Friday, July 28, 2017

New Zealand: A Maori Cultural Experience and Junk Food Tasting

We rented a car in New Zealand so our few days there would include a lot of road-tripping. It took me awhile to get used to driving on the left. Actually staying in the left lane wasn't even the worst part. They have the damn windshield wiper and turn signal control stick things reversed. I kept turning the windshield wipers on by accident and it was really pissing me off. Of course we left the country about 5 minutes after I finally got the hang of it, and then I did the same thing back in St. Louis while trying to get my brain back to normal. It was worth it though. The countryside in New Zealand is beautiful and it gave us the freedom to stop at any old place we wanted on a whim.

Our time in New Zealand would be spent on the imaginatively named North Island. Today we drove from Auckland to Rotorua.

Is it me or does the word "Rotorua" remind you of Roto-Rooter?

New Zealand. Wikipedia says that "because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans." They are so far south on the globe that they've claimed a slice of Antarctica as their territory, the Ross Dependency, a claim which everyone pretty much ignores. New Zealand is home to 4.6 million people and 29.5 million sheep.

After putting in some time roughing it in the South Pacific I thought I could have a fancy lunch.

We stopped at Bracu, a nice place situated on the Simunovich Olive Estate. They made their own olive oil.

Freshly shucked kaipara oysters.

Our waiter was a real comedian. He had some Donny Trump jokes. Not even in New Zealand can Americans go to hide their shame.

Lunch had all sorts of stuff I'd never had before. I still don't know what those green leafy things are.

It was really a pleasure driving in New Zealand. The only part I don't like about driving on trips is that I can't take pictures. Not as well anyway...

I love to eat weird local stuff when I travel. We found a blog about Kiwi foods at: Bren on the Road: Kiwi Food Frenzy: 33 Things To Eat On Your Trip To New Zealand, here. We used that as a checklist of stuff to look out for.

To Lydia's delight there were a few ice cream flavors on the list. I spotted hokey pokey at a gas station convenience store that we stopped at. According to the blog hokey pokey is vanilla with "honeycomb balls" in it. Whatever it was it wasn't bad.

We checked into the our little Rotorua motel and had a rest.

Is it wrong if I like to visit McDonald's in exotic countries? I feel like it's illustrative of the unique blend of classy and white trash that I exhibit. Yet again they did not let me down. I ordered a Georgie Pie Steak Mince 'n' Cheese.

Our big to-do of the evening was a visit to the Mitai Maori Village. The Maoriare the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. At the village they do storytelling, cultural performances, bush walks, and a meal cooked in a hole filled with hot coals. It was pretty cool. The couple sitting across from us was from Belleville, Illinois, which was ridiculous. This is why I have to go sightseeing in obscure African villages.

The storytelling was pretty interesting. He said that most of the Maori in New Zealand live on the North Island. In the Maori language "Maori" means normal, natural, or native. They migrated from Tahiti and apparently were so seaworthy that mountain people in Taiwan share their DNA. They have a couple of sayings that were worth repeating. One was "take from our pantry, end up in it" which was a charming cannibalism reference. The other was "heavy feet, wet skin" which meant that if you were too slow you'd get killed. Your skin would be wet with your own blood. New Zealand sounds like it used to be a pretty gruesome place.

Our guide referred to us as "tribe of many nations" which I thought was fun. 

Hangi is food that's cooked in an oven pit. Our guide lamented that most of the food choices here were modern because many of the animals they used to eat are protected now. I think he did say that the sweet potatoes were legitimate however.

The local potatoes were called kumara.

The tribespeople arrived on a war canoe in dramatic fashion.

There was a lot of war dancing, meant to intimidate other tribes.

For dessert they had several choices, one being a Pavlova. I was especially excited about this one because it was on our checklist. It was a cake with meringue and a passion fruit sauce topping. I want to say it is named after a Russian ballerina.

We went on a night nature walk that was pretty cool. New Zealand is sort of prehistoric in its number of gigantic ferns. I always thought of ferns as little houseplants but these were the size of large trees.

There was a geothermal pool with eels swimming around in it.

I wanted to do some more culinary exploration so I stopped at a supermarket I spotted on the drive home.

They sold bottles of that passion fruit sauce so apparently it's a thing.

We grabbed a few more ice cream flavors and some other assorted junk food. It turns out that list of Kiwi foods was about 90% bad for you. Oh well, it's worth it for science.

Oobie Joobie is charmingly described on the blog as "classic bubblegum flavoured ice cream mixed with small, gummy fruit lollies." New Zealand shares Australia's tendency of whimsical names. For example in Australia they call football "footie". Might as well be playing professional "footsie".

First we tried chocolate fish. In New Zealand, the chocolate fish is a popular confectionery item, and in Kiwi culture a common reward for a job done well ("Give that kid a chocolate fish").

Then we tried pineapple lumps, a Whittaker’s Peanut Slab, and Lamingtons sponge cake. I got so healthy that night.

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