Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011: Jade, Steam, and Living on the Edge!

Another very busy day! We started out by visiting the jade cutter, Nick, learning about the origin and types of jade (nephrite and jadeite) and walked away with some beautiful and meaningful pieces. BTW, Nick loved "Travels with Mater" and helped me take some photos! I love the significance of shapes and designs that help to tell the story and beliefs of the Maori people. The nature of each design is representative of a character trait, worn for protection, or to help fortify or support a relationship. Strength, determination, prosperity and good health are included, along with courage, harmony and growth, to name a few. The promise of safe passage over water or a meaningful relationship is important in these patterns, as well as protection from evil. They have fascinating and unique names, such as heimatua, koru, toki, and manaia, and everyone in the Maori community seems to know them all. The Maori are a naturally spiritual people and they are all connected to each other, either by blood or by life force.

We headed over to Whakarewarewa (remember the full name you’ve been practicing?! How’s it going?). This thermal Maori village gave us a personal insight into the lifestyle of the Maori that reside there. Overall, I found them to be deeply respectful of their elders and their history and this seems to help guide their current lives and the decisions they make. The hot springs, boiling water, bubbling mud, and sulfuric steam all play an influential and meaningful role in the every day life of the resident Maori. They bathe in the naturally hot water, heat their homes, and cook their food using the energy provided by Mother Nature. Throughout the village were four recessed underground communal “ovens” where the village residents cooked their food using the heat from the earth’s steam. Meats, vegetables, and breads were all included and the ovens were shared by one and all. Wrapped in foil or in pots, food was placed in these “ovens” and cooked throughout the day with the family retrieving their meal when cooked to perfection! There were spots where you could feel the heat through your shoes and where the ground was quite warm and, of course, the sulfuric smell was never far away!

We walked through the village to a spot where we could witness the geyser erupt into the blue skies, at times being obscured by the steam that accompanied it. While not the magnitude of Old Faithful, it is still a powerful display of earth’s capacity to slowly change its face as minerals and other colorful elements spew into the air slowly leaving their mark on the rocks and soil surrounding it. Naturally we waited for it to erupt and, collectively, took an obscene number of photos!

We then went to Mt. Ngontongaha, taking the gondola to the top where we rode the luge (some more than once) partially down the mountain. We were treated to a panoramic view of Lake Rotorua and its surroundings as we stopped for lunch in the café enjoying the view. I have to say that we have been incredibly fortunate in regard to the weather. While the temperatures are a bit chilly in the morning and evening here in New Zealand, the sun has been shining in Rotorua and the snow and icy conditions have stayed in the South Island.

Agroventure was our next stop today where we were able to take advantage of some risk-taking, adrenaline producing endeavors! There was the Shweeb, Free Fall Extreme, the Agrojet, Swoop and Bungy. Shweeb is a human powered monorail that you pedal while sitting in a pod racing another “shweeber”. Apparently, you can reach speeds up to 45 mph but we don’t know that for sure because none of us did that! Brendan and Billy did Free Fall Extreme where they were suspended on a giant column of air flying up to @12 feet off the ground. Our group “superheros” loved every minute of their weightlessness. They also did the Swoop free falling towards the ground at 130 MPH, pulling 3 G’s on the way after being cocooned inside a harness before soaring through the air. Lots of us did the Agrojet. This is a 13 ft. sprint boat powered by 450 HP engine that pumps through 11,000 liters of water per minute! They strap you in, buckle you up before taking off in a jet sprint boat that reaches 100 MPH in just 4.5 seconds! Our driver, Matt, was excellent and provided us with a ride of screaming and laughter as he treated us to a 360 degree Hamilton jet spin! That guy has a great job!

Anja suggested we stop at Ogo for some more fun! This time, Anja, Heather, Brendan, and Billy took on the Zorb, a huge ball within a ball that is filled with water and sent hurtling down a hill with a human inside of it! Keep in mind that the temperatures hovered near 50 degrees F. Even though warm water was put into the ball and its occupant emerged soaked to the bone, they loved their rocking and rolling down the green, green hills of New Zealand!

We returned to the hotel and went to the Hangi dinner, a traditional Maori feast complete with music that accompanied the time-honored Maori dances and performances. It began with a customary greeting and accepting of peace between the clans, in this case the Maori and the audience. Our “chief” was Bradley, chosen from the men in the room. It was also an audience participation event and many of us ended up on stage along with the performers and a good time was had by all. I left the evening believing that the Maori are a happy people, even though they shared with us some traditional warrior customs. Listening to the music, one can hear a Hawaiian influence (or vice versa with the Maori influencing the Hawaiian songs!), and seeing their joyful smiles as they perform, I left the performance feeling that perhaps it is the simple lifestyle the Maoris live that makes them so happy and content. Either way, they are a joyful and satisfied people and it is a delight to spend time with them and to get to know them and their culture better.

This is a visual test. Can you pick out the genuine Maori native?

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