact that all three Chiefs came from the Northern Hemisphere (two from England and one from the USA) probably put us at a disadvantage. Our Maori brethren were pretty good at putting down any Aussies present, by the way!Maori 9 small

Cairo, our Bus driver was an amazing, passionate singer and gave us the ride of our life on the way home. We were encouraged to sing all the way and on the final round about did six circuits before he delivered us to our hotel. He explained it was a shift change time for the local police but it is my belief they are all his cousins.


A Permanent Memorial and a Temporary Cathedral



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Some friends were asking about my New Zealand trip and what I had written earlier about the Christchurch earthquake. When I mentioned the “Cardboard Cathedral”, they wanted to know more. This temporary Cathedral building is on the site of Christchurch’s oldest Anglican Church, demolished after the earthquake. It replaced the original Christchurch Cathedral, still standing a few blocks away but awaiting demolition, too damaged by a whole series of earthquakes since 1864. Here is a link to more information. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard_Cathedra


Just across the road however, is a permanent open space where before Tuesday, 22 February 2011 stood the 7 story Canterbury TV building. In the less than 30 seconds nothing was standing except the wall with the lift shaft and 115 people, half the casualties of the city on the earthquake. Unlike most Christchurch building which were damages, like the 2 Cathedrals, t was relatively modern (1986) but an enquiry found it’s design deficient, it’s engineer inexperienced and under supervised and it should never have been approved causing it to collapse like pack of cards and catch fire. Amongst the dead were 70 foreign ESL students

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The NZ Government have acquired the site and set it aside as a permanent memorial to all the earthquake victims .

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Now to the temporary Cathedral. The renowned “catastrophe architect” Shuzeru Ban offered his services pro bono to plan and produce this as the first significant building erected after the earthquake – opened on 6 Aug 2013

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This A Frame Structure is made of 86 Cardboard tubes each weighing 500 kg, all supported on 8 six metre containers, which make up the walls

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This inside view shows the exposed ceiling structure of tubes. The Building is designed to be a performance space as well as church.

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The cardboard tube theme continues in the furnishings

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From Wikipedia “It rises 21 metres (69 ft) above the altar. Materials used include 60-centimetre (24 in)-diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel.[16] The roof is of polycarbon,[11] with eight shipping containers forming the walls. The foundation is concrete slab. The architect wanted the cardboard tubes to be the structural elements, but local manufacturers could not produce tubes thick enough and importing the cardboard was rejected.[12] The 96 tubes, reinforced with laminated wood beams, are “coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants” with two-inch gaps between them so that light can filter inside. Instead of a replacement rose window, the building has triangular pieces of stained glass.[17] The building serves as a conference venue as well as a cathedral.[4]“”

There has been a lot of controversy over this building. Partly the cost of about NZ$6,000,000 for a building with an expiry date of 35 years – the estimated time before the cardboard loses strength through water absorption. The other complication regards the question of whether to repair or replace Christchurch’s original Cathedral as the permanent city Anglican cathedral. The original dates from 1864 so has tremendous heritage value but is believed to be damaged beyond safe, economical limits to repair. This kind of question is still being asked about many buildings in the city of Christchurch, yet to be demolished in the hope that they can be restored.

Wild Life on the South Island of New Zealand

Biology Teacher Alert!

The first thing to be said about NZ wildlife is that it is very different. There were no land based mammals, no snakes and the cool climate and isolation have discouraged the proliferation of other reptiles so, before the arrival of mankind only 750 years ago  on the Islands, ecological niches normally dominated by these groups were filled by birds. And what birds they were! Two that were driven to extinction by the Maori were examples of “Island Giantism”, where isolated species with little competition grow to a large size. The Moa was a flightless bird like the emu but it grew 3.6m in height and weighed 250 Kg and were the dominant herbivore in the forest ecosystems of NZ. Their only predator was the Haast’s Eagle. the largest eagle to ever lived weighed about 15 Kg with short broad wings suitable for flying in forests rather than soaring. The Kiwi has survived, but only just!


Not my photo (thanks Wikipedia) although we saw a live one but in strict no photo circumstances.This is a male who does all the egg sitting for up 90 days.

It’s the worlds smallest flightless bird so related to Ostriches, Emus and Moas. It is the size of a chicken, laying the largest egg in relation to body size (up to 450g -25% of the bird’s weight). Kiwis have bones with marrow, no sternum, wings that are not visible, excellent sense of smell (only bird with nostrils at the end of their beak) and a body temperature 2 degrees lower that other birds (more like mammals). They mate for life (more than 20 years) are usually nocturnal and eat small invertebrates, seeds, grubs, many varieties of worms, fruit, small crayfish, eels and amphibians. Following are my images

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This albatross took of directly in front of me. Juvenile albatrosses spend the first 5 years of their life at sea, flying uproot 5000 km per week. This is their normal flying height within 2 metres of the water. They mate for life and raise a single chick every 2 years.

