Make you wanna move your dancing feet!
Well at 0 degrees Celsius(or 32 degrees Fahrenheit), it's the only way to keep warm. And yes this is the track I was dancing to.
It was a Friday, just after getting home from Tai Wangana that I got the text at 2:30PM. In coming to Aotearoa I had made no hard-fast plans in order for spontaneous events as these to occur. The text was basically:
"In Rotorua at the moment. Not going to Auckland now. Just hanging in the hills. Getting my son and two others from Hawaii prepared to do a 4 day hike around Lake Waikaremoana. Where you at?"
It was the moment I had been waiting for. To head up to Te Urewera and get in the forest with Ngati Tuhoe. Both of which I didn't know much about before going on this trip, except that Tuhoe were mean (epic) outdoors men that were successful fighters of their land with great warrior culture, historically and in contemporary times. So I blindly made my nakedbus plans to arrive in Rotorua that evening 9pm. From there we headed out to "Tuhoe land" (as I refer to it endearingly) and prepared our packs for the next 4 days and 3 nights. With a viral cold running for over a week I got put down to rest while other's packed my bag (something that highly irritated me, but I was the guest and did as I was told as a good manuhiri). We woke up at 6am and headed out at 8am for a 3 hour drive to the bush then a 4 hour trek to camp. As we "burned daylight" we needed to get to Waiharuru hut by 4:30pm before the sun went down and cold set in.
Just for some background I am born and bred in Hawaii, the land of sun, rainbows, beaches and "lovely hula hands" (please read Haunani-Kay Trask's article for better context, available in her book "From A Native Daughter"). As a previous watershed assessment garut (Hawaiian Pidgin for "pee-on") I built up defenses in my hiking schedule such as never go out during winter because of possible flash floods, which I have been in, and the general threat of cloud cover and dumping rain in the mountains. So heading out in the Southern Hemisphere during winter with projections of 12-0 degree Celsius (54-32 degree Fahrenheit) weather I had my trust placed in my hosts. Anyways that is what I came to Aotearoa for, to learn ethnobotany / ethnoecology of Maori, about Maori interactions between the flora/ecology and the people. As for gear I had no pack, shoes, or sleeping bag. A big mahalo to my hosts for providing me necessary equipment to survive beyond comfortable in Tuhoe elements :)
We started our journey and things were fine. As we entered the forest Ru, who dropped us off at the starting point, came in with us. We walked for about 15 minutes then the head man got off of a small bridge and started to pick some watercress. He handed ithe small bushel over to Ru, while they both remarked how little watercress there was at this time of year. Ru wished us luck and pushed off for home. We continued on and it was a forest I have never seen. If you have ever wondered what it was during the time of the dinosaurs this forest is it. The towering tree ferns the large trees and crystal clear streams were breath taking.
The walk we were setting off on was the only great walk of the North Island in Aotearoa. It is the only patch of Native bush remaining All of the other great walks take place on the South Island. with one other river adventure on the North Island. It was unbelievable to me that the whole forest was native. No gorse, no weeds, no concerns of encroachment by invasive species (more on an "invasive" species concept to come), all foreign concepts when coming from the "capital of endangered species". But there are similar challenges such as removal of native bush, commercialization of land and globalization of the daily routine.
The great thing was our guide is Tuhoe and so is his family. When walking around he asked "Do you have something like this at home?", I answered "it looks like 'ie'ie is it kiekie?" He said yup. Later on as we grabbed scrap wood to throw on mud patches to keep our feet wet he got mud all over his hands. He laughed and wiped them on the trunk of a tree. I looked at the bark and got excited, it was familiar. In my broken Maori I asked, "Is this rama or ramarama? We have a similar bark but we call is lama?" Again he said yup. It was the start to my learning of the forest.
