New Zealand: From Picton to Wellington

March 30, 2017 • 10:15 am

Yesterday morning (I’m writing this on Thursday), I was driven to Picton, detouring through the famous Marlborough wine region (vineyard below), famous for Sauvignon Blancs. But I also saw some Pinot grapes on the vines.

The ferry from South to North Island, and vice versa, goes between only two ports: Picton and Wellington (New Zealand’s capital). There are two boat lines; I took the Interislander Ferry. The distance traveled is 93 km (58 mi); the voyage lasts a tad over three hours; and it takes a long time to leave the Queen Charlotte Sound, passing mist-clad mountains:

Still not in the open sea after nearly an hour: leaving the Sound:

It was too misty to see much as we approached Wellington, but this is what the Interislander Ferry looks like. It takes cars and lorries, too, but that’s expensive.

The ferry was very large and had good food and so-so internet. It also showed rugby games on Sky TV. Note the silver fern emblem on the side.

After arriving in Wellington, the New Zealand Humanists had drinks with me in a local pub, and then we repaired to the President’s house (Sara Passmore), where one of the Humanists, Gaylene Middleton, had spent a long time making a lovely (and New Zealandish) dinner for everyone.

We had roast leg of local lamb (cut up below), Yorkshire pudding, salad, and beetroot. “Pudding” (I’m not sure if that’s what they call it here) was fresh mixed berries with whipped cream and ice cream, washed down with your choice of beer, red or white wine, or cider. Many thanks to Gaylene for laboring over the tasty dinner and Sara for helping and providing the venue:

Mini-puds (right)! They were good.

Sara Passmore is renowned for playing the musical saw, which I’d never heard before. She plays very well, bowing the straight end, holding the saw between her legs and vibrating it, and bending the tip to and fro. It sounds very eerie, like a theramin. I tried it today when she wasn’t at home, and, like everyone save Sara who tried it last night, I was horrible at it.

Here’s Sara playing one of her three saws (one is electric!)

This morning I spent a few engrossing hours at Wellington’s famous Te Papa Museum, which has collections of natural history, geology, and especially anthropology, concentrating on the Maori.

There was also a special exhibit on the disastrous (for the ANZAC forces) Gallipoli Invasion, partly sponsored and created by the Weta Workshop, itself made famous for creating costumes and props for Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movie series. Jackson, a Kiwi, lives in Wellington.

There were eight models of soldiers who participated in this WWI campaign, which killed over 2800 Kiwis. Each soldier was modeled 2.4 times life size, so when you see this:

It’s actually this big (I’m told these very realistic models are products of the Weta Workshop):

The Gallipoli campaign lasted between April 25, 1915, and January 9, 1916; the initial April date is celebrated throughout New Zealand as ANZAC Day. The Turks, commanded by Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first President), inflicted a resounding drubbing on the Allies, and their victory is said to have been pivotal in giving Turks their consciousness as a nation.

Here’s a Maxim machine gun used by the Kiwis. Four of them died manning this weapon, and the gun was hit four times by Turkish fire. You can see a bullet nick on the front edge of the barrel.

Below is a letter written from Egypt by a Gallipoli survivor to his daughter, but he was later killed in Egypt and never made it home. You can see the heartbreaking notation at the bottom of the letter by the daughter:

He is dead now
Daddy is dead now

Below were the only messages that Gallipoli soldiers were allowed to send to relatives and loved ones in New Zealand. They just filled in the blanks (second photo), and clearly weren’t allowed to say anything that would distress the folks at home.

The most interesting exhibit was about the Maori and the European settlers, divided into separate sections of the Museum’s third floor.

The following three photos show how forested New Zealand was before the Maori arrived from Polynesia about 1280 AD. The first European to reach New Zealand was the Dutch captain Abel Tasman in 1642, who left in a hurry after three of his sailors were killed by Maori in a misunderstanding. It was not for another 127 years that another European visited: Captain James Cook. Regular visitors from Europe didn’t come till the end of the 18th century when whaling and settlement began.

When Europeans arrived, Maori had already deforested much of the island, and Europeans denuded much of the rest. The first picture shows the pre-human situation, when about 85% of the land was forested, and the rest unsuitable for trees because of altitude and climate:

What the Maori did:

And then Europeans:

Both Maori and European also drove many of the unique native species extinct, especially after European introduction of weasels, stoats, and the Australian brush-tailed possum. But Maori also ate the moas into extinction and knocked back many native birds for their feathers and meat (there were no mammals to hunt save bats).

