New Zealand. A people of simple tastes.

sI know, this second installment about our trip to New Zealand suggests its about people, at least by the title. So what’s up with a photo of a sheep? Well, as most people know, there are more sheep than people in New Zealand.

You looking at me?
You Looking At Me? Photo by Sue Vaile. A sheep. One of many in New Zealand.

Actually the new 2015 data suggests there are six sheep to every person in NZ. A drop since the height of 22 sheep per person back in the 1980’s. This is attributable to the growing industries of forestry and dairy farming. Just a little trivia to start this post off. So, I thought it fitting to have a sheep as the main photo. Well, the truth is we went on our trip in 2009 and I wasn’t into photography so I didn’t take any photos. Sue had just acquired a Fuji point-and-shoot JPEG camera. I know, we were naive and innocent and uneducated back then! A few computer crashes since, and I really didn’t have a lot of photos to choose from!

As we continued our travel around the south island of New Zealand, I became curious about these structure-like entities that adorned the country side. They were these huge hedges, but much bigger, as in NZ big. About fifteen to twenty feet tall and five to ten feet wide. They were at the sides of roads, in the middle of fields and usually no where near a house. I even saw some young people up on top of one ‘wall ’of hedges, surveying the world from their vantage point as they walked around. But even more odd about these walls were that each an every one of them were neatly trimmed, perfectly flat and square, all the way around. In fact we saw a number of machines, trucks really, at these hedges, shearing them into shape. I was told these are wind breaks to stop the blasts of wind from damaging the crops. These were really evident in the winery areas! The odd thing though, was that they had to pay to have these mammoth walls manicured and everyone seemed to spend the money to do so. There were no veggies on dinner tables, but their hedges looked fantastic, sculpted and neat. Go figure!

The culture and values of NZ would be what I would describe as being akin to the hippie era, almost as if the 60’s peace, love and rock and roll had been dragged into the 80’s. I know, hard to imagine. Some styles, were hard to see, I must admit lol!  I could not distinguish any type of fashion ‘style’ there, except not being in style seemed to be fashionable? And always with a hat. It didn’t matter if the hat fit, went with the outfit, or was practical for the outing, but one must always wear a hat. That’s where I discovered that Pippy Longstocking and K.D. Lang in her younger years, were both the trend setters for this down under country (and if you don’t know who these people are, you’re not old enough to read this post lol!). Stripes, whether horizontal or vertical, along with polka dots, big or small, were all to be worn at once, with each other. And colours did not matter if they were the same, matched or were even in the same hue. Anything and everything went together. Quite frankly, I often looked at some of the woman and wondered what era the curtains were that they had used to make their pants! My sister-in-law would just shake her head and laugh when I mentioned it. She just told me that anything goes with their such white skins!

Then there is the language. It took me a little bit to get used to the accent so I could understand them, but it was their sayings that I never quite understood. They are the great rhymers. Doesn’t matter if is makes sense, just as long as it rhymes. The listener seems to know intuitively exactly what the talker is saying. For instance easy peasy. A common saying up here, was most likely first coined down there by the Kiwi. Piddley Widdley. Havy Mavy and so on and so on. I have no idea what these mean, and I suspect they don’t either, they just seemingly make them up on the spot, but you throw them in a sentence and you kind of get a hint. “We went to Cedar’s dance recital and they all started dancing, except one was off on their timing and it was just piddley widdley from there.” I don’t know about you,  but I get a vision of that group of six old girls suddenly all dancing off timing and being at different places in the choreography. Right? Yeah-nah. Huh? Which is it, yeah or nah, yes or no?  Silly me, it doesn’t mean anything like it suggests. That’s just a polite way of saying “No thank you,” of course! I’m not sure how I confused that.  And then being on the road travelling we got a lot of take-aways. It took me a while to figure out that meant fast food, not a trash can! And if I heard it once, I heard it a gazillion times, “I was Gob-smacked.” What are we back in the 50’s?  But the best of all was hearing about the All Blacks. It took quite a while to understand they were not being racist, but rather were talking about their  football team. But of course, by the end of our journey, I could understand the accent and what they were saying, I was using slangs easily and I was comfortably driving on the left side of the road. It was choice bro!

