The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, May 07, 2016


Fifty Shades of Godzone Green    


Something has been underway in New Zealand that would be impossible in Indonesia. 

Imagine [you probably can’t] suggesting the red and white should be replaced because the bicolor is bland and too similar to Singapore’s. 

Some Kiwis reckoned their flag had passed its wave-by date and it’s time to hoist another.  Cheerleader for this idea has been Prime Minister John Key.

The traditional flag includes the Union Jack implying the nation is still a teenage British colony.  They also whinge [complain] that the Southern Cross constellation looks like a first draft version of Australia’s ensign. 

After a NZ$26 million [Rp 240 billion] search for alternative and a referendum, Kiwis voted 57-43 per cent to stay with the old design. 

Any country still seeking a symbol for its identity without resorting to violence must be laid back. Which makes it the ideal holiday destination for Indonesians seeking cal and a break from the Republic’s intense political culture and crowded streets. My Indonesian wife calls NZ the Sleeping Beauty.

Although a self-governing nation since 1907 Godzone [God’s own country] is still a work in progress.

It was the first to give women the vote and introduce pensions for all. It became a nuclear free zone banning US warships much to the world power’s fury, and more recently legalised same-sex marriages.

Conservatives were distressed, but the deeply religious are now in a minority.  That shouldn’t upset Indonesians considering a visit; faith is a personal issue and tolerance levels high.  Discrimination is illegal.

The first settlers planted churches before crops and set out to create a just and fair society with a cradle-to-grave health and social welfare system.

Their offspring, having entered a land of milk and honey now seek fresh spiritual succor. You’ll find beautiful old churches though largely empty. The new buildings are temples and mosques to meet the needs of migrants.

Issues that in other lands push snarling citizens into the streets to burn tyres and shake fists are rare – unless the All Blacks lose. Rugby is the national religion and the NZ team world champions – not bad for a country of only 4.5 million but 30 million sheep. 

Aotearoa, the alternative name for NZ, translates as Land of the Long White Cloud.  That’s what you’ll see if the weather’s right as your Boeing glides across what droll locals call ‘The Ditch’, the 1,500 kilometer Tasman Sea that separates NZ from Australia.

The first Polynesian navigators who magically steered their giant canoes through uncharted waters, made landfall about 1,000 years ago.

They settled in the last habitable empty land on earth, found fearless flightless birds like the kiwi and giant moa, now extinct. They became the Maori and now form 15 per cent of the population. Their culture and language has become part of everyday life for all.

Although later arrivals known as Pakeha came from Britain [hence the Union Jack] NZ is multicultural with 213 separate ethnic groups.   About 5,000 Indonesians live in the country. 

Be prepared to be confused with the better known Filipinos who account for almost ten per cent of the nation’s half million Asians.  A quarter of the country’s population was born overseas.

Indonesia and NZ, though physically distant, are shaky isles sharing places on the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Homesick visitors hankering for familiar sights will enjoy the topography of towering volcanoes and lush valleys, full of mystery and 50 shades of green.  Ferns are widespread, and like the kiwi another national symbol.

Indonesians’ hunger for anything with rice will be satisfied in the cities and bigger towns where Asian restaurants abound.  Elsewhere it’s best to develop a taste for meat pies and tomato sauce, and ‘filled rolls’, long buns stuffed with meats and salads.

To really know the locals try farmstays or bed-and-breakfasts [called B and Bs]. Decoding the vowels can be tricky.  The evening news is telecast at sex o’clock; people quaff melk and eat fesh end cheps.

The less convivial should consider renting a self-contained motorhome with its own kitchen, shower and toilet.   If DIY [Do It Yourself, not Yogya’s special region] doesn’t appeal, hotels and motels are easy to find.

Tourism challenges dairy farming as the biggest player in the economy so the country knows how to cater for visitors.  In any town head first to the I-Site.

Funded by local councils, I-Sites promote their district and provide free and factual information.  After touring North and South Islands several times we’ve yet to discover a dud.

Fancy an industrial strength vacation to expand the kids’ interests beyond Facebook?  Factories making chocolate, beer, aluminium and other useful goods allow visits.

Keen on culture?  Museums and art galleries abound.  Stop at Napier, the world’s best-preserved Art Deco city rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake.  Christchurch badly damaged in 2010 and 2011 shakes is still being reassembled.

Thrill seeker?  Bungy jumping over deep gorges was pioneered in NZ.  So was the jet boat, which can dash down shallow rivers that would rip apart conventional craft.

Life’s a beach.  The islands, bigger than Java but smaller than Sumatra, are long and narrow so the coast is always close.  Mountains form Aotearoa’s spine and are spectacular everywhere, particularly in Fiordland in the southwest.

Department of Conservation [DOC] offices in cities and close to the 14 national parks covering 30,000 square kilometers, offer advice on where to go, what to do and how to stay safe.  Like Ireland, NZ has no snakes; the only large dangerous animals are sea lions.

