Saturday, August 28, 2010

A bone to pick with Mother Nature

Oh how cruel Mother Nature can be at times. This week (while I was seated at my desk and staring out the window), the weather was beautiful. The sun was shining, clouds were gently rolling in and out of town; it was truly a grand week. The weather was looking roughly the same for the weekend and so Pete and I decided to take the entire day and plan a long biking route along one of the mountain ridges to the coast out of town. Amazing. I was so excited. We packed our bags and got our gear together. We literally were putting on our helmets and getting ready to go when suddenly:

I can’t believe how quickly it rolled in! Sadly, it was not quick to roll out and so we spent the next hour sitting and keeping our fingers tightly crossed that it would clear… To no avail. So instead we headed into town and wandered through a craft market and a few shops. Stopped for lunch, did a grocery shop. Not really stuff worth blogging about..

Since I don’t have much to report on the out-of-office front, I thought I would take this opportunity to update y’all on the kind of projects we’re working on at WWF. There are some really great/exciting things on the go. I just finished laying out the content for a new calendar that the NZ office is developing for 2011. Next year is WWF’s 50th anniversary and so this calendar will be celebrating all the hard work our organization has dedicated to global conservation and celebrating the significant successes that it has achieved over that time. I’m also working on developing a really exciting campaign that is going to be launching in October. It will be focused around NZ’s marine environment and calling for greater protection of our oceans. Once this project hits the ground running, I expect it will take up most of my time but I’m really looking forward to working on it!

Today is not unlike yesterday:

Ok, so it’s the same photo, but I didn’t think this weather warrants another photograph!

And I'm sorry, but what kind of a weather forecast is this?!!

Is "iffy" even a real word?!

Off to do some yoga, read my book, and just laze the day away. Pete’s actually figured out a route to bike around inside our house (!) but I think I’ll just stick to my book.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Into the woods...

Another fabulous weekend exploring Wellington’s wilderness! It started out as a last minute idea on Friday afternoon; why not do an overnight hike to a hut just outside of town?

We had invited my colleague and her partner to join us and we pulled together some last minute plans Friday evening. It was all set. They were picking us up Saturday and we were gonna get outa Dodge for the night. Sadly, the next morning, she called to let me know that she had put out her back and was unable to join us. Poor thing. Luckily, Pete and I were able to rent a car last minute and it was an easy half hour drive to the other side of the bay. Our little Hyundai Getz climbed us up the mountain and got us to the parking lot of the Rimutaka Forest Park.

It was an easy 2 hour hike in and it was gorgeous; lots of bridges crossing over streams, lush forests, and bird songs. The last stretch of the day had us removing our boots and braving the chilly waters of the Rimutaka river to reach our hut which was nestled in the mountains on the other side. Luckily we had packed our camping booties, which came to great use. Friends – if you don’t already have these, you MUST! They’re the single best luxury to have at a campsite – hands down. Well… That and red wine, of course ;)

MEC booties = love 'em!

The hut – Jans Hut – was perfect, and we had it all to ourselves. It had everything we needed (which literally was everything since we left all of our camping gear back in Toronto) and it was super cozy. Pete made a yummy meal and we just relaxed and enjoyed the warmth of the fire.

The next morning we chilled with a cuppa coffee and read our books for a while before jumping out of our sleeping bags and gathering up our gear. We had planned to take a different route out of the park and anticipated that it would take us about 2-3 hours to complete. Well, not only did it take over 4 ½ hours but it was a steady incline for most of the way!! My legs were shaking by the end of it (though I’m not entirely sure if that demonstrates the steepness of the mountain or my extreme lack of fitness!)

The high altitudes did allow for some spectacular views and we took a breather at the top to soak it all in. I wish we could always have an outdoor playground with cozy huts, beautiful rivers, and bird symphonies right at our doorstep!

Fresh pasta with Pesto and shaved parmesan. Do we know how to eat in the wilderness or what?!

Crossing the Rimutaka River

View from above (or, more accurately, halfway up)

One of the many bridges crossing over these beautiful streams

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A NZ sanctuary

Some pics of our walk through the Karori Sanctuary. This is an amazing place in Wellington that has dedicated its work to "restoring a corner of New Zealand as closely as possible to the way it was the day before humans arrived."