Here’s one species that was driven to extinction by Europeans and Maori: it’s a female Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris). Last seen in 1907, it’s believed to have been driven extinct by deforestation, a desire for mounted specimens, and the male’s tail feathers, used to decorate European hats and to adorn high-ranking Maoris. Some biologists, including my recent host Don MacKay, think that the hui still survives in some remote valleys in the North Island.

Its beaks were made into watch fobs and the like! Oy!

Here’s a painting of the Huia with male in front and female behind. Note the pronounced dimorphism of the beak, identifying the specimen above as a female. According to Buller’s Birds of New Zealand (via Don MacKay),  this may denote dimorphism of niches, with males specializing on grubs from soft rotten wood and females probing for grubs in holes in harder wood.

Don found what was the main food of the huia in a woodpile by his house. It’s the fat “Huhu grub” of the beetle Prionoplus reticularismuch beloved by the Maori as a delicacy when roasted (Wikipedia notes that it’s supposed to taste like “buttered chicken”). Here’s a photo I took with a coin for scale; it shows about half the grub:

A Maori feather cloak:

Maori gaffes and fishhooks. They did not use metal, but made all their implements, weapons, and tools from bone, wood, and stone:

Pounamu, local jade (nephrite), also known as “greenstone”. It is very hard and was used by Maori for adzes, weapons, and jewelry. It’s still worn as jewelry by both Maoris and Kiwis:

Here are the remains of a very early Maori midden; I’ve put the key to the numbered items below the photo. Note that there are remnants of moa eggs and bones (#8, the big one, is a moa leg bone), and implements made from moa bones. The nine species of moa were hunted to extinction by the Maori by about 1400 AD. It took only about 100 years to wipe out millions of years of ratite evolution.

A kakapo, the world’s only flightless parrot (Strigops habroptilus). This is a rare stuffed specimen.

Wikipedia says that as of June of last year, there were 154 kakapo left; they are of course critically endangered and are living on island reserves. Recovery will be slow as they are infrequent breeders. The photo below shows one humorous and fruitless attempt to collect sperm (probably from Sirocco!) by letting the kea mate with a human wearing an “ejaculation helmet” on the head. I suppose we’ll hear jokes about giving head. . .

Maori pounamu war clubs:

A wooden war club:

A Maori war canoe, elaborately carved and very long. I show some of the carving at front and back (front is to right in first photo below):

Right above the front keel:


The rear:

And my lunch: monkfish, thick-cut chips, and a nice glass of cider:

51 thoughts on “New Zealand: From Picton to Wellington

  1. Ah, I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand. I’m living vicariously through your pictures and descriptions. Wonderful.

  2. Yes it’s called pudding here. Unless you’re too posh for nosh.

    Glad you enjoyed our museum, Wellingtonians (generally) are rather proud of it.

    1. And I’m glad you saw the ecology section, which is quite easy to miss. But did you miss the Colossal Squid?

  3. The pictures from the museum are fascinating, particularly those of the Gallipoli campaign. I find World War I especially tragic because it was started over the relatively small issues of nationalistic pretension and grandiosity. Most historians place the blame on the Kaiser, who had no idea that the events of the summer of 1914 would change the world so profoundly that its aftershocks still affect us today.

    1. Yes, a World War without reason and the prelude to much worse in the 20th century. Pointless loss of human life on a scale greater than our own civil war.

    2. Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli is quite good, but also very, very sad. You’ll likely need an entire box of Kleenex or a really large handkerchief.

  4. But, but…I was told that non-Europeans lived in perfect harmony with nature and that from the land they took only what they needed, being very careful to preserve all the local flora and fauna. There was also perfect equality of the sexes and no war, or really violence of any kind. It was only when Europeans brought the Patriarchy that it all went downhill. Or have I been misled?

    1. You have been misled. 🙂

      In most tribal areas even if you’re not able to interpret the carving patterns, you can tell if a carving of a head is male or female by whether the mouth was open (man) or closed (woman). Women didn’t have the automatic right to speak in formal situations. The one area where that was different is the Ngati Porou tribe from the East Coast of the North Island from Gisborne northwards, which was where I grew up. Up to the 1970s, c. 90% of all Maori women in senior executive positions throughout the country were Ngati Porou.

      1. You’ve been misled.

        Michael King, in his brilliant books on the history of New Zealand, described NZ Maori as a race of people united by war (paraphrased).