We got to our "hut" in time and initially when I thought we were going camping I immediately thought tarp, tent and outside, but apparently not on great hikes in New Zealand. Our hut was flash! Complete with 40 bunks (which we didn't sleep in), stainless steel sinks with running water (rain catchment) and a wood fire stove (which we did sleep next to). It was a nice experience not to camp in the freezing weather outside. Our guide went straight into fire building mode grabbing wood (which is sling-ed in by the Department of Conservation) and making our fire to cook dinner on the stove. This seems like an easy task but the wood was soaked and more skill was necessary than throwing some gas or flames. Being sick I was worthless in preparing the food so after the fire was established I kept it stoked, adding pieces and learning about the different wood densities available in the area. I learned which woods were good for cooking and of course they were the natives. These fire lessons continued over the next few evenings and by the last evening it was apparent that fire building skills were peripheral out here but a necessary survival skill.
The next few days were a crash course in plant name identification (Maori and English when available), retention of properties and traditional uses as well as modern adaptations. I learned over 20 plant names while in the forest and discovered a couple interesting fungi along the way. I was impressed by how much this 23 year old knew but after learning that he hunts (boar, deer, possum, birds), fishes (free dive, pole, spear) and prepares his meat it was obvious of course he would retain much information of the forest within his everyday practice. He would stop and "pop quiz" me on what plant it was, giving me a little more insight and experience every time we went over the plant more than once. Beyond just knowing names, uses and applications I also began to recognize the patterns he observed over long periods of time. Phrases such as "these plants flower in spring, so much for winter", and "the fruiting of this tree is off which affects the feeding pattern of the birds" it was apparent that he also had intuitive observations of climate change events. These are directly affecting behaviors he has observed and learned from his forest community over time. I thought this brilliant as scientist's themselves struggle to put these types of puzzle pieces together. But the thing is how will these "climate change" patterns affect the diet of Tuhoe. Granted that deer, possum, boars and trout are introduced species by Pakeha but people of the land have adapted over time with these species and learned their ways as well. As I learned more plant names I was as if I was recognizing a whole other community that surrounded me and supported Tuhoe for generations. It was an intimate setting.
As we exited the forest there was the comment, "this is the driest I have ever seen the track". In these statements I personally reflected about how would the people adapt and this is the question that many scientists are asking, "how will people cope with climate change?". What I observed in this short track around the lake is that no matter what, the people who rely on natural resources for food, will adapt to the changes because they must. I was impressed by the knowledge and preservation of traditional techniques still held within Tuhoe community and much respect to those elders who continue to pass on the knowledge. My appreciation of Maori knowledge of land and culture continues to amaze me. It is awesome to observe and experience just some of the extreme conditions (weather, isolation, food options) Maori embraced in deciding to live in Aotearoa.
My mom, after returning from New York told me "Baby everything there is black and white, when I got off the plane in Hawaii everything was in Technicolor". If mom was around today I'm sure she would classify Te Urewera forest as HD (High-Definition Television). The vibrancy of the greens in the forest were incomparable. I love my island home but I had never seen such vivid shades of green from the lake to the top of the mountains. Even the frost glistened of blue and white sparkles, which reminded me of my grandma's Christmas decorations (all white and blue sparkles).
The knowledge that Tuhoe is similar to this analogy. Tuhoe are unique in their circumstances of the 2013 settlement and they are currently preparing to celebrate this momentous occasion. As our guide exclaimed, "I never thought that in my lifetime Tuhoe would hold sovereignty of the land, but it happened. We estimate 4 generations for the transition period but ofr others it will take 4 seconds, 4 minutes, 4 years, 4 decades, each will have their own timing." In the beginning of our journey we went to get Ru to drop us off. While there we heard that a new addition was brought into the world just a couple days before. I asked what the baby's name was and Ru explained that it meant "the smell of the bush (forest)". I didn't understand what that meant but on the fourth day I was alone in the forest and there it was the sweet scent of the ngahere and I understood after the previous three days. "The smell of the bush" is the sweet fragrance of papa, of sovereignty, of life to Tuhoe. This baby is the first in the generation to hertheir land since the 1864 invasion by the British Crown. As recounted our guide shared, "With a name like that we are obligated to teach her everything about the forest. She will be taught everything of the forest. It is our responsibility to teach her the ways of Tuhoe." It will be a great generation to be apart of, whether teaching, learning or continuing on to the next for Tuhoe. It was a great moment for myself as well to be apart of this time. Such a time of new beginning, or a continuation of a proud and privileged history and future of Ngati Tuhoe.
is related to my N8v doctoral lifestyle journey