And what exactly does that look like, you may ask? Well, it was essentially a bird haven (thanks to zero four-legged predators). I actually had the chance to check the indoor exhibit of the Karori Sanctuary back in July before Pete arrived which explained how the islands' ecosystem has evolved. See my previous posting here.

Now that he is here, we wanted to visit the sanctuary itself and walk the trails. I must admit that prior to coming to this country, I wasn't really much of a birder, but seeing all these beautiful endemic species living happily in their protected park, it made me appreciate these feathered friends much more! On our walk we got a chance to see the native tui (which was endangered for the longest time and has made a comeback thanks to local conservationists), the saddleback, the fantail, the kaka bird (the NZ parrot), and the kereru. If you don't know what any of these are, no worries. I didn't either before coming here. But they are all truly beautiful creatures and they're unique to NZ! No kiwi bird sightings yet but we'll have to come back for a night walk since the little guys are nocturnal.

Forest canopy from above

Pete enjoyng the view of the sanctuary from the swing bridge

A NZ parrot enjoying some grub

A fern sprouting new beginnings
Not a bad backyard to have!

A legendary New Zealand “trail”

An exciting day on the Wellington trails! Pete and I woke to a great day (ie. no rain) and decided to take advantage. We found a nearby cycle shop and headed there to rent bikes and check out the local cycling tracks. There was everything from Erinn-friendly beginner and intermediate single tracks to “you’ve got to be kidding me” extreme tracks! It started out a bit nerve racking for both of us as the trails were incredibly narrow and tightly wrapped around cliff faces (gulp) but we slowly found our groove and ended up having a most excellent day! The beautiful scenery, the lush surroundings, the little waterfalls that we crossed – absolute perfection! Check out this video, which shows part of the trail that we covered (please note - that is not me on the bike!!):

Koru - Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park from BCNU on Vimeo.

A few pics below:
Crank sets that have fallen victim to Makara Peak

Peddling through the silver fern forest
Looking back on the view and the field of wind turbines (you can't see 'em but they're there!)

Short break after a steady climb
Satisfying post-cycle rest

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thought you might like to walk with me to work today

Thought you might like to join me on my walk to work this morning.
Not a bad inspiration to start the day! :D

Duck pond

Magnolia tree!

The entrance to the Treehouse (my office is upstairs)

Those corner windows are my office! :)

My desk with my beautiful flowers from Pete!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wellington by night

One of the best nights in New Zealand so far! Spent the afternoon wandering through town, desperately searching for tix to Broken Social Scene who were performing last night. Sadly, it had sold out months before and there didn’t seem anyway we would get in. So we went for a yummy dinner and then hit a nearby pub to watch the All Blacks match. It’s the Tri Nations cup at the moment (between South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand) and so last night, the All Blacks were playing host to the Australian Wallabies in Christchurch. It was so fun being in a packed bar watching grown men kick the crud out of each other!

The game started with the players performing the traditional Haka (this is the one they performed last night). The whole bar erupted and cheered when it was over! According to a local Haka expert, it's not so much a challenge as it is “a collective frenzy” and a united front.

The All Blacks Haka legend is a story of pursuit, escape and ultimate survival. It’s about the Ngati Toa Chief who was running away from people who were after him. Another chief and his wife hid him in a nearby pit. The chief’s wife stood over him and protected him. The words essentially break down as follows:

Am I going to die? Am I going to die?
Or will I live? Or will I live?
This person standing above me
Will they help me see the light of day once more?
One step out of the hole
The second
The third
The fourth
I have seen the sunshine again

Ultimately, the Haka is intended to collect a feeling of unity before going into battle with the expectation of not returning alive. Pretty intense stuff. I wouldn’t want to be on the other team (and by the looks on some of the Australian players' faces, neither do they!)

