This month, I returned home from my music tour of New Zealand. It was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget.
Our journey began as our enthusiastic group of talented young music students said goodbye to their families, and drove down the highway early one foggy Canberra morning. Our destination was Sydney International Airport, where we would leave Australia behind for the foreign land of The Long White Cloud, more commonly known as New Zealand.
After a comfortable flight across the Pacific Ocean, we touched down in Auckland before driving by coach, onward to the geothermal township of Rotorua. Upon our arrival, the signature smell of Rotorua was imminent as we arrived at our first port of call, Rotorua Museum.
The museum was a most beautiful old building, originally used as a bathhouse for tourists to come and experience bathing in the naturally heated water of the Geothermal Springs. It now operates as a historical museum as well as a gallery of Maori culture. Each component was equally fascinating, but most impressive was the interior and exterior architecture. Walking through, I could envisage making it my home, with a library as the centrepiece, complete with ladders from floor to ceiling. The museum was also home to the first performance of the tour, with the Choir performing in the upper mezzanine. This room was accompanied by grand acoustics which added to the performance.
The first evening’s activities comprised of attending a show at the Agrodome along with a delicious buffet dinner, which we were fortunate enough to receive each night. At the Agrodome we were treated to a comedic sheep show, displaying each breed of sheep found in New Zealand. It was interesting to see how much the appearance of the sheep varied, depending on its origins. We also witnessed a sheep shearing, and the feeding of three gorgeous little baby lambs.
On the third day of our adventure, we had the fantastic opportunity to perform at two local primary schools. This was an amazing culturally enriching experience, and it was fascinating to see how schools operated in New Zealand. Both schools were made up of predominantly Maori children, with aspects of Maori culture incorporated into their daily routine. Many of the students didn’t wear any footwear to school, which to me was surprising as I wouldn’t feel comfortable at school without shoes! As the students walked in to the Auditorium where we were performing, many of the boys walked in with their arms crossed and looking very serious. During our performance, the Choir taught all the students ‘Kookaburra sits in the old Gum Tree’, a favourite Aussie children’s song. They absolutely loved singing along with us and enthusiastically joined in with the actions. The students loved it so much, they even requested to sing it a second, and even a third time! It was amazing to receive such an enthusiastic response towards our music. At the end of our performance, we heard someone let out a shout from the crowd, and before we knew it the students were on their feet, doing the Haka! This was a very special experience, especially as we weren’t expecting it. The children were so loud, they nearly blew us away! Watching the traditional war dance was a fantastic cultural experience, but also a little terrifying! Visiting these two local schools, was the highlight of our trip, and something I would definitely take the opportunity to do again.
Between our school visits, we had the opportunity to visit Rainbow Springs, where Kiwis play. Here they had a Kiwi education and breeding program, which was fascinating to hear about. But most exciting of all we saw some Kiwis! The small birds were so cute, as they walked around pecking at the ground for food. They were the fluffiest birds I’ve ever seen!
In the evening, we had a Maori cultural experience at the Tamaki village. The village was a beautifully authentic reconstruction of a traditional Maori village. All the houses were adorned with elaborate carvings. The Maori men and women were each dressed traditionally and each gave us insight into different aspects of their culture. They spoke in Maori to the group, but it was also translated into English. We were cooked a special Hangi feast, which was baked in the ground over volcanic rocks. The way the tribes utilised their surroundings so well was inspiring. The people also gave us a cultural performance consisting of song, dance, chants and weapon demonstrations. It was interesting to watch, each of the men and women were very talented and they all had beautiful singing voices.
On the morning of my birthday we visited the Polynesian Spa, a group of pools containing water heated naturally by the geothermal hot spots. Each separate pool was a different temperature, from 38 – 42 degrees Celsius. As steam rose from the hot water, the sulphuric smells couldn’t be ignored. I was sure to have a shower afterwards! Relaxing in the hot springs was a brilliant way to kick off my day.
Next on the agenda, was the Whaka Thermal Village. This village is still occupied by a Maori tribe, who are proud to call it their home. They used traditional methods of cooking and bathing, utilising the abundant hot springs around them. Their food is all boiled in the naturally heated water, where they use separate pools for cooking vegetables, fish, meat and bathing. The whole area is filled with steam rising from the water, ensuring we were never short of a whiff of the lovely sulphuric air. Here we were also served a feast of traditionally cooked food, this time boiled in the hot springs. As well as having the privilege to experience another cultural performance. It was encouraging to see how Maori tribes were adapting to today’s way of life, while still using their traditional methods of survival, and how willing all the Maori men and women were to share their way of life with us.
Musically, our trip was fantastic learning experience. I believe all the musicians participating in the festival all grew in musicianship and friendship. For our small band, it was an opportunity to grow and learn. We learn to listen to each other and dramatically improved our over exaggeration of musical dynamics. We had to opportunity to perform two evening concerts to sold out crowds.
This was a cultural and musical journey to remember and cherish for the rest of our lives. It was the best school trip I’ve ever had the opportunity to attend, and certainly a journey that I will never forget!