Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

Beginners Guide to Polynesia – The Three Islands of New Zealand

Masons Bay

New Zealand has more in common with Hawaii that the rest of Polynesia with the Maori and Moriori population being in the minority. The majority being English, Irish and Scottish, a growing Asian population mainly Chinese, a small Indian community and a healthy Polynesian population from other islands mainly Samoan, Tongan and Cook Islands. Auckland is therefore regarded as the largest Polynesian city on the planet. The largest Maori population is in the North Island which mirrors the precontact statistics. Maori culture is strong and assertive and cross cultural understanding fairly good and mainly respectful. New Zealand is unusual for having a living legal document dating back to 1840 governing the legal rights of its Maori population and despite a painful and long running dispute this treaty is codified firmly into law. Loss of land still affects Maori negatively and is in stark contrast to other purely Polynesian States with only Hawaii worse in this regard. There are signs that the economic prospects of Maori are improving but off a low base.

The bright spots are in the Arts, and especially in the music industry and in sport where Maori succeed professionally far above their percentage of the general population as do their fellow Polynesians. Overall New Zealand is a tolerant society with a long shared history, much intermarriage between the races and a mutual pride in Maori culture and it certainly lacks the disrepectful and disgraceful cheap and tasteless Tiki Culture of Hawaii. But Maori still face an enormous challenge to match the health, education and prosperity statistics of the general population.

The land itself is beautiful in the extreme with almost every landscape in the world jammed into three islands. Larger than the United Kingdom and slightly smaller than Japan but with a tiny population of four plus million and vast national parks containing thousands of snow capped mountains, lakes, glaziers and wild rivers, it is very much a natural paradise. Compared to the tiny island landscapes of Polynesia New Zealand must have seemed to the first Polynesian settlers a vast country beyond their imagination.

For the visitor the problem is which New Zealand do they wish to experience; the small but reasonable sophisticated cities or tourist towns like Queenstown, the rural heartland or the wilderness with its great natural beauty. Most visitor attack it like a smorgisbourd and like a smorisbourd that gluttonous approach probably sates the appertite fairly quickly. The greatgeographic isolation of New Zealand means for European and even American visitors very long haul flights to reach the place and this means most visitors will only come once. For the locals the check list of must sees for most overseas visitors of Rotorua, Mt Cook, Queenstown and Milford Sound appear on no ones list of holiday destinations For New Zealanders prefer their beaches of which there a thousands, New Zealand having a huge coastline. This passion of New Zealanders for the landscape where the land meets the sea is insatiable, whether for swimming, walking, fishing, surfing, picnicking or just simply being there, all New Zealanders of whatever race prefer this tiny ribbon between sea and land. Even the road trip which is fairly common adventure for New Zealanders usually happens at least in part along beautiful coastal roads. Rotorua, Mt Cook, Queenstown and Milford Sound to most New Zealanders sound like a list of hideous tourist fly traps.

So therefore most visitors to New Zealand fly 30 hours at vast expense to see the places the locals see only once and possibly never. Either all these overseas visitors know something New Zealanders do not or they are being sold a pup. And when the visitor gets here the New Zealanders have put on for their entertainment a bevy of “adventure tourism activities.” that include the strange, the ridiculous and the downright dangerous. So lets start with the wonder that is bungee jumping. That visitors can be convinced to spend three hundred dollars to frighten the living daylights out of themselves is one of the great wonders of the world. I suppose if I had a scerik of national pride I could take pleasure in the fact that it was one of my countrymen A J Hackett who came up with this con. But the truth is anyone who called themselves AJ and continued to use such a “cool dude” label that befits a pimply skateboarding seventeen year old tosser into middle age would have me crossing to the other side of the road. However lets acknowledge Hackett at least never actually killed anyone with his silly activity for the retarded. There are plenty of adventure tourism activities in New Zealand that continue to build a steady score of deaths. The usual cause is the lives of the tourist are in the hands of the lowest common denominator in adventure tourism; a retarded twenty year old with deadlocks and the emotional maturity of a rabbit and who likes to be called KC or bloody JC. I spent my youth in New Zealand mountains hanging off bluffs and being washed down rivers and trying not to die of hypothermia. That I survived is due to the fact that I had my head screwed on right, because New Zealand pretty looking landscape and its surrounding sea has a hundred ways to kill you in three minutes flat. Our climate is changeable in the extreme, with sudden plunges in temperature and heavy rain turning mild looking streams into killer torrents within twenty minutes. Every year under prepared fools fly here and get themselves drowned or fall over a bluff or get buried in avalanches. We spend vast sums of money and thousands of hours of human resources trying to find idiots who have got themselves lost in benign looking country that is anything but benign.