After the game, we decided to take our chances and see if the San Francisco Bathhouse (where Broken Social Scene was playing) had any last minute door sales available. And wouldn’t you know they had two! Turns out some guy had parked his car in the wrong spot and had to give up his tickets to deal with it. His loss was our gain! The show was AMAZING! The venue only fit about 200 people and there were lots of Canadians there (surprise surprise) but it turns out they’re hugely popular over here. Plus we ran into friends which was great. The music was amazing, the company even better! It was nice to get a taste of home. ☺

Friday, August 6, 2010

NZ: A contentious history.

This is a long one but worth a gander. If you want to learn more about NZ's rich history, its Maori people, and how it became the country that it is today, read on...

This week, I was lucky enough to take part in a 2 day course at Victoria University in Wellington to learn all about NZ’s Treaty of Waitangi (the country’s founding document). It is one of the most fascinating parts of NZ history and the single most controversial piece of documentation. I’ll do my best to give the short and sweet version:

The treaty is an agreement that was made between the British crown and about 540 Maori chiefs. It came about due to a number of factors, namely the growing number of British settlers (who arrived around the 1830s), which led to the large-scale transaction with Maori for land. This is a long and contentious story in itself but you can imagine what miscommunications could have occurred in these transactions. At the same time there developed signs that the French were interested in annexing the land. The Crown had no interest in getting involved initially but quickly realized that establishing a treaty could actually help protect Maori, regulate British establishment and secure commercial interests. Yes – it’s true – the Brits had the indigenous people’s interests at heart. Our group had some discussions around this. It seems that the British government was quite frankly making up for how they had treated other indigenous communities across the globe and didn’t want to make the same mistake again. And so, making a long story short, the treaty was established.

Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson had the task of securing British sovereignty over New Zealand. He relied on the advice and support of a guy named James Busby, the British Resident in New Zealand. The Treaty was prepared in just a few days and Missionary leader Henry Williams and his son translated the English draft into Maori.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The document that Busby and Hobson developed was to be transcribed by Busby but unfortunately, he got sick around that time and someone else had to take on the responsibility (potential errors in language and copying could have been made here?). Additionally, Williams got sick while he was translating the document into Maori and so his son had to take over (another opportunity for error perhaps?). With the document switching so many hands, there was a good chance that something could go wrong. And indeed something did…

The treaty has 3 articles. In the English version they state that Maori handed over the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain and Maori gave the Crown an exclusive right to buy any lands they wished to sell.

While the Maori translation was deemed to convey the meaning of the English version, it is actually quite different. In their version the word “sovereignty” was translated as ‘kawanatanga’. This actually means ‘governance’. In other words, in their minds the Maori were not giving up ownership of their land but simply the governance over it. The English version guaranteed 'undisturbed possession' of all their 'properties', but the Maori version guaranteed 'tino rangatiratanga' (full authority) over 'taonga' (treasures, not necessarily those that are tangible). Ultimately Maori understanding was at odds with the understanding of those negotiating the Treaty for the Crown and so both sides signed what they believed to be agreements in their favour. The actual treaties live in the National Archives building in Wellington and we had a chance to check them out. As you can imagine, they are strictly protected and managed which means no photography. Sorry folks – if you want to see them you’re going to have to come down and see them for yourselves!

Today there still exists major debates in parliament over who owns the land (and seas) here in New Zealand. It’s a major point of contention between the Maori people and the pakahe (‘non-Maori’). The Government did establish a Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 to investigate the Crown’s alleged breaches of the Treaty. More than 1000 claims have been submitted with the tribunal. Unfortunately, very few have actually been settled as the Government to date has paid little to no attention. Recently, however, thanks to a growing activist movement by the younger Maori generation, the Government is starting to pay attention to their concerns and demands. It’s an ongoing struggle between the two sides and there exists a tension that continues to this day.

Sorry for the long entry. I have already left big chunks of the story out but hope that you have a basic understanding of the frustrations that the Maori face today. In a lot of ways, their struggles are similar to those of the Canadian Indigenous communities at home. If this has left you wanting to learn more, there are some great websites and articles worth taking a quick gander through:

  • You can check out both versions of the Treaty here
  • Check out some of the latest conflicts regarding the Treaty in the news. As you can see, the conflicts still clearly exist today
  • Some more info about the human rights concerns around the Treaty