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This Penguin chick was abandoned 2 days ago by his parents – that’s what it takes to provoke him to walk the km or so down hill to the water to start the next stage of his life.

Wildlife 2 smallThis Crested Fiordland Penguin is an endangered species because of predation of the nesting colonies by rats, cats, dogs and stoats. This one was washed ashore in a bad way and has been in hospital but soon to be returned to the wild.

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Another very young penguin hospital resident

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Large Gull

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Young fur seal having an afternoon rest on the rocks at the entrance to Ottago Bay  Wildlife 6 small

Mother Seal not far from her pup. The males left for the ocean weeks ago.Wildlife 4 small

Two seals pups at varying stages of development.

The penguin photographs were taken at Penguin Place in Dunedin, a self funded conservation project developed on farmland which incorporated a natural penguin rookery. The bird and NZ fur seal pictures were taken on a Monarch Wildlife Cruise which went past Taiaroa Head into the ocean outside

What to do in Dunedin?

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Ottago Bay and Dunedin, seen from the tower of Larnach “Castle”. The harbour and town are the mouth of an extinct volcano.

Maoris lived here from about 1250 but it was first settled by sealers and whalers from 1810.

Dunedin, the largest city in the southern province of Ottago in the South Island is proud of it’s Scottish heritage. The name comes from the celtic name for Edinburgh the Capitol of Scotland and the town was settled in  1848 by a Company formed by the Free Church of Scotland who instructed the Architect to emulate the “Romantic” characteristics of Edinburgh in the town plan. As we drove into the city centre we found it closed off for a mass Pipe Band Competition!

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On the way into Dunedin we stopped for lunch and a walk and a look at the Moeraki Boulders, amazing spherical concretions.

Dunedin most important industry is Tertiary Industry – with the countries first established University of Ottago, attracting students from all over NZ and giving the town a population 22% aged between 15 and 24 years old. We arrived for the weekend of Orientation Week, the last chance for the students to let loose before the start of lectures. The streets were packed and so were the pubs. That night, a Saturday was also the first home game for the Ottago Highlanders in the Rugby Super 15 competition, playing the Canterbury Crusaders and several of us decide to go to the “Glasshouse” as their stadium is known.

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At the Glasshouse one end of the stadium is exclusively used for the students who do not ceases from singing, cheering and generally having a good time all night.

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The Highlanders win a line out from the Crusaders during the first half of the game. The Crusaders eventually won by 3 points. 

The almost highlight of my visit came at half time, soon after the photo was taken from the second tier of seating near the try line. For half time entertainment, a jeep with a gas powered bazooka drove around the stadium, firing cylinders into the crowd containing T shirts from one of the sponsors. They fired one high into the top tier above our seats but it bounced off a concrete support and dropped in my direction. For a short bloke I though my leap was well timed and adequate enough to get a firm right hand grip onto the mailing tube. Unfortunately the boof-headed young Kiwi from the seat in front wrestled it off me on the way to the ground and my moment of sporting fame as an old short rugby player in NZ was over.

Changing Reality into Fantasy as seen at Hobbiton

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Our driver on the one hour trip from to Hobbiton described the journey as “From Reality to Fantasy”, a  fair description of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The movies get some help from Peter Jackson that is not needed by a reader who just accepts the Author’ description of Hobbits as short and sturdy (with big hairy, bare feet!) and Gandalf the Wizzard as  taller.  in the Lord of the rings when Gandalf had a long conversation sitting in a cart next to Frodo, a special cart was built with the far seat separated from the near seat by a metre and set back. Gandalf in the foreground looks huge in comparison to Frodo. Mind you, they both had to direct their lies to a fanciful spot not the other actor. 3D meant the end of that trick and they had to use midget and giant standin actors.

Let’s start with the Hobbit Houses – there are 44 of them and they come in 9 sizes between 100% and 60% scale. Things like fences, tools and wheelbarrows were also produced in varying dimensions. More interesting was the effect of 3D technology in the the Hobbit.

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Julie is no giant, except when standing outside a minIture Hobbit House, or maybe peering over a 40 cm front fence!

