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Ka Kite Āno- see you again!

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest N.P and the land is a vital part of the Māori history. If it so happens you are there and you got a day to spend, you definitely should do the Tongariro Crossing, which takes you literally through Middle Earth. The walk is 19,4 km and takes 6 to 8 hours. On the way you can do several side tracks leading to the Soda Springs or the summit of Mt Tongariro. Since my arrival in New Zealand I have walked the crossing three times and done all the side tracks except Mt Ngaruroe. And that is exactly what we were about to do.

Mt Ngauhuroe is also known as Mt Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The sleeping volcano is 2290m high and that doesn’t make the climb an easy scrawl. There is no marked path going up the 45 degrees steep slope and the loose tephra makes it even harder to climb.

During my way up, I got in contact with a local from Christchurch, Mike. I was relieved he was there because I am not an experienced climber and I was afraid that I would fall backwards or get hit by a falling rock. Luckily, non of this happened. Mike tried to keep my mind of things by talking about what I have done during my stay in New Zealand. My internship in the NZ film industry gave enough material to talk about.

One thing we discussed was the quality of Kiwi films. From my point of view, New Zealand makes either very intense movies such as Once Were Warriors (1993), Whale Rider (1992) or the screenings are about zombies: Dead Alive (1992), Black Sheep (2006) are just the beginning of a long list. Every country has its preferences such as France likes romance, America enjoys vampires and the UK can laugh about its own humour. But New Zealand has something very interesting, in my opinion. Mike agreed with me when I stated that the New Zealand film industry has one unique feature which represents the local culture namely, Māori films.

The Māori are the original inhabitants of Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand. Their roots lie in Polynesia and between 1250-1300, several groups of settlers immigrated to New Zealand and upon today, the Māori culture is present in day-to-day life. Examples are the famous tattoos and the language usage in the media, sport events and public facilities. The intimidating haka is a traditional warrior dance which is preformed before the start of the game of NZ’s favourite and most popular sport, rugby.

As for that, the Māori culture puts its stamp on the film industry.  A recent example of such a movie is The Dead Lands (2014) which is completely written and spoken in Māori. The film follows the tale of the chief’s son Hongi, who must avenge the murder of his father in order to honour the souls of his family after his tribe has been slaughtered by another tribe. Hongi has to pass through the forbidden and feared Dead Lands, wherein a mysterious Warrior lives, also known for its brutal act of killing. My friend who worked on the film told me he never had to make so much fake blood and clean weapons as he did for this film. I won’t spoil the end because it is something you should see for yourself but I can tell you it is loaded with honour and respect.

After spending almost one and a half year in New Zealand, I still find it very fascinating how the Māori and Western culture collide. The fact that a tribal culture survives in a dominant Western lifestyle seems to me unique. The adaptation and changes Māori culture has undergone are tremendous but fascinating in every single way. The ongoing effort that is being made to keep the culture alive deserves nothing more than great respect to their cultural heritage.

Furthermore, films produced and screened in Māori language should be more encouraged to bring the culture to the main public, especially outside New Zealand. It could unfold more interests and respect from the native younger generation. Overseas it could simply increase the knowledge about the Māori culture. All in all it would be great example for other situations such as the Aboriginals in Australia.

In between time, we had reached the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe. The view was breathtaking and we could see up to 200 kms. It made it so obvious why the Māori immigrated to NZ. I would have done it too, with a view like that.
Our time here is over, but I am pretty sure I will return.

Aotearoa: Haere rā– farewell, or shall I say ka kite āno – see you again?

Homeless

Originally, I wanted to write about being homesick and how fortunate Dutch students are with having their “home” – whatever you want to call it – nearby. Yes, on Friday afternoon, the NS has to deal with the thousands of students who are making their way home – meaning; their home city or parent’s place. Although it is maybe a 3 hour journey, other (international) students don’t even have the ability to go home or need to travel maybe double the time. That makes the lazy days at your parent’s place not worth going and staying “home” in Maastricht might be the only other option.

Either way, everyone has something what you can call “home”, either your student flat or your parent’s place.

And then there are the people who don’t have a “home”. In with “home”, I mean a roof above your head or a warm shelter with at least 4 walls and a front door. When you think of homeless people, you might think of beggars in India or Brazil.However, in the current Western society, homeless people do exist. Some of them try to collect some money by selling newspapers; others can’t be bothered and just lay on the street, hoping for some spare change. Each and one of them has his/her own story about how they became homeless. Quite recently, I spoke to a guy in Auckland who went bankrupt and got divorced at the same time. His (ex)wife and the bank came knocking on his door for money and that is how he lost everything. Even more striking was that his family didn’t want to help him which is why he ended up on the streets.

