Saturday, 16 March 2013

Whanganui River Road

Before you read this and look at the pictures, we want to let you know that it has dead animals in it, so beware if you’re vegetarian (Helen, we’re thinking of you!).

For some reason the Whanganui river has an ‘h’ in its name (pronounced Fanganui), whereas the town at its mouth to the sea doesn’t, that’s Wanganui (don’t know why).

We’ve had a couple of interesting cultural days, including today’s, which has been a visit to a Maori ‘food festival day’ at a settlement called Matahiwi halfway along the Whanganui River Road, a fairly remote twisting road through really picturesque landscape along the banks of the river.

Maori Marae's in one village
On the way we passed through Athens, London and Jerusalem (the Maori names are different and shown along with the English translation, but we were amused that we could get from London to Jerusalem in 20 minutes!). Further along the road is the entrance to the very remote Whanganui National Park, only accessible by jet boat or multi day kayak or tramping trips through the jungle (sounds exciting, but maybe another time!),
but you can continue back out to the main road and return to Wanganui in a big loop, which we did on Thursday, stopping at every point of interest indicated in the leaflet we picked up at the i-site in town, making a thoroughly enjoyable day. It was during this trip that we stopped at the café and gallery at Matahiwi (it’s a Maori settlement, as most of the valley seems to be, and virtually all it comprises is the café and a couple of houses and a farm). It was they that told us about the Maori food festival on Saturday in the field next door, although we had seen a poster about it in town before, so we decided to go.

Chairman Daryn (left) commentating on the butchering
I have to say, we’ve had a really interesting day, as 90% of the people there were Maori, all very friendly and approachable and we think we may have been the only true visitors there. Other people we spoke to (including Kiwi Michele and her English husband Ralph, who live just up the road), were locals (relatively) and we didn’t detect anyone else who appeared to be true ‘visitors’ like us.

We met Daryn who described himself as the ‘chairman’ of his local Maori tribe. He has lived abroad in the Middle East working as a consultant for some years, but has now ‘come home’, following the death of the previous ‘chief’. He told us that the Whanganui River (that has its source on Mount Tongariro) runs through the territory of three tribes. He is now the chairman (for life) of the middle tribe and it is he who organised the day. A hell of a nice guy, probably in his mid thirties (Jackie thinks he may have been a bit older), gregarious and really enthusiastic, making everyone welcome and acting as MC for most of the day – and what a different day it was!

Judging the antlers of one of the kills
We saw the hunting competition, which has been going on since last Thursday in the local hills, a prize being given to the person who brings back the heaviest stag or wild pig. Another prize for the stag with the biggest (or best shaped) antlers (not quite sure how it works, but they measure various aspects of the antlers to determine the winner). A deer butchering competition starting with the whole carcass, first removing the skin (avidly watched by other Maori to see if they could pick up any tips!) and ending with beautiful cuts of meat, some of which were then cooked and we could sample.   
The childrens possum and rabbit competition
A children’s competition for the biggest possum, rabbit (or magpie apparently, unless that was an accident!) they have caught. Many other children’s competitions, one an incomprehensible game with a ball (that we thought was going to be something like rounders, but was much more complicated than that) and, believe it or not a dead possum throwing competition for the kids. Yes, they really got (a very cute looking) dead possum (small cat sized – and not unlike a cat!) and each child (some looking as young as 4) picked it up by its tail and hurled this dead body as far as they could! I had a bit of a personal moral difficulty with that, but who are we to judge what they do?
Ready for the 'dead possum throwing'.....


There it goes....

Age is no barrier

Don't forget to let go....

Another good throw!
We had the opportunity to sample a ‘Hangi’ which, we were told, is a meal prepared by cooking various meats (in this case pork, lamb and chicken) and a range of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, pumpkin) in an underground oven. Volcanic rocks (sometimes iron rods) are heated over a fire, then buried in a hole, the meal wrapped and placed in a wire frame, covered with wet sacks and then buried with soil and left for 3 hours to cook. 
The Hangi 'cheat' ovens!
I wanted to see it cooking, asked someone where it was and went to look. Unfortunately today’s was a bit of a cheat as they were using metal containers heated by gas! The cook was a bit apologetic when we saw it, but showed us the hole outside and volcanic rocks they would normally use. Ah well, it was still very tasty!

We left to the music of a local reggae band who had just started playing, it looked like the day was going on for a while yet, but we’d spent 4 hours there, met and talked to a lot of very friendly people and were absolutely full of hangi and the various food samples we had tried (including venison steak sandwich – yummy!).

1 comment:

  1. Oh my giddy aunt! I do not understand the throwing of dead animals!! Welly wanging is one thing, but possum throwing is quite a different matter altogether! Still, as you say, who are we to judge another's culture.