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.

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!

Flying over Water, Iceand Land in NZ

I am having trouble getting my images to display so am reposting this. The images are just picked randomly this time rather than the carefully edited ones yesterday. If it works it will also mean I lose my comments. Sorry comentators!

I suffer seriously from motion sickness. I have been seasick in the Galapogas Is, airsick in a balloon over the Masai Mara and revoltingly sick for two hours in a light plane over Lake Argylle in Western Australia. These were all expensive, excruciating occasions! So it was with trepidation (and medication) I took of from Lake Tepako for a 45 min Air Safari Grand Traverse flight over the glaciers around Mt Cook, highest peak in NZ. Edit


 The flight was smooth, the pills worked and the weather was amazing. I would like to share some photos. 

Edit The pictures show Glenmore sheep station, adjoining the lake, the braided Godley River and glaciers and peaks surrounding Mt Cook. Edit Shown first is the Murchison Glacier, then the Tasman, the Franz Josef and the Fox. The peak is that of Aoraki/Mt Cook (3754m) 

Christchurch – Four Years Dealing With Crisis

We only spent 12 hours in Christchurch – long enough to teach me something! It is approaching the fourth anniversary of the major earthquake here where I remember a solid week of media attention on the devastated city, the 185 people killed, the dissection of what causes earthquake, appeals for charitable responses and post earth quake stories about emergency services travelling from all over the world to help out.

This was not our hotel in Christchurch, which was mostly surrounded by flattened building sites, but an entire wrecked street about a block away.

We were certainly not aware of what was still happening four years later though. Frank, our driver from the airport, summed it up “It took 120 years to build this city and 30 seconds to flatten it. We’d like it fixed right now but realistically it won’t be right for 10 years” it’s not just economic costs either. Entire suburbs are still without sewerage and running water – those underground services take so long long to plan and rebuild and the 10,000 aftershocks the city suffered made it so dangerous to safely get started. Rebuilding costs? Forty billion dollars and rising. The populations dropped,  entire industries have moved, and difficult decisions made on abandoning iconic landmarks – even the question “is this place, on a fault line, too dangerous for a city altogether? had to be considered

The lessons for the people of Christchurch continue daily but I hope what I learned today will remain with me. Our daily news cycle now includes a staple catastrophe story. Sometimes it’s a natural disaster like tsunami, bushfire or earthquake but often it’s human in origin like atrocities, terrorism and war. We recognise that emotionally we respond more to things that affect us, or people like us, or are close to us geographically, and this is reflected in the space the media allocates. This explains why a terrorist incident in Sydney consumes the news for a month and a mass slaughter in Africa hardly rates a mention. 

However we are being trained by the media to have such short attention spans! Why don’t we demand to hear the end of the story as well as the beginning. It might not be as exciting to consider rebuilding as demolition but it’s just as important for us to know what happened next.

Where is Gary? – in France of Course!

The Fishing boats of Pavalas les Flots , the closest Port to Montpellier

The Fishing boats of Pavalas les Flots , the closest Port to Montpellier

It is nearly 2 months since my last post and the question is – have I like my American friends been stuck in Venice? Many of my travelling companions from the USA were let down by their airline and had to stay a couple of extra nights in Italy, while Julie and I hopped on an express train to Milan and then took advantage of a European Travel pass to catch local trains to the Italian Border and thence via Marseille to Montpellier  with our eventual destination being Paris.

This planning does not explain the absence of posts of course. Two months ago I volunteered to produce a fund-raising calendar as part of benefit night for an ex student, friend and gym instructor who went from being a new mother to a widow in a period of two weeks. Three hundred people  are gathering for this benefit on the 8th of November and we are looking forward to a lot of fun but it’s been a lot of hard work.

The most fun was photographing 12 different trainers in class and trying to capture their different, quirky characters. These photographs do not belong here but you will find them at this address on my stay at home, photo/writing blog – http://gymeagary.tumblr.com.  Take a look and leave a comment if you like.

This break has put a dent in my intention to wrap up my travelling blog by Christmas, but it has definitely moved me from Italy into France at last.

We have no regrets at choosing to use trains and forgo the convenience of a guided bus tour as we had with Trafalgar in Italy but it had some disadvantages. The trains were comfortable and reliable but using the local lines meant waiting sometimes for hours for a connection. Travelling slower than a “Bullet” meant we got to see a lot more of the countryside but it is very frustration for a photographer to pass by so many images while looking through a dirty window from a swaying train! We had hoped to reach Montpellier in one hop from Milan but stops to change trains in Genoa and Ventimiglia (the border town between Italy and France) meant we had been travelling 12 hours when we got to Marseille so we broke our trip and found a hotel. Compared with our Italian accommodation this was definitely One Star. We also didn’t have a bus and the wonderful Barbara looking after us so had to find a cab and somewhere to eat ourselves – all part of the adventure but not much fun when you are exhausted.

The next morning we rolled our bags over cobbled streets back to the station, caught the next train to Montpellier, with only a single change at Nimes and were there by lunchtime. Since we had no accommodation booked we found a tourist office, booked two nights by the beach at Pavalas les Flots and took instructions on how to take the Light Rail and then the local bus to get there. We found the locals extremely helpful. The Image above is from the fishing village a half hour walk from where we were staying.