All Blacks Haka, 2015 Rugby Championship, photo by Tourism New Zealand
Okere Falls, Anne Norton of
Xquizit Tours grasps a green fern branch and gently turns it over to reveal the silver underside. "Maori hunters used its brightness to find their way back during nighttime hunts," she explains. Anne picks up our group from Holland America's MS Noordam docked at the port of
Tauranga in the
Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand's North Island. Her Mercedes Sprinter luxury mini coach ferries us to
Rotorua known for its geothermal activity.
Another hot issue is that like Canada in 1965, this March, New Zealand votes in a referendum to select their
national flag, pitting the traditional Union Jack design against the
Silver Fern. Kyle Lockwood's design represents Aotearoa's (land of the long white cloud) peaceful, multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards reflecting one people advancing into the future.
On our wonderful day-trip travels throughout New Zealand, the Maori tradition is ubiquitous - indigenous names applied to buildings, streets and other geographic features. In the capital, Wellington, on its beautiful waterfront, we visit
Te Papa (container of treasures), the national museum with its current exhibit,
Gallipoli, depicting ANZAC's futile struggle against the Turks in WWI. The Maori artifacts here are stunning, especially the huge canoe (waka) employed by their valiant, island-hopping 13th century ancestors from eastern Polynesia.
On the Noordam, I partake in three Maori workshops beginning with the
Haka, the Maori war dance. Hikitla Te Aho, a young Maori instructs our group assembled in a lounge. The lyrics are rhythmic and powerful - KA MATE! KA MATE! (It is death! It is death!), KA ORA! KA ORA! (It is life! It is life!) Soon, we are all foot-stamping with wide eyes, tongue protrusions and body slapping to accompany the loud chant.
Te Kahautu Maxwell, face and skull covered with Maori tattoos ("18 hours of incredible pain") explains the patterns used in Maori art and all five of the troupe including two ladies perform
Kapa Haka or traditional songs and dance.
waiata-o-ringa or action songs, the lyrics are supported by symbolic hand movements. The ladies flutter their hands quickly, (wiri) which symbolizes life, shimmering waters, heat waves or even a breeze moving tree leaves.
Poi is a form of dance in which each performer skillfully twirls one or more poi (a ball on a chord) in perfect unison with the others. Sudden direction changes are achieved by striking the ball on a hand or other part of the body, and the noise creates a percussive rhythm.
Pokana or facial expressions are an important facet of Maori performance. They help emphasize a point in a song or haka, and demonstrate the performer's ferocity or passion. For women, pokana involves opening the eyes wide and jutting out their tattooed chin. For men, it means widening the eyes and stretching out their tongue or bearing their teeth.
In Rotorua at the Te Puia cultural centre in the Whakarewarewa valley, along with the giant spouting
Pohutu geyser and
boiling mud pools, we experience a
Maori marae, a tribal meeting place where we observe a traditional challenge (wero) and a welcome (powhiri) followed by the pressing of noses (hongithe) and myriad native songs and dance.
Flying aboard Air New Zealand on the long journey to the Southern Hemisphere, I watched the
All Blacks perform their pre-game haka and retain the prestigious rugby
World Cup in England by thrashing their arch rival, the Australian Wallabies 41-13. And in Auckland, I witness the incessant multi-media fervor surrounding the sudden death of their most famous player, Maori
Jonah Lomu, and his
last haka funeral ceremony performed stoically by old and new players alike in a jammed Eden Park stadium, a passionate and poignant affair.
Lomu at 6' 5" sprinted like a deer but like
Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns, often ran over opponents and was considered such an excellent prospect that the NFL Dallas Cowboys offered him a huge salary which he turned down preferring to play rugby with his mates because "it was only money".
During our travels marveling at New Zealand's wine and wool, hospitable locals were evenly split on the new flag, but I'm strongly attracted to the magical symbolism of the silver fern.
Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.
New Zealand Tourism