What's it like to walk on lava, inactive and future volcanos, through geysers and around hot bubbling mud pools? It makes you feel vital, alive, one with the earth. Here in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand, I was particularly excited by the yellow sulphur crystals that gave color to the rocks and lava. Little steam holes, fumaroles, are everywhere. A fumarole (Latin fumus, smoke) is an opening in Earth's crust, often in the neighborhood of volcanoes, which emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, and hydrogen sulfide. The Pohutu Geyser spouts over 30 meters high every hour.It's the kind of place you could just sit and stare for hours. You know that feeling when you sit and watch the ocean, or gaze over the forest. There is something of earth's beauty and power that holds us spellbound. Not only that, but I was walking where ancient Maori people had set up their stronghold in 1325. It is a place where the art and culture of these ancient tribes is preserved, where many of the guides are descendants of Te Puia Maori's. One of the guides we met was a Maori woman who has tended the Kiwi Bird House for over 20 years. She knew all the paths, vegetation and stories that TePuia had to offer. We had been told of the Silver Fern, and she was kind enough to point it out to us, even breaking off a few fronds for us (shh, don't tell, she said.). She was on her break, yet was happy to walk with us through the park and enrich our knowledge. The fronds went into my journal, along with some blue berries that Wendy said they made dye from. I squashed the berries right onto my journal page - one sure way to get them safely home and past Australian customs. The park was literally closing up behind us as we ambled back towards the entrance. A few photo ops, some ice cream, nina's chat with the Maori dancers and just plain lingering, with no desire to leave. Nina eased her way out slowly, photographing everything hers eyes and heart could see. I enjoyed photographing the photographer throughout the trip.
The highlight of the Te Puia visit is nina's story to tell. So I will leave that for her and whisk us down to the Blue and Green Lakes (yes, that is their proper name). One is popular for recreation and water sports,the other (Green) is sacred and is off-limits, a tradition respected even to this day. Nearby is the buried village of Te Wairoa, where 150 lives were lost after a 1886 earthquake.
After a view of the lakes from both the top of the ridge, to the dock, we headed to the Rotorua Museum, a very dutch-inspired building. Unfortunatley it was closed for the evening. But that did not stop us from taking photos and again, just drinking in the beauty of the land and the warm clean air. It does sparkle there. It wasn't just the sparkle in our eyes that veiled our vision, the land truely sparkles. New Zealand is the land of the long white clouds, Aotearoa, also the Maori name for New Zealand.
Note: I did watch Once Were Warriors yesterday. Yes, is it violent and depressing. It is a moving film that presents another side of the Maori people. As in any culture, there is a dichotomy between beautiful ancient story and tradition, and modern society. It would be wrong and naive to only carry one view and understanding of the Maori and New Zealand in my heart and memory. Yet my experience, like the movie, shows that there is redemption, hope and beauty in the knowledge and honoring of the stories, traditions and rituals of a culture.