I took a four hour ferry boat ride from Picton, on South Island, across Cook Strait to North Island. The ferry landed at Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It’s a very modern and walkable city, and I enjoyed strolling around to see the sights.
One of the places I urge you to visit in Wellington is the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. There are rotating hi-tech exhibits highlighting all aspects of contemporary culture, but to me, the permanent exhibit of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand is a must see. Admission is free to all permanent cultural exhibits.
Courteous, knowledgeable and patient docents answered my questions long enough to wear out my ability to listen. They even explained the significance of the “fingerprint” logo emblazoned on virtually everything, everywhere in the museum. Be sure to ask about it when you go.
In my walks around town, occasionally I noticed people with tattoos on their faces. These bold and daring markings are a custom of Maori people. Maoris are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. After going to a few museums and ceremonies, I learned Maoris are not related to the Aboriginal people of Australia as one would imagine. Their origins are completely different.
My next stop was Rotorua, a city known as the center of Maori culture. These Maori people are descendants of the first inhabitants highlighted at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington. The most notable venue in Rotorua is Te Puia, also known as the Maori Cultural Center. This facility features programs that keep the Maori culture alive for young Maoris, such as carving and weaving.
Rotorua is also known for its geysers and mud pools. Depending on your personal interests, the geysers may be more interesting than the cultural exhibits, but a kiwi bird viewing in a special “low light” exhibit pleased everyone. It’s probably the only way tourists will see a real live kiwi.
Not far from Rotorua, I visited the Tamaki Maori Village, a place where a Maori greeting ceremony is performed along with other exhibitions staged in outdoor settings. This is followed by tribal dances, with dancers wearing authentic tribal costumes, showing off their tattooed faces and sticking their tongues out – way out – a Maori custom. The entertainment was followed by a buffet dinner featuring traditional Maori fare.
I have to mention another one of their unique customs – rubbing noses as a greeting. I thought only Eskimos did that, but I was wrong. It’s a big deal to the Maoris.
New Zealand’s reputation as one of the world’s top wool producers, emphasized prominently on South Island, is repeated on North Island where most tours include sheep shearing demonstrations or shows featuring various sheep breeds. I saw one show that included about twenty different breeds of sheep.
Sports are big in New Zealand and rugby is one of the biggest. The national team, called the “All Blacks,” won their third World Cup in 2015. Before every match, players proudly perform their traditional Maori “Haka.” See it here:
My son had asked me to bring him an official All Blacks jersey. I found shops all over the country selling official All Blacks accessories and souvenirs. All of the official items were really “spendy.” The T-shirt cost $125.
Auckland, a typical modern city, was my last stop. I just relaxed and prepared for the long 6,500 mile flight home. It took all 14 hours of that flight to get over paying so much for that All Blacks T-shirt!