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Under the artificial Oak tree on the left is Baggend, the home of the Baggins. The best house in the village was on the high point, of course! It needed to have a prominent tree and it didn’t . For the Lord of the Rings Trilogy the set was temporary, so they just found a suitable forest tree, cut it down and stuck it the soil. It died of course. In the  Hobbit trilogy, 10 years later later, the farmer negotiated the building of a permanent set to remain as the international tourist attraction Hobbiton has become. The tree in the image above is constructed of steel and vynyl with 375,000 indivually, hand painted leaves. This tree doesn’t die but the leaves do get blown off in heavy winds and need replacing.

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The selection of this property as the site for the Hobbiton set depended on this  “Lake”, the amazing Party Tree and the rural backdrops lacking 20th century artifacts like roads and power poles. To this mix were added a Hobbit Village of 44 Holes, the Millhouse and the Green Dragon Inn, where you can still buy an excellent drink. The house in the foreground belongs to Sam. It is one of half a dozen houses with a smoke generator in the chimney

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Touring with a commercial bus company

One essential for a good bus trip is a great driver – not just competent behind the wheel but also calm, friendly and with a sense of humour. I nominate Alan!  He was standing in the car park near the Franz Josef Glacier walk indicating the way to the bus for the returning walkers. This was his response to my comment that he was the most animated road sign I had seen for a while.

Julie and I qualify as seasoned travellers – not in the number of trips or places we have been but in our forms of travel. In this order we have camped, caravaned, river cruised, railed and bused in Australia and overseas.

I’d like to consider what goes into making a good bus trip. When we have been travelling around Australia we have found short bus trips ideal ways to get places you can’t manage without 4 wheel drive car and driving experience. Examples of great 1 day trips were into the Bungle Bungles and from Broome to Cape Levique. Overseas we found bus tours, either the hop on/off kind with a recorded commentary or those led by a real guide are great introductions to a city. I prefer the second sort even though they are more expensive because you get the chance to interact with a real person.

We are now entering the 3rd week of a New Zealand Coach Tour with AAT Kings. We chose this because of the fabulous experience we had with a 11 day tour of Italy with Trafalgar had convinced us this was the least stressful,  most time efficient way to see a country in a short time, although certainly not the cheapest.

Another essential is a good Tour Director. Those who followed my blog through Europe might remember Barbara who was excellent. So is Vaille, here demonstrating one of his prime responsibilities – that of keeping us awake on the bus! An interesting commentary is essential, as is answering crazy questions in a credible manner, sorting out the schedule, being always polite to the passengers, staying calm when others aren’t and most importantly NOT LOSING LUGGAGE OR PASSENGERS.

Aside from the Driver and Director who are essential, these are some things that help make a tour successful.

  • Bus not too crowded – a few spare seats make a big difference.
  • A variety of travel companions who are friendly, flexible and prepared to help each other out.
  • A range of nationalities makes things more interesting.
  • So does a range of backgrounds such as work. A bus full of all school teachers (or whatever) would be bad!
  • Understanding the different needs of single people travelling as part of the group.
  • Some space in the schedule to separate and chill out.
  • Regular stops, not just for food and toilet but to do something and move.
  • This might seem inconsistent but Age differences do count. I have seen adult children travelling very successfully with a parent but most of my two coach tourists have been 50+ and I suspect that travellers younger that 40 would probably struggle to fit in.there are coach companies that specialise in young groups
  • Good weather helps.

On being a Pro Photographer

Waiting for the shot to arrive is World Cup Cricket stringer sports photographer Matthew outside a Napier Motel. He is hoping for a shot and interview with star players from the Pakistani team.

One of the good things about travelling is that we seem to have a greater freedom in speaking to strangers. Our single night in the East Coast town of Napier coincided with a World Cup Cricket Match. Sure it was between the worlds least likely cricketers (The United Emirates) and Pakistan (who haven’t been performing well) but it’s always a big deal to host an International.

Returning from an evening walk I saw a young bloke, equipped with pro camera gear, sitting on our hotel wall checking his laptop. We had a 10 minute chat about his last minute assignment from a Pakistani Insurance Company to follow that team throughout their World Cup Campaign and photograph one of the star players before and after each game as he gives interviews. The Pakistan team are staying in our hotel. These photos then  appear on the Company website and social media within hours. Sometimes the photos might be taken up by other media if something noteworthy happens or is reported from the interview.

We talked about Sports journalism – photography in particular. I have had experience as an amateur but have worked as a Media Assistant at Olympic Games and World Cup Rugby tournaments. It looks glamorous, exciting to be a travelling the world watching sport but I think it’s a hard life. There are a hundred stringers like Matthew for every one with a secure job. My local paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, sacked more than half their photographers last year and now use agencies to save costs. So many photos now come for free via social media and the ubituous camera phone. In 2015 everyone has a camera and thinks they can be a photo journalist. Good luck Matthew!