Soon though, the cultural experience performance started. The men came forward blowing conch horns, and as Bryant was elected to be our "chief", he came forward to accept a fern leaf, picking it up with two hands and not turning his back, signifying that we came in peace. He then led us into the marae, or ancestral home of the Maori, when one of the women of the tribe started to sing. A marae has a carving of a head at the front, with the two slopes of the roof signifying the arms. The center of the roof signifies the backbone, while beams come down all along it to signify ribs. At the center of the marae is a single upright pole, representing the heart. One of the male members of the tribe gave a speech in Maori, and afterwards, Bryant performed a hongi with all of the male members of the tribe. Then, as the formalities ended, the performance began. They performed songs with sticks thrown in the air, beat against one another, and thrown between people. This was a game used to strengthen hand eye coordination skills. In addition, they performed a love song, and another upbeat song using poi, which was a rope with a tassel at one end and a soft white ball on the other. The poi were swung around, beat against hand and forearm, and caught throughout the song. The girls even got a chance to try it! It was fun, though I think I hit myself in the face more than once. Then the group performed a haka for us, and the boys then tried as well. Unfortunately, the haka that we learned was different than the one that the performance group led today. With one last fairly upbeat song, the performance was over. We walked around the park a bit more, looked at the geyser erupting, and hit the road.
After stopping at a little mom and pop bakery for lunch where we all tried different lunch 'pies', our group made our way to Mountain Maungatautari which is 2,000 acres of prime rainforest habitat that many of the endangered species of endemic birds of New Zealand reside in. They are able to thrive there because of the mammal proof (predator proof) fencing that surrounds this “island” it is comprised of 26 different land owners property. Thanks to all of those land owners cooperation and lots of fundraising this island is able to exist in the mainland. All of the other habitat islands are actual offshore islands. For example the very first place we stayed at in the distance off shore we were able to see Great Barrier island which is a restricted access habitat island.
Since this mammalian predator free island exists many species are able to thrive, we saw 3 tuataras, we heard bellbirds, north island robins, New Zealand Falcons, saddlebacks, parrot, 2 cave wetas, wood pigeon, 2 Takahe, fantails. That area is also prime Kiwi habitat, we did not see any of those however because they are nocturnal. We saw the heart shaped leaf full of holes that means its medicinal properties are ready, so a few of us tried it. Tastes not the best but also not the worst thing I’ve tried, it made our throats feel a little numb. The Vegemite at breakfast a few days ago smelled way worse.
We also had a chance to experience learn about the local wildlife. We walked through a night enclosure, and had a chance to see kiwi- the first time for the nursing students. They're such cute little fluffballs! We also talked about the kereru, or the wood pigeon. The Maori would wait until autumn to hunt them so that they would be fat and filling. Coincidentally, this would also allow them to raise young. They would hunt the pigeons by placing troughs in the trees with sweet water inside. They would also place nooses around the edges of the trough so that when the pigeon came to feed, they would be caught by the neck, and may strangle themselves. Of course, the pigeons may also become drunk from the sugar found just in their natural food for that time of year- the berries of the tawa tree, leaving them crashing into tree limbs and falling onto the forest floor. We really got to see a broad perspective of this area of New Zealand today, and traveled back to Auckland in the evening for our stay at the Youth Hostel of Auckland for the night. More adventures tomorrow!
Mary & Emily