Weekend Adventures: Waiheke Island

What a crazy week! I worked hard this week but I definitely had my fun too. My first assignment’s due date was quickly approaching so I used a lot of my free time to just get it out of the way so I could enjoy my weekend. On Tuesday there was a wine tasting for the international students. I met up with a big group of Loyola students there after my class and it was fantastic! I’m still a white wine kinda girl but I enjoyed all 5 of the selections we tried; 2 whites, a really dry rosé, and 2 reds.

Fun fact: The University of Auckland has its own vineyard on Waiheke Island! There is a graduate studies course you can take on basically everything wine and wine production there and it is renowned as one of the nicer producers in New Zealand!

Thursday was a horse of a different color. We had to register for our fall 2012 classes. My first step into becoming a senior AHHHHHHHHHH!!! Every student is given a time to register for classes online. Because we are on the other side of the world, this time was particularly outrageous for most of us. Luckily, the International Office at Loyola offered to register for us! Great, right? Well that’s what I thought so I filled out all kinds of paperwork after researching all the classes and back-up classes I need to take to graduate and sent them in at the beginning of the week. A day or so later I got an email that I still had to get up and go on skype so that if anything went wrong my advocate could talk to me. On top of that, Sunday was daylight savings for the US so we all had to make sure we knew the right time to wake up and change our alarms. Drama. So in the end I still had to drag myself out of bed at 3:30 in the morning anyway. But luckily everything went off without a hitch, besides me being pretty cranky, and I got all the classes I wanted/needed: 2 English courses (including the honors seminar!), one writing, ethics, and photography (chahooo!). I went back to bed, woke up at a normal time, made my lunch, went to class, went to the gym, went to 3 more classes, and then went home and took an awesome nap before dinner! The day was capped off by the 21st birthday celebration for my friend TJ. We bar hopped all night and since it was Thursday (a quiet night in Auckland), had a fun time taking over just about every place we went. I went home pretty early since the next day was the start of our next Loyola-planned adventure, a Marae stay on Waiheke Island.

There were a lot of mixed feelings about this trip from the group. It coincided with 2 21st birthdays (TJ on Friday and Shannon on Sunday), the Loyola Men’s Basketball March Madness game against Ohio State, and St. Patrick’s Day. Most of the people in the group felt like Loyola was cramping their style. I was too nervous that I would embarrass myself or somehow really offend the Maori we were staying with. Also, my St. Patty’s day is usually celebrated by selling grilled cheese for Relay For Life back home so I didn’t mind whatever it was that they had in store for us on the island. ** Shameless plug here, Loyola’s Relay for Life is only a few days away so if you haven’t donated or signed up yet, PLEASE DO!!! I’ll post a link to my teams page so you can donate online. Thanks!** We got on our 4pm ferry Friday afternoon and collectively decided to put aside all judgments and negative expectations and just enjoy the weekend for what it was. And we did.

The ferry ride—my first ever—was quite chilly and windy but gave an awesome view of Auckland city. It didn’t take all that long to land on Waiheke Island where we met our guide for the weekend, Bee. Since there were 18 of us and only one of her, she had to take us to the Marae in shifts. I elected to wait for the second trip so I could enjoy the warm beach and view a little longer. Good choice. The grounds were only about 5 minutes away so we soon joined the rest of the group in a covered path at the front the property. We could see a few people gathered in front of the Marae waiting for us to begin the Pōwhiri, or welcoming ceremony, so Bee had to rush through the logistics, but we did alright. We elected Garvin to speak on our behalf when the time came and quickly learned a song to sing in Maori. The ladies led the line of newcomers onto the grounds while the guys followed behind. Bee, who was walking with us, and a Maori woman in front of the Marae where doing a beautiful but eerie call and answer song called Karanga. I couldn’t help but think that I would not want to be an unwelcomed guest here. We took seats in front of our hosts; two older gentlemen and a woman, on long wooden benches and waited. The boys sat in the front rows and the girls had to sit behind them. The first of the gentleman began with a speech in Maori, called Whaikōrero, and then we all stood and they sang a song called a waiata. Then it was our turn. Garvin did a great job explaining who we are, where we came from, and why we were in New Zealand. Then it was our turn to sing. Bee did most of the heavy lifting but got more confident as we went on. Then it was the second man’s turn to speak and sing and then came the part I was most nervous for; the hongi. In a beautiful and very personal ceremony, each guest approaches their host and, to acknowledge the preciousness of the other’s life and life-force of breathe, clasp shoulders, press noses and foreheads, and exhale deeply. I was so terrified that I was going to miss noses or worse head-butt my host but the process was slow and also calming. After the first successful hongi I immediately relaxed and moved on to my next two hosts. The next step was to be cleansed by Tapu, such as water, so that we as newcomers would bring any impurities into the Marae. Usually this is done in a feast when the guest is another Maori tribe but since we were just a group of Uni students… we had tea and cookies for snack! The ceremony was then over. We were officially considered guests of the Marae and therefore, part of the family. Since the Marae is central to all Maori ceremonies and celebrations we had to treat it with the same reverence one would with a church or other sacred space even though we were sleeping in it. We could not wear shoes, eat, or bring any food or water inside. With the kitchen right next door that wasn’t really a problem and no one even wears shoes in New Zealand so leaving my jandals (what kiwi’s call flip-flops) at the door didn’t bother me.