In the donut city of Christchurch, I spoke to Richard. Richard is 39 years old, born and grown up in the city. Since the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, he lives in his car since he has no home left. According to him, the council is too slow with providing and renovating houses. And if they provide them, they are often without hot water or electricity – these are his words. So when the rebuilding started, he stored al his possessions in a safe garage – furniture, his MTB collection – and moved to his van. He drove to the suburb called New Brighton, pulled over at the parking lot and didn’t leave that spot ever since. In fact, he is too afraid that his car won’t be able to drive. I’ve talked to Richard for hours – and hours – and he basically is homeless. He has no address, no work, no family, only a van and government support in the form of money. On his roof, there are solar panels to run his laptop. I’m pretty sure he won’t move his car for the rest of his life.

At the moment, I feel quite similar like Richard. Although Auckland CBD is not like Christchurch and we do have a job, we are still living in a car with no fixed postal address. Surviving on the streets changes your way of thinking. Instead of just buying whatever you like, you have to consider the amount of space you got left. Or the fridge, which we aren’t able to run due to the low capacity of the battery. Furthermore, you have to walk 200 m to the toilet and back; but also to brush your teeth, to clean yourself, to do dishes or to fill up your water tank. Showers are a 10 minute walk and paid ($2,5). The first proper WiFi connection is available at the library, half an hour walk. Laundry is only doable at launderettes, which are coin operating and don’t always supply a dryer. However, I’m not complaining because we have the best free camping spot, with great view on the Skytower.

In other words, not having a roof above your head is a challenge. Knowing that we HAVE a home, an the other side of the world sets our mind at rest. If everything may fail, we can always go home.

What a shock!

For some reason, we always arrive in cities during rush hour. Now, Kiwi rush hours are not the same as the Dutch ones, but still. It is a shock when you have been in the outback and backroads for a few weeks and suddenly there´s a car next to you. Or two. What do you mean with; three lane highways?

The worst experience, we thought, would be Wellington. The most windiest city in New Zealand – and it sure was – and probably the most windiest capital in the world. We arrived there around 5 pm, just when whole working-Wellington though “Let’s go home!”, where ever that may be. After spending 3 hours looking for a free parking spot and some food, we gave up and drove 30 minutes along the coast, out of the city center, to find the most beautiful, out-of-the-wind-spot along the coast. How grateful we were.

We thought that if our Nissan Homy survived the Wellington roads, it could survive any road. Unfortunately it wasn’t prepared for the Christchurch roads.

If you’re in Christchurch, you’ll be surprised of the rural road conditions of the area. How? If you had been following the news, you might remember the news item on an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. There have been two major ones.

 In my two weeks time there, I experienced three shocks, which I didn’t realize because they were too deep underground and too weak. Maybe I should be glad for that, considering the damage the earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 have done. The former had a magnitude of 7.1 second and lasted just 40 seconds. The latter only took 24 seconds, but with a magnitude 6.3 and just 10km southeast of the city center, this quake caused much more damage than you could imagine. Roads were split, buildings collapsed, many people became homeless and in total, 185 people died.

Today, you know when you’re in Christchurch. You don’t need an iconic church to recognize this city -also because there is non. Walking through the city center makes you feel you entered a war zone; buildings are broken down, most houses are empty. The Starbucks has not changed at all – part from the dust and broken lamps on the floor. Still, you can find the coffee cups and newspapers of that day lying on the ground. The Levi store next door has its jeans in the shopping window, while the convenience store is packed with dated energy drinks because that was in discount back then.

The roads are still a mess. One way or not, humps and bumps are everywhere. For instance, the bridge to the suburb New Brighton gave our car a completely new interior and reorganization. And where on earth would you get a flat tire? Exactly, down town Christchurch, where a drugsdealer comes out of his house, in the pouring rain, to help you out and offers you free weed – “You’re alright there, buddy?”

You know you’re in Christchurch when there are locals living in their car for more than 6 months on the same parking lot where you are staying – the council doesn’t provide them with a house, with electricity. You know you’re in Christchurch when there are more parking lots than cars and where you can park your car for $1 per hour. You know you’re in Christchurch when art and graffiti paintings are on every building. And you know you’re in Christchurch when the navigation system leads you to a laundromat which doesn’t exist any more.

