Arriving at my first cousin once removed’s house, I was met by my second cousin (the son of my cousin once removed). He was waiting to let us travel weary travelers in and to offer us lunch and a cup-a (back in a land of tea drinkers!). I have never met any of these relatives so it is wonderful to meet them and be an instant part of the family. There was none of that awkward I’ve-never-met-you-and -you-are-a-guest business, it welcome to my home and family, now can you help make dinner?
The day after arriving we, another set of US cousins who were visiting and my boyfriend and I, went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum (AM). WOW. I like history and natural history museums for the most part, but this one was incredible. Not because it was massive and had huge collections of any one thing, but because there was such a variety of information. The first floor was dedicated to Maori artifacts and culture. I know very little about the Maori so this was all new and fascinating. The sculpture, architecture and canoes made by Maori is intricate, fierce and evokes a sense of movement. There were lots of sinuous yet squat bodies with fierce mother of pearl eyes glaring a challenge and lolling tongues (there is a traditional war challenge dance that includes sticking out of the tongue – I think it has to do with I will eat you after destroying you….not 100% on that yet).
While we were in the Maori section, there were school groups of children aged 5-7, I’d say. They were all in uniforms of adorable little frocks or jackets and loafers. Too cute! They children were then being taught a traditional chant of some kind. They were all holding wooden paddles and being taught how to either bop them on a enemy’s head, thrust them at a neck or stab at a belly (all pretend enemies. The children were spaced so as not to accidentally injure a fellow classmate). This was not a war challenge, but something else rather warlike. All of these motions were to be done after a certain phrase was said by the leader. An enthusiastic “hei” was to accompany the action. Some of the students were really into it (many of the girls and a few of the boys nearer the middle), but there were some students on the fringes not really knowing what was going on. Also kind of cute.
After that fierce and yet cute performance, we headed to the second level of the museum. This level was natural history and science. We entered the volcano section first and entered a simulation video and experience about what would happen if one of Auckland’s many volcanoes erupted (about 52), specifically the one located in the bay. The experience was in a simulated house and the audience was watching the news about the earthquakes we had been feeling (we felt a few shocks then) and then about the evacuation. On a large screen that simulated looking through glass sliding doors, we could see the bay. As the news reporters continued to talk, steam became visible above the bay, then another huge shock and flickering lights. Then a huge explosion of billowing black smoke, red lava and rocks had jutted out of the water. Soon after a wall of dense black smoke and ash was racing towards our sliding doors…..It was intense. I don’t want to be around when that happens.
Then we moved onto the less frightening part of New Zealand’s natural history. Fossiles and stuffed specimens of native animals to the islands. Did you know the only mammal native to New Zealand is a bat? There were no rabbits, possums, rats, deer or any other ground mammal until after humans arrived. The largest animal population was birds. New Zealand was a set of islands full of birds. The largest flightless and wingless bird was a Moa and was three times bigger than a modern day ostrich. The largest flying bird was an eagle the size of a pterodactyl! We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto!
The third and final level was where the museum gets its name, the war memorial and museum. There was nearly too much information to be comprehended and digested. The war memorial started with the New Zealand wars (wars between the Maori and English) and ended with Peace Keeping operations that New Zealanders have been a part of. Of course the Boer Wars, WWI and WWII were also covered and covered most thoroughly. It was fascinating, engaging and full of information I didn’t know. The one odd part about this section was how the museum presented the information about objects and dioramas. The museum elected to use first person plural- “we” and “us”. For example, ” We called the Japanese the ‘Yellow Peril’ and didn’t have any respect for them. We even had respect fighting the Germans, but not the Japanese”….made me feel rather uncomfortable. I understand it is trying to draw you into the feelings of the time etc, but I personally did not like it.
One of the more intriguing thoughts that came to me while wandering through the war eras was “Why did they get involved?” New Zealand is across the world from the fighting (not necessarily WWII, but the the Boer Wars and WWI) and might not have suffered in any way in the out come of the war. It was suggested that it loyalty and being a part of the British Empire might have had something to do with it. Strange notion for me as an American who got out of the “Empire” (yes I personally was partially responsible for the revolution…;) ). But yes, that kind of loyalty and sense of duty is foreign to me.
After being thoroughly inundated with New Zealand history, I needed a break from information. We headed to another part of the park and had some sandwiches in the sun. This was my first real adventure in the outside world of Auckland, and I noticed a completely different set of trees and vegetation. No oaks, poplars, maples, dogwoods to be seen. Just rubber trees and other exotic tropical trees and shrubs.
Our mini adventure was completed by taking a walk through the winter gardens. This included a “cold house” full of orchids, tulips and snap dragons and then the “hot house” which was full of banana trees, pitcher plants and bromeliads.
We took a bus ride home (with two smiling drivers!!!) and I took a mental holiday for the rest of that day. Oh wait, no I didn’t, I job hunted online….and then went to bed around half past nine. Exhausting day.