Fortified with my muffin I drove on to my favorite kind of museum. The Howick Historical Village. The village is made up of over 30 buildings rescued and brought to this central location to preserve the history of New Zealand’s early settlers. The English’s settlement of NZ was primarily by retired soldiers and their families recruited by the Crown to protect the British Investment in NZ from the Maori or anyone else who would lay claim to the new lands. Each soldier or sailor was promised free passage for their family, a cottage, an acre of land and yearly stipend to leave England or Ireland and set up house half a world away.
Howick, on which is the village is based was the largest fencible settlement and with the other fencible settlements formed a chain to protect Auckland from possible attack fromthe Maori or the French. “Fencible” comes from the word “defencible”, meaning capable of defence. These soldier/settlers were called the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps.
Many took the government up on the offer to escape the potato famine and despite a dangerous 5 months at sea, once in New Zealand flourished. In fact, the life expectancy in New Zealand was twice that of Merry Old England. I’ve included a couple of photos from the museum of things I thought were interesting or amusing to me.
First you will notice an 18th century version of Spanx, then a photo of a chalk board discussing the children’s game hop scotch. Who knew that kids have been playing this game for over 2,000 years or that it represented the soul’s progress from earth to heaven. Another chalk board enlightened me as to how and when we English came to adopt the Xmas tree as a holiday tradition. Also you will note what a fine figure I cut as a sober judge prepared to mete out 18th century justice.
From the museum I moved on to the strangest stop of my trip so far – the Waitomo Caves. The first part of the Cave tour was on foot and contained the same stalagmites, stalactites, cathedral rooms and bottomless shafts as other caves. But the real treat was further into the cave where we boarded small boats to float quietly beneath a giant constellation of blueish green pin pricks of light. These lights were tens or hundreds of thousands of glow worm larva.
The glow worms of NZ are different than those found throughout the rest of the world in that everywhere else glow worms are actually beetles. The glow worms of NZ are carnivore fungus gnats. These worm like larva live for months hanging from the ceiling of caves in nests made from their own saliva and mucus. They secret a mixture of saliva and mucus to create thin sticky threads that hang down 6 to 8 inches from the nests to entrap prey that is drawn to the blueish green light they emit from an organ similar to a human kidney.
Interesting thing about glow worms – once they pass out of the larva stage they only live to mate and lay eggs for 4 days. And even more interesting is that the larva’s first meal is its brothers and sisters. Out of 100 eggs laid by an adult female 80 will be eaten by their brothers and sisters and only 20 will survive the first days. I think Erin, Sara and Ryan (my children) should take a moment to think about this. Which of you would have been sibling chow?
As grizzly and dismal as the life of a glow worm might seem, they are a spectacular site to see glowing from the top of a cave that is in total darkness but for their blueish green tail lights. But enough about meat eating blind larva.
Now that my appetite has been whetted, on to the Maori Village for a nice traditional ground cooked Hangi Feast of mouth-watering New Zealand lamb & chicken, riwai (potatoes), kumara (sweet potatoes), stuffing made with a mix of bread – mixed herbs – corn – carrots and peas, scalloped potatoes, garlic bread complimented with a thick brown gravy and mint sauce.
For desserts – tropical fruit salad, chocolate log, pavlova, and steamed puddings with custard. And most important – a full bar featuring Maori produced wine and beer as well as any hard spirit you might require.
But even before the welcoming feast we were treated to a feast for our eyes and ears. Just after dark we were escorted down to the Maori Village’s sacred spring to witness the dramatic torch lit arrival of the Maori warriors in their war canoes paddling upstream accompanied by a tattoo of drum beats, chants and grunts by the warriors.
Once the warriors and their chief joined us on the bank a short welcoming ceremony consisting of challenges to determine friend or foe, the ceremonial presenting of a fern (traditional Maori symbol of peace) and acceptance, followed by the traditional greeting of touching noses and foreheads twice we all proceeded back to the Wharenui (traditional Maori meeting house) for a fantastic cultural show. Thru the evening we were offered displays of weaponry and combat, the graceful poi dance, and traditional songs and dances ending with the show stopping Haka finale.
Through traditional song, dance and a Maori narrator the Maori shared many of their customs, history, and legends. I was surprised to learn the facial tattoos are far from random. The tattoo actually tells you exactly who you are meeting. The tattoo will indicate a Maori’s social status, accomplishments, position, ancestry, village, parentage, and marital status.
The process of making the tattoo seems a little extreme and all in all if I were a Maori warrior I would have preferred to remain anonymous. The tattoo is created in a two-step process. First deep cuts are incised into the skin and then a chisel is dipped in pigment and tapped into the cuts by striking it with a mallet.
Having had my fill of Maori culture, a ground cooked feast, Maori beer and wonderful hospitality I decided to end my night so I would be ready for an early morning start to the “Shire”. And for anyone who has lived under a rock or been in a coma since 1999 – The Shire is home to the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. And the Shire in Middle Earth for 2nd breakfast is my first stop in the morning.. but that is a story for another day.