      2. And, more recently, a female head of state, Helen Clark, was prevented from speaking on a marae simply because she was female.

        1. It wasn’t all one-sided: women could prompt a male speaker what to say, and they could silence a male speaker with a song if they didn’t like what he was saying. They also had the power of the ultimate insult, the whakapohane, presenting the gentials: one woman, when men tried to stop her speaking, famously did so saying, “You men! Where does your prestige and influence come from? From HERE!”

    2. According to Steven Pinker the rate at which people have been slaughtering each other since the very early times has been continuously dropping. The idea of the noble savage is a myth, of course, as you slyly suggest.

    3. You’ve been misled.

      Michael King, in his brilliant books on the history of New Zealand, described NZ Maori as a race of people united by war (paraphrased).

  5. it’s supposed to taste like “buttered chicken”

    That’s what they always say … don’t believe it! The chicken taste is a lie.

    1. It’s sort of a nutty flavour imo. The butter part is because they’re usually cooked in lots of butter these days – helps make them palatable!

  6. Regarding the Kakapo mating with peoples heads…maybe that individual isn’t the best one to collect sperm from. I’ll give him credit for not mating with a helmet but the fact that he would repeatedly try to mate with the wrong part of the wrong species doesn’t seem to be a sign of good genetic fitness.

  7. There was also a special exhibit on the disastrous (for the ANZAC forces) Gallipoli Invasion,

    A couple of years ago I was working in Turkey (well, several km above Turkish seabed) at the time of the Gallipoli centenary. One of my colleagues – a Kiwi – was finagaled shore leave at the time and went to Gallipoli to watch the celebrations. He found it peculiar to see the story from the other point of view.
    As one of the folkier songs about the campaign put it, “Johnny Turk he was waiting, he’d primed himself well. He shower’d us with bullets,
    And he rained us with shell. And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell
    Nearly blew us right back to Australia.”
    And of course, the Turks have the same facts, and it is a matter of considerable national pride that they could withstand an invasion from the forces of the industrialised world and defeat them. (That made for some interesting conversations with my night shift guy, a fine Turkish geologist and the Kiwi sharing an office.) The same pride that the Japanese took in their 1902 defeat of the Russians, or the Afghans in fighting the Russians to a standstill in the 1980s.
    Ain’tn’t hoomins wonderful?

    1. “It is a matter of considerable national pride that they could withstand an invasion from the forces of the industrialised world and defeat them.”

      As far as I know, most invading soldiers were defeated not by the undeniably brave Turkish soldiers but by cholera.

  8. Jerry, thanks for being so generous with your time in Wellington. We all really enjoyed the discussions and yes, dinner was great!

  9. That ‘Field Service’ postcard is frickin’ unbelievable. Orwellian before Orwell. I wonder if that sort of crap inspired Orwell to write ‘1984’.

    Can you imagine the shitstorm that would erupt today if anyone was so stupid as to try that?


    1. re Censorship of war-time mail: my father was an officer in charge of a convalescence camp ‘somewhere in the middle-east’, while he too was recovering from wounds in 1942-3.
      As senior officer it fell to him to censor letters, ensuring above all that location of places such as camps was not revealed. We were amused on discovering recently some of his letters (with the censor stamp on the front) bad been counter-signed by my father: he had censored his own letters! Not even Orwell could have dreamed-up that!

      1. Yes, there’s a quite funny passage in Catch-22 where Yossarian was censoring letters. Very capriciously, if I recall.


    2. It was a wartime measure applied to soldiers in the field. The essence was not to divulge where they were by code or in any other way. They alternative would be to prevent any communication at all with their relatives at home.

      1. Yes, I know what the idea was, but could you possibly imagine a more clumsy, alienating, dictatorial, bloody-minded, pointless way to carry it out? Better NO postcard than one like that.

        “Not to divulge where they were by code…”

        What? Didn’t the high command trust its own soldiery? Did it think they were all German spies or something? Did it think the wounded soldiers in a hospital could possibly divulge anything the enemy didn’t know already?

        My contempt for the bureaucratic mind that dreamed that one up remains unabated.


  10. Jerry, it’s a great pity the weather was so gloomy and ‘shut-in’ on your trip across the Strait. In clear weather it’s a great trip.

    Unfortunately the New Zealand weather doesn’t seem to be doing you any favours.