No chance of getting pecked by a penguin scurrying to its burrow at nightfall in several urban locations.  However beware the curious kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.  They rip off car aerials and windscreen wipers just to see how they work. 

Watch the weather. Start a high-country hike on a day the pious enjoy in paradise and end in the hell of a blinding blizzard where landmarks vanish in a world of white. Wear the right gear and carry a phone with GPS plus a distress beacon. 

Every year a few careless and unlucky adventurers tumble into crevasses, disappear under rockfalls or get swept away by ice slips from melting glaciers.  Fortunately emergency rescue services are on standby; read warning signs and buy an insurance policy as medical care can be expensive.

DOC also runs campgrounds.  Those with minimal facilities are free, the others charge between NZ$5 and NZ$20 [Rp 183,000] a vehicle for an overnight stay.

Buy a fishing license to try for trout in lakes and streams.  If you weep over Indonesia’s beautiful waterways polluted by plastic trash, then NZ will show you how the amazing archipelago looked when citizens and governments cared for the environment.

Drop garbage outside an approved bin and risk a NZ $400 spot fine. The islands aren’t heavily policed like China, but littering is so unacceptable bystanders sometimes dob in [report] offenders.

Road-kill possums are not indigenous.  Imported from Australia in the 19th century they found native birds’ eggs a dietary delight.  They gorged and multiplied exponentially.

Now a major poisoning program is underway and serious attempts made to help wildlife recover.  Conservationists will be happy to explain their methods and happier still if the alien mammals become extinct. 

When did you last see a Javanese hawk eagle in its natural habitat?  In NZ patrolling hawks will watch your wanderings, and Kiwis love you for enjoying their lovely land.

World headquarters of the verb                             

Wellington is wordsville.

Streets and parks in the New Zealand capital are named after pioneers and poets not military men.

All nations celebrate their warriors, but few commemorate the intellectual feats of their creative artists.  Which includes filmmakers.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy and other big budget movies have been made here, giving the place its moniker Wellywood.

Katherine Mansfield, the most internationally recognized of NZ’s writers, initially found her hometown boring; as a teenager she fled to London and lived as a bisexual bohemian.  She died of tuberculosis in 1923 aged 35.

Like Indonesia’s heroine Kartini who lived at the same time and died young, Mansfield was a pioneer of women’s rights.

Following the Writers’ Walk is an essential exercise to feel the pulse of one of the world’s most liveable and compact cities.  Wander where the prose is never pedestrian and where the words of the nation’s creative artists are set in stone and timber.

The city lies 41.29 degrees south - it’s the world’s windiest; the Roaring Forties get funnelled through Cook Strait that separates the North and South islands.

The geography guarantees the weather will be fickle. Four seasons a day, joke the locals. Poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell wrote:

Blue rain from a clear sky.
Our world a cube of sunlight –
but to the south
the violet admonition of thunder.

NZ is the first nation in the world to wake. When it’s almost midnight in Jakarta it’s dawn in Wellington – tomorrow. Its place in the South Pacific with the Antarctic as southern neighbor inspired poet Bill Manhire to locate himself – I live at the edge of the universe / like everyone else.

Maori relationships with the Europeans started well but turned bad.  The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 after 24 years of skirmish and sometimes open warfare.

Despite the vast differences in culture and values, language and lifestyle, inter-marriage was common.  Many Maori speedily adapted to the new reality, among them novelist Patricia Grace:

I love this city, the hills, the harbor, the wind that blasts through it.  I love the life and pulse of activity, and the warm decrepitude … there’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance.

Only the sturdy and determined migrants stayed, making Wellington prosper by applying the Scottish Presbyterian principles of faith and education, determination and hard work.

Teacher Lauris Edmond once described her writing as ‘a confrontation with experience’ as her poem The Active Voice shows well:

It’s true you can’t live here by chance,
you have to do and be, not simply watch
or even describe.  This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.

What to expect

Indonesians need a visa to visit NZ. 

Plan to spend at least a month to properly explore the country – two weeks in each island.  Currency rates are tidal, so check before departure,

Snow bunnies should head for the South Island in July, and Queenstown in particular.  There are also ski fields on the active Mount Ruapehu volcano and Mount Taranaki in the North Island.

A car ferry links the two islands and takes three and a half hours to cross Cook Strait through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. 

Summer starts in December and lasts three months. Temperatures tend to be below 30 degrees.  Daylight saving means the sun doesn’t set till after 9 pm, later further south where there are chances to see the spectacular aurora australis night show.

Fall [autumn] can be spectacular, as the leaves of deciduous trees turn golden.

If your nirvana is air-conditioned malls, NZ may disappoint.  For the attractions are under the sun and stars, the wild is accessible and the air so pure you know it’s only been filtered by trees.

(First published in J-Plus - The Jakarta Post 7 May 2016)


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