Of course there are the Maori, their Indigenous People. What is a trip to New Zealand without visiting Rotorua where you experience an ancient Maori Village and are treated to a festive dinner, cooked entirely under the earth. The Maori are distinctive by their body art, black tattoos, most of which cover a part of their face, like the chin, or half the face or most of the face, in swirls, loops and strokes. We were told by our tour guide that everyone who works in the Village today, has agreed to live the life of the ancients, it is not just actors or a job. They embrace their old world ways in today’s environment as much as possible. This is a condition of their employment. There is a ceremony initially, where the men, the warriors of the tribe, come out the meet the group and after some posturing and such, decide whether to invite the visitors inside for further fun, games and food. Having paid a large amount of money for this experience, I was a little surprised when the tour guide warned us to take the ritual very seriously. We were told a group had been turned away only the week before, Really? Wow, they are really serious. When these warriors come out, one way for them to look menacing and strong and scary to their foes is the shaking of spears above their head and the sticking out of the tongue, a very distinctive Maori tradition. Apparently, in that tour group that was not asked to come inside, they snickered and laughed and some stuck their tongues out back at the Maori. We were told, not to do this.

As the ritual began, we were all quiet, attentive and respectfully engaged in observing the warriors as they checked us out, deciding if we were worthy. Sue whispers “My blood sugar is dropping,” and I whisper back “How Bad?” ‘Bad” she says and I feel her start to tremble. How long is this going to go on, I wonder? Many thoughts pass through my head. We are in the middle of nowhere so an ambulance will be useless. Will she be able to make it through this ritual? What if she passes out and they are not done yet? Better still, do they have sugar here and how can we help her? I silently started praying for the warriors to be done and for Sue to be able to get through this without collapsing. Finally they had finished and were inviting us into the village. I quickly turned to our tour guide and explained Sue was suffering a diabetic low and needed sugar. She reached into her purse and pulled out a sugar-free candy. Really? I now knew we were in trouble. It must have been the tone in my voice, almost panicked as Sue was starting to become incoherent as I said “If she doesn’t get anything with sugar soon, she will go into a coma and can possibly die.” All of a sudden a couple of the Maori women of the village had joined the group in welcoming us and they moved in swiftly. They grabbed Sue and went to the right, while I went with the group to the left.

You know, I think back now and am amazed I never got Sue killed. You see, over the next hour and a half, I was engaged in Maori games, lifestyle and culture. I was immersed in their Maori experience. I did think once or twice about her, wondering where she was and what they had done with her. She did not rejoin the group. I just carried on, hoping all was good with her. About two hours into the tour, we went to the dinner hut for our meal. I was finally joined by Sue. She told me she had been with the women the entire time while in the ‘kitchen’ while they prepared the food. She said they fed her and gave her juices, watching over her the entire time, while they talked and educated her about their culture, preparation of food, and their daily lives. She said she had a great time and enjoyed herself and she did not regret not doing the experience with me. I was very happy for her and to just see her and know she was alright.

And that was truly our experience of the people of New Zealand. A very warm, welcoming people. Unreserved, inviting and very simple in their tastes and lifestyles. They are generous and accepting. I loved their feel, their freedom and their caring for their country, the earth and it’s people. If it weren’t for the awful 36 hours of travel to get their, including a 14 hour transcontinental flight in the ‘cattle car’ of airplanes, I would return in a second. In fact, I loved the country, the values and the people so much, I had looked into retiring there, in Napier, on the North Island. But if you do get there, be sure to go to Arthur’s Pass, the Southern Alps. It is truly a beautiful area in the mountains, with less then 1,000 in population. Please stop by The Mountain House and stay at night at their accommodations and plan an excursion with them. Say Hi to Bill and his family. They are wonderful hosts, we know and their our family from down under.

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