    You don’t mention the crossing of Cook Strait, from which I guess the sea was fairly calm by Cook Strait standards.

    I’m not sure if the ferry is expensive for vehicles – a car and driver costs $177 ($122 US) which seems a lot of money – about double the price of the English Channel Dover-Calais ferry – but then the trip is twice as long. So the fare probably reasonably reflects the costs.


    1. The ferry, or at least the Interislander, was initially intended to connect the railway system of the two islands.

      The Aratere, as shown in your photo, can carry around two freight trains as well as a cargo of trucks, cars and passengers.

      Because the South Island Main Trunk has been interrupted by the recent Kaikoura earthquake, rail freight across Cook Strait is somewhat reduced at the moment.

      1. The first photo (of a couple of lonely passengers enjoying the weather) is Aratere, the ferry Jerry was presumably on.

        The second (external) view is of Kaiarahi, presumably taken from Aratere about to berth.


  11. As a resident of Wellington it was a thrill to read this post. It also reminds me I really must visit the Gallipoli exhibit. I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit to NZ.

    1. If her daughter Victoria had had a better midwife and Wilhelm had not been born with a deformed arm and grown up literally bitter and twisted, there might not have been a WW1.

      And if George V had said to Tzar Nicholas, “Cousin, come and have a look at constitional monarchy: hand over the ruling to an elected parliament but go on enjoying all the pomp and luxury of your absolute rule. It’s much more fun” there might not have been an October revolution.

  12. ” both Maoris and Kiwis”

    Oh dear, you’ve stumbled into several of our interracial dilemmas!

    During the the 19th century, the indigenous people were commonly called “New Zealanders”, while they called themselves tāngata māori – ordinary people. From that the word Māori became the norm. The macron was always implicit but has recently become common in print. The plural was commonly Maoris until quite recently, but the revival of the language has meant that the plural Maori or Māori is taking over. “Maoris” is on the way to being considered disrespectful (and I predict, racist).

    Pākehā, non-Māori, is contentious. (a word whose derivation is lost, but an origin in “bugger ya”, being something the white sailors said a lot, is plausible; another, “enclosure of fleas” is not). Many Pākehā hate it, because of its supposed derivation, because it is a Māori word, or because they suppose it is derogatory. (It definitely is not, as ordinary usages in Māori like whakapākehā – translate into English – attest.) I embrace it and I won’t let those people take it from me.

    Kiwi as a term for a New Zealander is fine, but Māori are of course also Kiwis. The Pākehā who hate being called Pākehā but insist on being called Kiwis instead have not thought that part through.

    (- Shuggy)

    1. ‘Pakeha’ derived from ‘bugger’ ? I *like* it!

      Friend of mine had a mate downcountry who died, the funeral was held at his (the dead guy’s) farm, and stencilled on the coffin by order of the deceased was – “Bugger!”

      Of course there’s the famous Toyota ad (background – Toyota had an ad for their trucks where someone said ‘Bugger!’. This produced several complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority – who threw them out. So the next Toyota ad was this – )


      1. And as a result, as someone said, “Bugger” has become so accepted in NZ it’s almost a greeting.

        There are cafes in Tīrau on SH1 and Pīpīroa on SH25 (betweeen Auckland and Thames) called Bugger, and with entertainingly Bugger-themed interiors.

        Another franchise that might not work in the USA is Hell Pizzas, available in all the deadly sins. This reflects our 40% “No religion” rate.

    2. I think it’s so weird when people don’t like being called pakeha since I’ve heard it all my life and people say it all the time.

      1. Ages ago I picked up the idea that ‘pakeha’ wasn’t quite respectable so I’ve been reticent about saying it ever since.

        But thanks Shuggy, you’ve liberated me.

        Bugger it, I’m a pakeha!


  13. The kākāpō is not only flightless but nocturnal (kākā = parrrot, pō = night), and exhibits lekking behaviour. The males have beaten leks, open spaces in the brushland, with tracks between them. They stand in a lek and boom for a mate, then run to another.

  14. The Scale of War exhibition was curated by a good friend of mine (and fellow historian), Chris Pugsley, and broadly follows his book on the campaign which remains the definitive account. Coincidentally, his daughter is a good friend of your host Sara’s, which pretty much reveals how small New Zealand actually is! I was sorry I wasn’t able to join the dinner on Thursday, I was invited but had to decline.

  15. I’ve been told huhu beetles are best right out of the fire & that they taste like peanuts.

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