After we made our beds—little mattresses on the floor with a pillow and sheets, all 18 of us plus our hosts (aka best sleepover set-up EVER)—Bee took us for a walk to take in the sights and town. We headed to a beautiful beach. I couldn’t resist I had to go for a swim even though I wasn’t planning on really getting wet. Really good decision. The water was so refreshing and I could just feel the tension that had built up from earlier ooze out of my shoulders. We splashed around for a while and played with Bee’s dog, Pariri; named after a kind of tree, it was a little difficult getting the pronunciation right so the majority of us ended up lovingly calling her Pa-doo-doo. Bee thought it was hysterical and Pa-doo-doo quickly became the mascot of our trip and object of immense affection. Once we were all sufficiently chilly we headed to the local bar to warm up. I, of course, left my wallet at the Marae for safe keeping. But we enjoyed some fine music performed by one of our own, Chris, and one of our hosts. And lots of hot chocolate. The bugs came out in force one the sun full set so we walked back home for dessert and then a movie in bed. The majority of us hadn’t seen Whale Rider yet so that was the obvious choice. I loved it. If you haven’t seen it, do. It is an amazing story and a really beautiful depiction of the challenges and triumphs of Maori culture. It was late when the movie ended and I was totally ready to sleep, but that was not an easy thing to do in a room of 20-plus people. The first night was definitely trying. There was some serious snoring involved, and one case of sleep-shouting (that bit was pretty funny though). We were all a little grumpy in the morning but a really good breakfast took most of the edge off. We were joined by two more guides to help us with our afternoon activities and once the introductions had been made we headed off.

We went to the Ostend Waiheke Island Market. It is held every Saturday and the locals come out and sell everything from antiques, to books, to baked goods, postcards, and preserves. It was a pretty small event but jam-packed with things to see and taste. There was one woman there selling her art and doing free henna tattoos! I couldn’t resist and she did a beautiful design on my hand. There was also a lot of fresh coffee that had been grown on the island for sale but since I gave it up for lent I had to resist. Coffee shops and little cafes are everywhere here so I can’t wait to get home from my spring break trip and try them ALL. But anyway, after we had made a few purchases and wandered around it was time to move on. We went back to the Marae for lunch to fuel up for the next adventures.   

Bee split us in to two groups for our afternoon activities; flax weaving and snorkeling. My group did the weaving first. Bee taught us how to make some pretty cool looking bracelets out of the flax, which the Maori use for just about EVERYTHING. It wasn’t as easy as I was expecting it to be. Mine wasn’t perfect but I liked it all the same. After about an hour or so we switched and it was time to snorkel. Since we were going in the water second that meant we had to put on wet suits. Not easy and on a breezy, overcast day not too pleasant either. But once we got in the water it didn’t matter. One of the guys, Kan, snorkeled around with us and pointed things out and the other followed along with a kayak just in case. We had George with us, the son of one of our hosts, and it was his first time snorkeling so the boat came in quite handy for him. We learned how to find sea urchins and if we got any they said that they would show us how to eat them because they are a real delicacy in NZ. So obviously, for me anyway, the hunt was on. I was the only one in our group to find and retrieve any of them! It wasn’t easy, you had to dive down to the bottom and look underneath all the rocks where they attach themselves. We didn’t have gloves on so prying them off was a little painful but well worth the effort! After we swam around and again, got significantly cold, we headed to the beach to warm up and chat before heading back to the Marae.

