Bay of Islands, New Zealand

October 19 – Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

We’re once again in a part of the world where English is the mother tongue, if not the original language of the land. It gives me pause, to realize how relieved I am to be back where I don’t have to rely on the kindness of people who’ve made an effort to learn my language – while I’ve made none to learn theirs.

In French-speaking Nouméa, I had a taste of easier communication. Rusty as my French is, it was still a door that opened to some possibility of exchange.

Bay of Islands from Flagstaff Hill
Bay of Islands from Flagstaff Hill

Today’s port is our first in New Zealand. Polynesian peoples preceded European settlers to this land by centuries. Some of the same sad history was repeated here, but the Maori may have been better bargainers than many indigenous people in other colonized lands.

They’d been competing with each other for resources for a long time before Europeans arrived with trade-able muskets. Guns made them more deadly warriors, but between the increased danger and the arrival of so many whalers and traders, many Maori figured it was time for change.

Waitangi Treaty House
Waitangi Treaty House

In 1840 chiefs gathered in Waitangi to debate a treaty that still guarantees the rights of both Maori and non-Maori citizens of Aotearoa (New Zealand). While it’s true the treaty has been violated repeatedly since it was signed, it nonetheless continues to provide a legal basis for partnership. To an outsider, that relationship seems more equitable than what I’ve witnessed in North America, but maybe I’m seeing things through a traveler’s rose-coloured glasses.

Gordon and Fiona joined us again on today’s outing. (We’re finding that one of the advantages of a longer cruise is the chance to spend more time with people.)

Replica of Maori waka
Replica of Maori waka

We spent the morning on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a place whose history plays a defining role in New Zealand culture. We saw a replica of an early waka, one of the canoes that brought the first Maori here. (Families continue to trace their genealogy to whatever waka carried their ancestors to this land.)

Leaving Waitangi, we walked across the bridge to Paihia and caught the ferry to the old whaling town of Russell. “Charming”, “quaint” – those overused words are appropriate for this village. We wandered along the streets that border the harbour and then walked up Flagstaff Hill.

Village of Russell
Village of Russell

The flagstaff that’s there is a remnant of the one that had to be replaced repeatedly. Chief Hone Heke took exception to British violation of the Waitangi treaty. So he kept chopping down the flagstaff every time it was replaced.

Finally he led an attack on Kororareka (the Maori name for Russell). In the skirmish, the munitions warehouse caught fire and blew up, to the delight of the chief. Most of the town burned, but a few of the original buildings remain – including the bullet-marked church.

Waterfront street in Russell
Waterfront street in Russell

We caught the ferry back to Paihia and then a free shuttle back to the tender. Now we’re once again ensconced in our floating home. We’ve had a too-generous dinner, some good conversation with a table of eight fellow travelers, and a laugh at the latest towel creation left by Sunandra, our cabin steward.

With only two nights left on board the Volendam, this reluctant cruiser is reluctantly admitting to being sorry the voyage is ending.

Cathryn and Robin in Russell
Cathryn and Robin in Russell
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