Travel Story 

Meeting the Maori challenge

Page 2 of 3

Although the small town of Paihia is the hub of tourist activity on the Bay of Islands the atmosphere is decidedly laid back, and the commercial area of shops and restaurants is concentrated in a few short blocks. From our room at the Paihia Holiday Motor Inn a 20-minute walk along the waterfront took us back to the Treaty Grounds where a Maori "warrior" greeted us with a friendly "Kia Ora" and pointed us in the direction of the track to Haruru Falls.

A sign at the beginning of the trail warns that dogs are strictly forbidden – this is Kiwi territory and the shy flightless bird, with whom New Zealanders proudly identify, is in serious decline. The narrow track leads through dense forest of gnarled Ngaio and giant fern trees, skirts the mangrove-choked shore of Waitangi River estuary, and finally winds along a boardwalk through the mangrove itself before arriving at Haruru Falls.

We didn't see any kiwis but the early morning air was filled with the metallic "ding-dong" calls of bellbirds and tuis. Tiny fantails fluttered along beside us, occasionally dropping almost underfoot to display their impressive tails like miniature peacocks. For a few hours we escaped the tourist scene and glimpsed the natural forest that has so profoundly influenced the art and culture of the Maori people who first discovered these islands.

No one knows when the first people arrived in what is now New Zealand. The great human migration across the Pacific began thousands of years earlier somewhere in Southeast Asia – a nebulous place known as "Hawaiki" in Maori mythology. Succeeding generations of seagoing explorers spread southward through the islands of the South Pacific and ultimately that first "fleet" of canoes blew ashore on Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud). Some historians believe that the Maori's Polynesian ancestors came from the Cook Islands, if so their canoes had to cross 3,000 km of open ocean.

The occupants of the traditional "fleet" canoes settled the various spots where they landed and as populations expanded Aotearoa was carved into smaller units, each claimed by an autonomous tribe or sub-tribe. The inevitable squabbles over land lead to inter-tribal fighting and once lives were taken the rival tribe demanded utu or revenge. Warfare became an ever-present part of Maori life and the need to avenge past insults was passed on from generation to generation.

In 1769, when Capt Cook entered the Bay of Islands, the area was controlled by the Ngapuhi tribe whose struggle for supremacy was the cause of constant inter-tribal turmoil. Cook, the first European seen by the local Maori, spent a week there and left with a "favorable impression." But two years later a French expedition lead by Marion Du Fresne did not fare so well. After a series of misunderstandings with the Maori chief, Du Fresne and several of his men were killed and eaten, not so much as a culinary treat butrather as the ultimate ritual insult to avenge their grievances.

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