Young New Zealanders like to test themselves in such country and generally manage to not get themselves killed because they are taught by fathers or uncles who are experienced and who did not get themselves killed in their youth. It is in other words it is a Darwinian exercise of survival of the fittest. But we still drown prodigious amounts of humanity every year off beaches and in rivers because in the sea, lakes and in rivers things can go pear shaped in seconds and the result is usually fatal. Thousands of careful tourists with experience in the outdoors who do their homework walk our good tracks in the foothills and mountain valleys and gain immense pleasure and personal satisfaction in the process. And for the seriously experienced this country is a paradise. But for many a barstool in a pub in Queenstown is safer bet with a hangover and yet another STD the worse to fear.

Many mature and inexperienced tourists such as the Chinese elect for a guided bus tour on the basis of safety in numbers. This sort of mass tourism is very low grade and involves no meeting of the natives either white or brown and is a sort of voyergistic experience for the timid via the window of a bus. Interestingly people presumably select such an experience because of fear of being ripped off by the natives who are in general both honest and friendly and thus these gulls fall into the hands of their own countrymen who skin them mercilessly. Self drive is now the option of many which puts he tourist at ground level doing pretty much what the locals do and I would imagine giving them a much richer experience as a result. What many tourists would like to do is really extract a full reward for their hours on planes and vast expense to get here. This would mean getting to have a unique experience, met the locals and more than that getting to know the knowledgeable locals. Currently this is very much luck as t is visiting any country. In my experience the traveller with a specific goal is usually the one who gains the most. The meandering tourist relies on pure chance and a personality bold enough to take advantage if they get lucky. Though I have to say some of my most unforgettable experiences travelling happened just like this. The advantage to this as opposed to the planned experience is that so often a planned experiences is contrived. Seasoned travellers are really seeking the absolutely authentic, this is nadir for travellers; a life changing experience that will give pleasure and an expanded view of the world for the rest of your life.

Historically New Zealand is an interesting country, a very old land with a relatively short human history, with very weird fauna and flora throw in. The landscape is everywhere dramatic and the Maori were the most dramatic of people, fantastic artists, fierce warriors who practiced cannibalism and kept slaves, a highly intelligent race who practiced war as a pastime and a pleasure. There is a heroic stamp about them and this fits with the landscape. While the European history of New Zealand is the story of the 19th century repeated across much of the New World and it is the story of adventurous people striving for a better life. That the Maori and the Eupopeans fought two wars first in the 1840's and again in the 1860's was inevitable because both the British and the Maori were warrior races, but in World War Two, Korea, Vietnam and in Afghanistan they fought side by side bravely both races winning numerous Victoria Crosses.

If most New Zealanders gave it any thought they would want the tourists to have the best experience of New Zealand because they are quietly proud to their country. Like me they are slightly mystified that all the tourists go to the same places when they can think of twenty places just as pretty without a soul in sight, which is probably what makes New Zealanders different that everybody else on the planet; they like isolation. I have friends who when trout fishing in the mountains will pack up and drive twenty kilometres to an other spot if they see distant human being on the other side of the lake. The tourists after the beautiful could pretty well stick a pin in a map and as long as it landed on any of New Zealand's vast public lands they are unlikely to be disappointed and they could also have the place to themselves.

Every New Zealander would have there own personal favourite places so here are some of mine.


Mason's Bay, Stewart Island

Fly onto the beach with Stewart Island Flights, stay in the Blue Duck hut or better still camp back from the beach. Anywhere from November to early April get up an hour before dawn walk south to the first creek cross it and park your bum twenty feet from the creek facing east. (this requires a fine morning which at this time is a 2 in five chance maybe) you want to be there at the first loom of dawn in the east in other words when it is pitch black but not quite and wait. But keep still as at first light hawks will usually glide along the beach looking for carrion. Wait a bit more, now you may make out the dark mass of the Ruggedy Mountains to the north. This far south a dawn and a sunset can go on forever so patience is required. Gradually the sky will lighten reflecting in the flowing water in front of you crossing the sand to the sea behind you. You should be alone this is not a game for two or more. The sky will begin to have colour and if you are lucky little pieces of cloud that change colour while you watch. You are alone with your thoughts and it is just you and the dawn and nothing else. You will now hear birds waking up maybe a bellbird or two. If you are lucky you will have heard the last of the kiwi calls in the bush behind the sand dunes. If you are really lucky at some point when you are completely lost in the dawn and your thoughts a hawk will appear lazily gliding on the on shore thermals, keep your head facing down try and just follow him with your eyes. At some point he will see you and flare away but that's okay too.

