The North Island (continued)

15 02 2012

After the Coromandel peninsula and Rotorua, time for the North Island was quickly running out. So we decided to skip a visit to Napier on the east coast which would have been interesting as it is an Art Deco heaven – major parts of the center rebuilt in this style after an earth quake in 1931. Instead we headed straight south towards Wellington from where the ferries to the South Island depart. Starting from Rotorua this was first a ride through the mountains, with windy and steep roads, then along the banks of Lake Taupo in the center of the North Island.

Stopover at Lake Taupo,

Lake Taupo is NZ’s largest lake and was formed by an supervolcanic eruption about 26.500 years ago, followed by about 27 further eruptions since then. The last one is dated to around AD 200 and was at the time apparently also recorded in Rome and China. From Lake Taupo we went southwards over the Kaimanawa Mountains with the Rangipo Desert, a high plateau which on this day was at about cloud level and which is used by the NZ army as training range. With the slight drizzle it felt a lot like the Yorkshire moors and the Scottish Highlands.

Driving through the Rangipo desert.

We stopped for the night at Bulls, a small town about 150 km north of Wellington and, for this night, swapped the kombi for a motel room. Travelling with the baby was mostly ok, but had its moments. In particular, the lack of a separate room where the little one could be put to bed in the evening was a problem. We solved this by building a tent-like structure with a blanket around and above the baby bed which was placed on the fridge-kitchen block. This way she could sleep in the (semi-)dark from about 8 p.m. on while we had the rest of the evening for us. But getting up several times in the night and feeding her in the limited space of the kombi was not easy, and this night we spoiled ourselves with the space of a two-room motel accommodation.

Kombi in front of motel room in Bulls.

The next day we arrived in Wellington where we visited the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, basically the National Museum of New Zealand. A wonderful new building, erected about ten years ago, directly at the waterfront in Wellington – in its foundation and orientation towards the sea designed to withstand earth quakes and tsunami waves. Apparently it is the most visited museum of the southern hemisphere. With our little baby we could not spend hours in it, so we booked a one-hour-tour to get the essentials in a concentrated way.

The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington.

The Maori appear to be well integrated and represented in modern New Zealand – in contrast to the aborigines and their situation in Australia. Turns out the Maori themselves arrived in New Zealand only 800 years ago, making New Zealand the last country on earth settled by humans. Below is a photo of a very informative wall panel in the museum which summarizes today’s understanding of the human settlement Australia and the pacific islands. I will include it in high resolution so that you can zoom into the details if you are interested. While Australia was settled already 60.000 to 40.000 years ago, in one immigration wave with Papua New Guinea, the settlement of the pacific islands occurred only between 3000 and 700 years ago, via the Fiji and Cook Islands as stepping stones, resulting in the settlement of Hawaii, New Zealand, and even the west coast of South America. The New Zealand Maoris have only one language (compared to probably hundreds of very diverse languages of the Australian aborigines), and this language differs from the Hawaiian language only as much (or as little) as French from Spanish.

Photo of a panel in the Te Papa Museum, providing an overview of the settlement of Australia and the Pacific Islands (red arrows: Settlement of Australia and Papua new Guinea 60.000 – 40.000 ago; white arrows: main movement of first Pacific settlers, 3500 – 3000 years ago; beige arrows: on-going colonization of smaller or more remote islands).

When settlement by the Europeans started in the early 1800’s, the Maori were not overrun, but fought and negotiated eye-to-eye and established a relatively peaceful co-existence. This was beneficial for both sides and resulted in the Treaty of Waitangi from 1840 between all Maori tribes and the British queen. This treaty and the corresponding peace was the starting point for a wave of immigration from the UK to NZ. Interestingly, there are a few but crucial differences between the English and the Maori versions of the treaty, introduced perhaps unintentionally, but later on and up to now the cause for conflicts. Nevertheless this treaty is nowadays considered something like the constitution of modern New Zealand, and February 6, the day of the signing of the treaty in 1840, is now celebrated as a national holiday, Waitangi Day.

English version of the Waitangi Treaty (photo taken at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington).

There are about eighty Maori tribes and the New Zealand government is in the process of negotiating settlements with all of them. In these settlements the tribes can put forward historic events of crimes and mistreatment by the white New Zealanders and these accusations are investigated and compensations are determined. Today, settlements have already been achieved with about 27 of the 80 tribes. Sounds like a very good way to resolve problems of the past and build a base for a future together.
PS: NZ was the last country to be settled but, in 1893, the first to grant women the right to vote.

Our route on the North Island, highlighted in yellow.


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