Welcome to New Zealand

As you may know Ali and I have had a recent trip to New Zealand, and I would like to share an experience we had whilst we were there. This actually happened on the evening of the day we arrived and looking back set the atmosphere for the entire trip. I have to be honest before the holiday I knew very little about New Zealand, and especially that of the Maori culture. I knew the Maori people were famous for their fearless warriors, hence the ‘All Blacks’ Haka, but knew very little else. During our stay we learnt a great deal about the Maori from the first explorers who reached New Zealand (or Aotearoa meaning “Land of the Long White Cloud”) about 1000 years ago from their ancestral Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki, to the arrival of the white man in the mid 1600s, and later the missionaries in 1800 and the treaty of Waitangi. But what does this all have to do with our first evening?

Well on picking up the camper van in Auckland we headed north on the 1. There aren’t as many roads in New Zealand, and a road numbered the one seemed to make sense. Anyway, although we had planned out a rough itinerary of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, we hadn’t actually given much thought to where we were going to stop. We knew there were camp sites all over and Matthew, our son, had informed us that “you just had to rock up, make yourself known, and you would be sorted”. This all seemed to make sense whilst we were sitting in our dining room in Clevedon enjoying a Sunday lunch, but now we were actually driving north on an island we had just arrived on some few hours earlier, having travelled half way around the world in the previous 24 hours, it didn’t have the same clarity about it. Well, Ali had read all the guide books she could get her hands on as is her want, and she very quickly decided we would head towards the west coast, up route 12 and towards a kauri forest called Waipoua – whatever a kauri forest is. After about half an hour on this road I was instructed to turn off the 12 onto what appeared to be (and transpired to be) a dirt fire track. Did this seem a good idea? Well my faith in Ali’s map reading overruled any common sense and we proceeded. The open track soon became a covered one as we entered what we later learnt was a typical kauri tree canopy. A further fifteen minutes passed as we proceeded deeper into the forest before we came across several huts, and then a clearing with a sign saying ‘camp site’. We stopped by the first hut, where there was a sign saying, ‘find a space and I will find you’. We parked up, and started to sort out the van. My describing of the campsite was “ethnic”, Ali’s was “back to nature”. Anyway, after a while a man approached the van looking like a New Zealand version of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and made himself known as Lance. He told us he was a direct descendent of the Maori tribe who first populated this area and, although the wood was now covered by a conservation trust, he still had the right to live and run his business there. We asked whether there was anywhere local that we might find some food, which did seem to be a slightly silly question as we hadn’t seen anything in the past hour which even resembled what we would call civilization. The answer was an obvious no, but he quickly added that if we fancied some homemade watercress soup and bread we were most welcome to wander over to the largest of the huts we had passed on the way in, at about 7.30. Having only had a sandwich for lunch on the road we jumped at the offer, and said we would have a quick wash and would be over. The watercress soup was to die for, and the bread was also homemade and had been warmed. He did also offer us several glasses of New Zealand Pinot Gris, which it seemed rude to refuse.

On our arrival we had noticed a sign on one of the huts which was advertising a night time walk through the forest but on closer inspection noted it didn’t operate on Wednesdays and Sundays, and today was Sunday. We mentioned this to Lance and he told us that, although he did try and have a couple of evenings off each week, a German couple who had arrived earlier had persuaded him to lead one tonight and if we wished to join them we should be outside at 9pm. With our bodies still thinking it was 8am UK time we returned to the camper and dressed warmly. We walked with head torches for about an hour and a quarter with Lance stopping along way to make comment about the forest trees and wildlife. At the halfway point we arrived at a river where he told us to find a rock to sit on and after a short explanation he instructed us to turn off our torches. As we sat there in the complete dark and listening to the river he made us perform 3 ‘yoga’ breaths before telling us to close our eyes as he said a Maori prayer. It was a most magical and spiritual experience, one which will remain with us for a very long time. You felt for that moment in time completely at peace with the world, and that God was there with you (little did we know what was just around the corner).

That first night and the hospitality and welcome we received was reflected throughout our trip, and reinforced to us the importance of those simple things of food and company. 

Bruce Lloyd, May 2020