But luckily there was good news to balance it out. On Friday Jane Hope from Destination Rotorua contacted me. We’d been in touch virtually about my journey, and she rang to say they had organized for me to meet with Shaloh Mitchell, managing director and resident of the Maori village of Ohinemutu. A book launch was taking place in the village honouring one Haane Manahi – a Maori soldier who had been nominated for the Victoria Cross only to be denied it for unknown, but highly questionable, reasoning. Jane also sorted out great accommodation for me, and I was all set for an experience quite unlike any other.
Speeches were made, mainly in Maori, and I admit to being completely lost. From time to time I would catch a word, but it was usually something like ‘Rotorua’ or ‘Aoterea’ (New Zealand.) Songs were sung and various people stood up and sat down. Final words were said, and everyone proceeded outside. The rest of the day was much like this – I got lost in the formalities but Shaloh would fill me in, and visually and culturally the experience was every bit as rich.
My tour concluded with a walk around the village before Shaloh dropped me back to my accommodation. Before we went our separate ways I learned he had been a professional skater, moving to the USA when he was 18. He excelled in a variety of disciplines and has skateboarded from New York to LA as well as the two islands of New Zealand. No boasting, just a humble telling of the story. Much the same approach as he took to guiding me round the village – I was given a honest, compelling description of everything we saw and I could sense the pride he had in his roots. But there is a great down-to-earth quality that I’ve noticed Kiwis have, and for me it makes the experience even easier to absorb.