Last Christmas

“Is this your first warm Christmas?” a Guild member asked me. “Yes, it is”, I answered and thought of last year, when I was freezing to death in Vienna. What a contrast with my current situation where even jandals are unnecessary – barefooted is the way to roll. For one moment I thought I was back in Tonga but no, good old Auckland it is. You can feel your skin getting sunburned: putting your hand outside is enough. But that doesn’t mean it will be a bad Christmas. Despite the lack of Christmas songs I hear on the radio – mainly because I don’t have one – or the effort the 5 meter tall Santa tries to create which flaunts on the corner of Victoria and Queen Street: I cannot grasp this year’s jolly Christmas feeling. I pass this Santa everyday – and sometimes in the night. He looks down on the people in the streets, accompanied with his reindeer and presents. All this doesn’t work. Neither does the singing show window -really?- of a luxurious warehouse bring me in the right mood.

I’ve never been much of a Christmas person but that doesn’t mean I completely banish the feast. The evenings we spent as a family around the fireplace, reading books. The delicious bread my dad and I used to make around this time. It does bring up some warm feelings. Even the memory of our – REAL- Christmas tree of which the lights turn on/off whenever you make too much noise: it does make me feel a bit sentimental. We always tended to fight about how you are supposed to decorate it: lights-streamers-baubles vs. lights-baubles-streamers? I’m a proponent of the former one, since it decreases the change of breaking the baubles when you hang up the streamers. Unfortunately, my dad thinks differently.
What else are we usually doing for Christmas? Did I mention the annual fights during the Catan and the Top2000 in the background? That was so much fun – especially because I won most of time. Secretly I enjoyed the Christmas song we sang on the market square in Elburg on Christmas eve – although it was freezing cold.

But this year is different. Not in the sense that I’m not in Holland -again- but that I’ve a warm and humid Christmas, wearing a summer dress and jandels instead of winterboots and a scarf. I won’t be bothered with blue toes/noses/fingers. I won’t fall of my bike because of the icy roads. However, in return, I won’t experience the real Christmas feeling. I can’t go ice skating in the polder. Santa Claus wearing a woollen Santa hat and big black boots doesn’t make much sense when it is 25 degrees. On the other hand, I’m treated with sunshine, a light breeze and a gin-tonic. I missed out on Sinterklaas but this year’s Christmas is here to make it up. Well if you could excuse me, I’m off to decorate my palm tree.

 

 

Auckland

Hello stranger!

“I’m sorry, are you from here?” A guy with curly brown hair, holding an acoustic guitar, looked at me. “Are you from Auckland?” he asked again. It was raining. It was my second day in Auckland, New Zealand. Technically speaking because I had woken up at 4 PM, thinking it was 12 o’clock (thank you iPod) but after a quick look at my watch and a knock on the door of my Chinese room mate, I found out I’ve slept more than 19 hours. That jetlag really got me. Even my 2 day stop-over in Hong Kong hadn’t helped. “No I’m not”, I replied, “are you?” “Well, kinda, I’m from Hamilton”. “Where’s that?”, not knowing any other city in New Zealand, apart from Christchurch and Wellington (well done Marie, well prepared). “Bit south. And you’re… English? You sound British.” I smiled “Thanks, I guess”. Well hello stranger, thought. Here you are, in the middle of Auckland, standing at a bus stop, talking to a complete random person. Why does this happen to me? Maybe God has a plan. “No, I’m from Holland, next to Germany, Belgium, you know.” And that was it. That was the start of a 3 hour long conversation about languages, music, passion, films, books, New Zealand and Europe. We ended up in a small French café (in Auckland, yeah). The owner was a French woman, Françoise, half Parisienne, half Marseillaise. Live music playing in the background, nice company and it was pouring and raining outside. 2 hot chocolates please !

The complete stranger turned out to have an Irish name and Venezuelan roots. His study, Spanish and French, didn’t stop him from making music. His dream, to become a world famous musician, was still far away, but his motivation wasn’t. “May I have a look at your iPod? I’m sorry, it might be a weird question, I know.” “Would you just stop staying ‘sorry’ then? You just sound like a Canadian!” (Step on a foot of a Canadian and he will say sorry). He smiled. Although it didn’t help much because after that he kept on saying sorry. This stranger was really an awesome Kiwi.

On the third day, I had to move to another room. This time, I would have 2 roomies. I guessed at least one of them would be Asian, since they’re everywhere (which is good, if you want to find cheap sushi. However, if you don’t like them, it’s a different story). The Vietnamese girl tried to explain what she was doing and who the other girl was. Unfortunately, I was too distracted because of the HUGE fish, she was preparing (including the head and tail. At one point, the eyes popped out. She ate it). The other girl was French, and the next day, we took off to Takapuna, which was just 20 minutes by bus. After a lovely hike, up to Mount Victoria, we enjoyed the view and Willy Wonka Chocolate (too bad; no golden ticket). The ferry took is back to downtown Auckland in just 10 minutes.
I start to like strangers.