After we got there we got to eat our sea urchins… raw. At first I was a little put off at the whole process. Our guide took 2 spoons and drove them straight into the underside of the urchin with an impressive crunch. He cleaned them out, grabbed a clean spoon and scooped out a thick glob of butter-yellow row. He handed me the spoon and down the catch it went. I was surprised at how smooth and kind of creamy it was. I really enjoyed it! We had time to ourselves to relax, I took a quick nap, before dinner and then it was off to celebrate St. Patty’s Day in town! Before we went we all gathered up to participate in a Maori tradition called Whakawhanaugatanga (I’ll give you a dollar if you say this correctly!) where we all take a turn introducing ourselves to each other and our hosts. The point is to go beyond the surface so you feel like you are connected with the people you are with, the Marae, and the people who have been there in the past. It is customary when first introducing yourself to say where you are from; the bodies of water and mountains that you live near, before you even say your name. It was an amazing ceremony and I think I learned something new about everyone. Our main host, Patricia, who did all the cooking for us and is George’s mom also was involved in the introduction and she has an awesome story. She told us that she is a fashion designer in New Zealand and she designed all of the award gowns for the actress in Whale Rider (except for the Golden Globes of course, haha)! I never would have guessed, and she probably wouldn’t have told us if Bee hadn’t prompted her to. It was a really cool way to start the evening’s activities. We went to a really cute bar for the night, saw some interesting locals, heard some great ‘90s music, had some green beer, and went home. We were *relatively* well behaved since we had to go home to a sacred place to sleep alongside our hosts. Luckily there were some leftovers left over from dinner that was put out for us in the kitchen so that helped get everyone ready for bed. I slept great after the long day and knowing what to expect from my accommodations. (If you want ALL the details on what happened, you know the deal, Skype me!)

Sunday was a really awesome day. Again we broke up into the same groups after breakfast (no hangovers in sight!). Bee took my group sight-seeing around Waiheke which included a 2 wine tastings and an olive oil tasting. We hit the first vineyard at 10:30am. A little early for me, and the owners too, but they opened early for us and we tasted 5 wines and a cocktail. Holy Cow!  There were also the two most adorable kittens running around entertaining us. We almost paid more attention to them than the wine! We spent so much time at the first vineyard that we decided just to walk around the second one instead of having another tasting (thank goodness because I don’t think I would have made it!) and then we moved on to taste the olive oil. It was so delicious! They brew their own beer there too so some of us tried that too, but I stuck to my bread and dips. We drove around a bit more after that and made plenty of stops to take pictures and enjoy the view. Everything we saw was gorgeous. We drove back to the Marae for our last meal and then switched groups.

Our last activity was kayaking! We all got our own kayaks and paddled around a great bay in the cost. We played games and tested our balancing skills. We all linked up kayaks and then would get up and switch with someone down the row. I was totally shocked I didn’t flip myself or someone else over! It was a lot of fun! Some people tried paddling standing up—I opted out because it seemed like just asking for trouble—and then the two people who tried it decided to dual. Diandra lost. We paddled back to shore hugging the coast line and getting a new perspective on the island. We headed back to pack up our things and say our goodbye’s called Poroporoaki. Garvin had a chance to speak again in closing and then all of us (including the girls) were offered the opportunity to speak if they wanted. I had brought a Loyola t-shirt with me as a hosts’ gift, thinking that our Maori home stay would be with one family, not a collaboration of people, so choosing who to give it to was really difficult. After much deliberation and help from my friends I decided that Patricia was the best choice since she definitely most of the work and very little of the play. I thanked her for making the Marae a home for us and told her that she could always find a home with us at Loyola and that I hoped she would remember us well. I have a feeling George is going to end up wearing that shirt the most but who knows, maybe next year’s abroad-ers will see it wandering around Waiheke when they are visiting and be reminded of who they are and where they come from (right Mom?). Anyway, Bee said that was the first time a gift had been offered in 6 years to our Maori hosts and it was a really nice gesture. I hope it sparks a new tradition because we really couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

The ferry ride home was wonderful. We were all exhausted and chose to sit inside to avoid the chilly and rainy conditions outside. After chatting with Jessie for a little while we were both out like a light. I came back to Huia tired but more relaxed than I have been since I got to New Zealand. I learned a ton and miss Waiheke already!

Coming up next, Coromandel!

Fun Fact: There is still time to donate to my Relay For Life team!! Please click here! http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?px=13185878&pg=personal&fr_id=41423

Fun Fact II: You may already know this, but I didn’t so here ya go… Both of the vineyards we visited planted roses at each end of their crops because roses will detect any kind of disease or problem before the vines do, giving the growers time to make adjustments that save the crop! And they are gorgeous. I was happy among my favorite flowers.


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