Alyssa in New Zealand: The capital and Maori culture

The reality that the end is approaching has finally hit everyone. Since it’s the last week of classes, we have all started to realize that living here is not going to last forever. As we hand in our last minute assignments and prep for the upcoming exam period, we can’t but help ourselves to keep planning more and more last minute trips. What have we not done? What are we missing? Surely we’ve seen a lot, but have we seen enough? The thought of leaving something behind seems to be more worrisome than preparing for our final exams.

Yet, it is important to focus on the next few weeks, for typically, the final exams account for the majority of our final grades. My microbiology final is 70% of my grade and my zoology final is 50%.  As much as I would prefer to put most of my efforts on my travels, it is essential for me to focus on my work as well.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the traveling comes to a complete halt. In fact, I continue to explore the country. Nothing stopped me from flying into Wellington (the North Island) last weekend. What made this experience a little more special was that I was with the people that I have known my entire life: my parents.

Being with mom and dad was such a great way to spend my time in the nation’s capital. I found myself very lucky to have had visitors. I got to have a little taste of home in America, even though I’m several thousand miles away from it.

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Golem, a main character from Lord of the Rings, greets those who arrive in the Wellington airport everyday

Wellington is a very walkable city, for we continuously weaved in and out of the streets. Since the city is situated on the southern part of the North Island of New Zealand, much of the main activity is centered near and around the waterfront. It it typically known as “Windy Welly” due to the high amount of winds that blows into the city from the ocean. A boardwalk that turns into a path runs along the perimeter of the city right by the waterfront, making everything very accessible and creating an enjoyable walkway. Near the water, Wellington seems almost like a beach town. Nevertheless, the further you walk away from the waterfront, the more urban it becomes. The city turns into a more hectic and active version of Dunedin. There are several more people that are walking around as well as cars drive through the streets.

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The leaning posture of the statue indicates the magnitude of wind in Wellington.

Variety is integrated all throughout Wellington. Every corner that you turn is something completely new. Whether it be shops or restaurants, no two places that you encounter are the same. I finally got to go out to eat and have a taste of some of the New Zealand food. The food isn’t significantly different from American food. Most of the options that they offer on the menu are somewhat similar. However, the way it all tastes is fairly different, for it tastes much more natural. Everything that I tried seemed like it was a more flavorful, healthier version of what the American dish would be.

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A view an area of the waterfront from Mount Victoria, a prominent hill in Wellington. Wellington is the first city one would enter if traveling by ferry from the South to the North Island.

The waterfront is a very populated area, for there are several different kinds of attractions located there. One of the main appeals is the Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s national museum. As we walked around each level, I found myself learning a lot more about the kiwi culture than I had throughout the entire semester. The Maori culture is highly preserved and respected in the country, for they are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand that have their own language, mythology, crafts and performing arts. Sadly, the presence of the Maori seems to be slowly shrinking in New Zealand, but the kiwis make a great amount of effort to sustain and uphold the customs in the country.

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A light up map of New Zealand in the Te Papa museum

Pounamu (also known as “greenstone”) plays a very important role in Maori culture. It is a very highly valued type of stone found in southern New Zealand and each piece of stone carries some sort of significance to it. The piece of greenstone that I attained (a gift from my parents, for it is advised that you should never buy greenstone for yourself) is a “fish hook”, the symbol of plenty. It represents strength and determination and it provides safety for travelers, especially those who venture out overseas (which seemed to be quite fitting for me).

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Maori greenstone – the fish hook

After returning to Dunedin, I was inspired to attend the end of the semester concert that was performed by the students enrolled in the Maori papers (both 100 and 200 level). Over half the students in the 100-level paper were international students. I saw the people that I was familiar with walk on stage in costumes that made them seem like strangers. The females were dressed in all black, wearing knee-length skirts, black lipstick and black designs drawn right beneath their lower lip on their chin, almost making it look like they had fangs. The males were shirtless and wore grass skirts that seemed to be constructed by some type of fiber.

Throughout the performance, the students were only singing in Maori with a peaceful melody. Even though I did not understand what they were saying, I was still very entertained. Typically, the dance starts off so that the females are situated in the front and the males in the back and they’re standing very close to each other. Eventually they all spread apart, and the females continue to gently sing in the front. The highlight of the performance is when the males make their way to the front to perform the haka, the traditional ancestral war cry. Much of the dance involves stomping of the feet, vigorous movements and rhythmic shouting and chanting. The signature mark of the dance is the widening of the eyes and sticking out the tongue. New Zealand rugby teams perform the haka before every game, trying to intimidate their opponents and to increase the intensity of the team.

Even though the semester is finishing, that does not prevent me from learning more about the New Zealand tribal culture. I’m glad that I finally had proper exposure to the culture, for there is much more to New Zealand than amazing sights; it has plenty to offer. It’s never too late to discover something new, even if it seems like you’re quickly running out of time (which is exactly how I do feel). The end may seem intimidating, but it is also motivating.

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