When there is no more dawn go back to your camp and make a coffee and if you were very lucky you will have something to take away that was not in the glossy brochures.If the weather is rubbish or even better stormy walk the beach wrapped up to the nines and get all the crap blown out of your head, exhilarating.

If you are going to fly onto Masons organise a water taxi pick up at Fresh Water then walk through which is not really hard work, then go to Ulva Island the bird sanctuary and either fly out back to Invercargill or catch the ferry which if the weather cuts up you will love or hate, but if you are going to have a life threatening thrill, at least you will have had one that isn't contrived and lasts longer that ten seconds.


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Ohau Waterfall Seal Pups

In 2007 locals noticed seal pups on the Kaikoura Coast were gathering in the fresh water pool at the base of the Ohau Falls which is on State Highway One north of the township of Kaikoura. In New Zealand the seal population has been protected for over a hundred years following the devastation caused by professional sealers in the early years of the 19th Century. In fact when the sealers arrived on this coast most of the populations had already been wiped out by predation by Maori and the main populations survived only in remote Fiordland and on the Southern offshore Islands.

The seal population took the best part of one hundred and fifty years to recover and large numbers of seals congregated on the Kaikoura Coast only in the 1990's. We can be sure that this repopulation of Ohau Waterfall Pool by seal puppies occurred after a break of one thousand years because to the hunter gathering early Maori this annual congregation would have been a rich and easy source of protein and populations probably crashed very shortly after the arrival of Eastern Polynesians and the easy pickings of the Ohau seal creche would have been the first to go.

I suspect that in fact seal pups gathered in this pool as long as the pool itself has existed and it is extraordinary that as soon as seal puppy numbers reached a healthy level again the ancient use of habitat repeated itself. However in reality this is not so strange and I can remember as a young man an old red deer skin hunter from the 1940's recommending I try hunting a piece of country 40 years after the glory days of hunting in New Zealand when population levels were but a fraction of what the once were and finding deer within 50 meters of where he said they would be. For as long as country remains the same the animals will return and take advantage of topography.

I have attached a video of this little wonder of nature and encourage visitors to try New Zealand in April, which is late autumn, often accompanied by beautiful stable weather and a perfect time to see the Ohau Falls seal pups frolicking in their pool as their ancestors did a thousand years ago. ago.


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Road Trip

The road trip is a very New Zealand experience and despite the fact it would be nice to round up this advice in the North Island in reality a road trip in the south is far more spectacular. In this road trip you can include Stewart Island and the Ohau Waterfall Seal Pups. Starting point could probably be Picton and you could even fly in to Wellington for a visit to this fun city and check out Te Papa, then hire a car and take it over to Picton so you can hit the South Island ready to go. Down the Kaikoura Coast early morning is best checking out the sea pup pool just north of Kaikoura take some picnic food and some good Marlborough wine, plenty of pretty places to stop and while away some time. Don't forget your favourite CDs, can not have a road trip without great music as your sound track. Depending on time try not to bite off too many hours driving I suggest you turn off through the on the inland road which connects you to the Lewis Pass to the West Coast maybe even staying in Hamner Springs for a dip in the hot pools. Over the Lewis and down to Hokitika on my favourite bit of coast road north of Greymouth, maybe over nighting in Franz Joseph for a stramble on the Glacier. More picnic stuff required and change to Central Otago Pinot Noir for your pinics as you drive through the Haast Pass. Weather is the key but you dont have any control of that. Wanaka maybe or punch on to Invercargill for your Stewart Island experience. Now time comes into it as you can quit your car in Invercargill, Dunedin or Christchurch or take it right through to Wellington if you like completing the circle. You will find the locals generally kind, friendly and helpful and do take your time and drive carefully as chances are you will be driving on the opposite side of the road to your own country. Side trips? There are literally dozens you could do if you have

the time, ask the locals every one has their favourite piece of road, or beach, river, lake, waterfall or mountain. New Zealand is empty, plenty to see and you may never get back because its so far away from everywhere else so relax and enjoy it.

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