Communion Of Dreams

Scenes from a trip: Do the haka!
November 15, 2011, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Art, Fireworks, Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, New Zealand, Travel

Clouds of steam issued out of the bathroom. The natural gas pipeline had been repaired.


* * * * * * *

Breakfast was good. We packed up, were downstairs to wait with the rest of the group. Everyone was on the bus before our scheduled departure time – impressive!

What was also impressive was the way Helen, our guide, handled questions which would have made me throw things at people. Best example that morning was “Does the sun rise in the west here?”


* * * * * * *

We headed mostly south, towards the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. It was pretty country, like much of what we saw of New Zealand: beautiful rolling hills, lush, green, with dairy, sheep, and deer farms. To be honest, it reminded me of parts of Wales, or parts of the Ozarks. It took about three hours for us to get to the caves.

The caves themselves are a significant tourist attraction, though the whole experience wasn’t anything as horrid as many such places I’ve been. This is in part due to the delicate ecological condition of the caves, and the need to control traffic through them (as well as the impact which tourists have on the area around the caves.) The structures for bathrooms, and ticketing, and cafes, and the inevitable gift shop are all under a large clear double membrane which has air forced into the sandwich. It looks like a cross between a geodesic dome and bubble-wrap.

But it kept us dry (it had been raining most of the drive) and was a bit warmer than just being in the open. We got our tickets, went down into the caves as a group.

Nice caves, but nothing spectacular, part of a Karst plane such as we have here. Indeed, we have a cave on our own property which isn’t a whole lot smaller.

It was cool when the choir all gathered around and sang in the ‘cathedral’ of the cave. Excellent acoustics.

And then there were the glowworms . . .

* * * * * * *

These glowworms anchor themselves to parts of the ceiling of the cave, then let down long silk snares. The worm (a larval stage) then feeds off of mosquitos and other small flying insects which get caught in the snares when they’re attracted to the light of the worm.

When you turn off other light sources, the ceiling filled with glowworms looks remarkably like the sky filled with stars.

It’s very cool.

* * * * * * *

After the choir swept through the gift shop on the way out, we made our way to Otorohanga, a small town nearby. We took a break there for lunch (and shopping! Mustn’t forget the shopping! Good lord, did the members of the choir know how to support the tourist industry!)

I think it was the first time I tried the local version of fast-food: a pie. Meaning a small meat pie. Usually some combination of beef, chicken, lamb, but occasionally other varieties are available (and noted on the menu), combined with a thick sauce/gravy which might include potato or onion. All backed into a small round pie crust (about 3 or 4″ diameter, typically.) I had these a number of times on the trip, and I don’t think I ever had one which wasn’t extremely tasty.

* * * * * * *

As I noted on my Facebook page that day:

Safety quote from the morning paper: “When igniting a roman candle held between the buttocks, remember to use your free hand to protect the family jewels.”

Yeah, Guy Fawkes Day was coming. The Kiwis seem to have their own home-grown rednecks like the ones I grew up with.

* * * * * * *

We continued on to Rotorua, enjoying more of the landscape as we crossed the island heading east. After a brief tour around the city in our bus, we were deposited at the hotel to sort out rooms and get settled for a bit before our evening festivities.

From the tour itinerary:

Depart by coach to Te Puia, Maori Institute for your Maori dinner experience. Tonight you will enjoy an in depth experience of the customs and traditions of the Maori. The evening will begin with a traditional powhiri or Maori welcoming ceremony, next a warrior’s challenge and then a full kapa haka or Maori performing arts concert. Dinner tonight will be a modern version of the traditional Maori style of cooking, in a hangi pit where kai (food)– is steam-cooked by hot rocks in the earth. Following dessert, see the world famous Pohutu geyser illuminated against the night sky, while enjoying a hot drink. Transfer back to the hotel following your experience.

Actually, that’s not a bad description of what actually happened. Te Puia was pretty cool, all in all, though once again there was a touristy element to the whole thing. Seeing the haka is always fun, and the performers clearly enjoyed playing it to the hilt.

The geyser was cool. Er, you know what I mean. We sat on rock ledges overlooking the geyser, which were toasty warm from the geothermal vents, while the performers from Te Puia wrapped up the evening’s show. Well, they tried to, though the choir had to return the favor of song with a couple of pieces from their repretoire. It was enjoyed by all.

The bus came and fetched us, took us back to the hotel to crash.

Jim Downey


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