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New Zealand - A Land of Two Halves

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 2 June 2013 | Views [869]

I examine my expectations of New Zealand and find that I had envisaged seeing a few pretty sights and that just over 3 weeks would probably be more than sufficient time to do so. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I am ashamed by the almost flippant approach I took to visiting here. Three months would have been a better time frame!

From the moment I arrived in South Island I discovered that this land mass of 58,000 square miles is brimming with surprises around every corner.  The coastal areas range from sandy coves, forever beaches, pebbled waterfronts, fiords and sounds or steep mountains terminating abruptly into the waters. Dolphins, seals, whales, penguins and a myriad of bird life, together with domestic livestock hugely outnumber the mere 1m inhabitants here. The brown scrub hillsides whiten with winter snow, the leaves in the vineyards bronze under the fading summer skies after their heavy yield and the island quietly morphs from summer playground to winter sport haven.

There is a tendency to bundle Australia and New Zealand into the same Antipodean category although the reality of their topography and the origins that have shaped their modern day existence couldn’t be more different. The Maori population are not native to New Zealand but are in fact immigrants themselves from South Pacific islands. Given the lack of native mammals here, they were by necessity, traders. Unlike the Aborigines, their culture was preserved in the written word, which was definitely to their advantage. When native peoples signed treaties with their colonial rulers, word of mouth ensured that any re-wording could be conveniently ‘lost in translation’ if required. The Maori, having acquired a printing press, translated their treaty and then published it in a local newspaper ensuring that everyone knew exactly the terms of this document.

The Maori language is very much in evidence today and it is common to see signs written in both languages. Integration was less of a problem in some respects given the similar backgrounds of sea faring and trading. Displacement over the years has caused problems within some sectors of the population. Two Hoy, a fascinating Maori has recently published a book about his life within a gangland culture which he left some years ago. He wears the facial tattoos and has long flowing greying hair and can give the appearance of someone to be feared. In his eyes you see the wisdom gained from his adventures and travels around his country. In his belly laugh you hear a man who has learned to seek good when it was not always the first option. My small backpack makes me ever space conscious, but I am now sorely regretting not getting a copy of his book. Perhaps one day I will find it on-line as I enjoyed the long conversation we had. There is a need to travel in some people which has no regard for nationality, age or gender.

During the almost 4,000kms I have driven around South Island I have been kept company by the radio as the signal comes and goes. This has given me the chance to listen to the Kiwi accent and try to discern the differences that are not immediate obviously to the uninitiated ear. I conclude that the difference lies in the vowels sounds. It is a great source of amusement to the Australians to hear their cousins over the water ordering their beloved fish & chips. The ‘I’ becomes a kind of ‘u’ sound. Feesh to the Aussies and Fush to Kiwi’s. The ‘e’ changes sound so that the name Peggy is pronounced Piggy – what parent would do that to their daughter! With this in mind, this morning a lot of South Island woke up to some snow. The radio presenter announced that he had noticed snow on his deck, but by the time he got his camera, it had gone. I wondered how many other non-Kiwi’s heard that and fell about laughing as I did. A less noticeable change in is the pronunciation of the ‘a’ making ‘accessible’ sound like ‘eksisseble’. The next time I am trying to discern which side of the Pacific someone is from, I shall ask them to say ‘Seven platters of fish & chips every sixty-six minutes’.

This fascination has led me to wonder why colonised countries developed the accents they now have. Why did the Americans all suddenly start speaking as they do and when did the variations begin to emerge? Why did the Australasian contingent develop totally different sounds again? Come to think of it, why does the UK have even more hugely distinctive accents in such a small land area than perhaps anywhere else on earth? Answers on a postcard, or please leave me a comment if you can shed any light on this conundrum.

For now however, I am on the ferry heading to Wellington. We have not long cleared the calm of the Marlborough Sound and the seas are one stop short of stormy - the swells are massive as we rise up and thud back down into them. Thick swathes of spray pound across the windows and the white crests boil and thrash beside us as the ship judders and rocks her way northwards. At first, rather like as with light turbulence on an aeroplane, I could feel my eyes getting heavy and I was about ready to sleep except that it is now more than light turbulence and if I don’t sleep I think I might be ill.

Tags: accents, backpacking, car hire, ferry, maori, marlborough sound, new zealand, stormy swells, stunning scenery

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