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It’s showtime!

Napier, Hastings, Sanson, Ohakea, Flat Hills Café

sunny 28 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

After the Tongariro National Park and Taupo, the next logical destination on the standard tourist trail would have been Rotorua. And indeed, our original plan was to do exactly that and to head straight through the center of the North Island.
Well, plans do change. And usually for the better. Thanks to Emere who we met on the ferry, we had heard about the Te Matatini festival and that’s where we wanted to go. The drive towards the east coast led us through the enormous forest areas east of Taupo. All planted forests, all branches cut off on the lower five meters. Manmade forests – boring and straight rows. Even worse: those areas which had recently been felled. Hectares over hectares of deserted land looking like it had been bombed or diggers had dug up everything. Just dead and depressing.
But the scenery soon changed and we got to see rugged hills, a nice and deep valley and big vistas.
As we lost altitude, the sea came into sight and with it the town of Napier which is famous for its Art Deco architecture. The town had been almost completely destroyed during the devastating 1931 earthquake. It was then rebuilt following higher building standards in the then fashionable Art Deco style. We had a quick drive through town. But as neither Sam nor me (let’s not even start talking about Max here) one of us is a big fan of architecture or Art Deco, we rather headed on.
It still turned out that it was a great decision to pass through Napier instead of going directly to Hastings. Otherwise we might not have stayed at the Napier freedom camping park right along the beach.
The location was great, overlooking Hawke’s Bay and just a couple of steps from the water. And even better was the fact that it was just 300m away from a ‘BMX pump park for all ages’ – by far the best bike park we’ve seen on our journey so far. A bit further along the shore was also a bike traffic park, a skate park and a playground. Not even the best holiday parks can compete with such fabulous attractions.


That evening it eventually started raining, but by the morning the rain had subsided and we were treated to a nice and bright sunrise over the east facing beach. It was so beautiful that we briefly started contemplating if we should have planned to spend more time on the east coast. But no matter how much time we have in a country: it is never enough to see all it has to offer and we’d always need to make choices.
And today our choice was easy: we had tickets for the Te Matatini festival, so that’s where we went. It was just a 15-min drive to Hastings where we easily found the event. We were very positively surprised about the perfectly organized traffic management and the luxury of having courtesy buses to drive people from the parking to the entrance. In retrospect, we would probably have been quicker at the gates if we had just walked over. But seeing how many families squeezed into the bus with us was an adventure in itself.
After a bit of waiting outside the entrance to the actual performance, we entered and found a good spot for our picnic blanket. We watched four different groups perform the kapa haka with 30 mins each. After a while we realized that each group followed a certain pattern in their performance, starting with an entrance, doing various types of songs, dances and eventually an exit performance.

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One thing that took us totally by surprise was the fact that there was no movement in the audience at all during the performances. People were allowed to enter and exit the arena only during the 7 min breaks. The ushers did an excellent job in making sure that this was the case. What a great sign of respect for the performers and also for the judges!

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It was fascinating to hear and see the dances and songs. The whole event was exclusively held in Maori language, so we were not able to understand what the teams were singing about. But that did not matter to us, as just the facial expressions and the emotions transmitted were strong enough to make us feel what it was about. And not surprisingly, Max was mainly fascinated by the tattooed faces and loved it when the performers were sticking their tongue out.

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After one of the performances, we were suddenly surprised to see a group of people in the front of the stage get up. They started singing a song to the team up on stage. Enquiring with Emere, we learned that this is how people would customary show their respect and gratitude for the performance that was delivered – maybe because the lyrics touched their hearts, maybe because they are supporters of the team being proud of a performance well delivered.
Even though the event was very big, we easily met Emere. We found her at the children’s play area, which was like a gigantic bounce park with over a dozen bouncing castles. We used the opportunity to thank her for telling us about the festival and to get some good suggestions on which foods to try. Otherwise we would probably not have tried creamed paua. While sitting over lunch, we could not resist to do some people watching. That's probably what we like most about local festivals like this!

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After a while, we noticed that there was a separate program going on in a big tent. What we heard, sounded somewhat familiar. And indeed: there was a group of native Americans from Canada performing dances just like we had seen them at the pow wow in Washington State. And once they were done, there was a dance troupe from Rarotonga. It is a small world and having seen so much on our travels so far, we’re starting to have more and more of these déjà vu moments.
Between the food stalls, the people watching, the exhibitions of Maori crafts (such as wood, bone and jade carving) and the shopping possibilities, we could have kept ourselves busy for hours. But we wanted to see some more groups performing live in the stadium. By then we had already learned to distinguish a bit what makes a great performance vs. a good one. And indeed, we learned later, the team Sam and I liked best on that afternoon was selected to perform in the finals round on Sunday. By then, Max had lost all interest in watching the show and preferred to play with Te Iti Kahurangi.

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Even though the festival was going on until after 8pm that evening, at 4pm we had seen enough. With so many impressions, we were at the point of risking information overflow. So we headed on. Driving South, we briefly celebrated that our camper made its 500,000th km and hoped that it would continue to do so for the next two weeks. After two hours we reached the small town of Sanson. Once again, a déjà vu – hadn’t we passed through there just three days earlier on our way from Wellington to Whanganui?
At the campground where we stayed, Sam was excited to see people running a flight simulator on a big screen. He watched until his attention was diverted to the airplanes overhead. A couple of F16s were doing their circles in the orange skies of the setting sun. A first glance of what we could expect to see tomorrow at the AirTatoo 2017 – an airshow celebrating the 75th anniversary of the RNZAF, the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
This gigantic event with several ten thousand spectators was extremely well organized. We drove to Bulls and got taken from there with a bus to the airfield.
We were there early enough before the air show started and had plenty of time to check out the static displays. We even entered some of them, such as the C130 from Singapore. Max got to hunt down some squadrons to get his kid’s activity sheet stamped and Sam used the opportunity to chat with some of the soldiers.

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Already before the official flying displays started, there were the first planes in the air and we got a first feeling of what was coming.

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Once the airshow started, we had an excellent spot right along the fence. The session started with a so called ‘thunder display’ with a Boeing 757, a C3 Orion and two C130s Hercules.

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Then we got to follow acrobatic maneuvers such as loopings and a bit of fomation flight. And there were parachutes, helicopters and displays featuring the tactical advantages of certain aircraft.

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The show was brilliantly organized and there was not a single minute without something happening. But eventually we had to get moving again, did get lunch at one of the many food stalls and checked out some more of the static displays including the new distributed A400M.

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And then it got loud: After lunch, it was time for an F16 to show their flying skills. Wow – it is fascinating to see how quickly and easily a plane like that maneuvers. Still, Sam and I could not resist to comment that while the display had been nice, it did not get close to the F16 USAF Thunderbird display we had seen some years back in Romania. We were quite lucky on that occasion as it seems: after all in 2017 and 2018 the Thunderbirds will only perform one single show outside of North America!

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After some helicopter displays with the NH90 that included unloading and loading various loads and people, it got even louder when the F18 Superhornet took the stage. By that time, Max had lost most of his interest in airplanes and was much more interested in getting some icecream.

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And eventually also Sam agreed that it was time to leave. Once more we were amazed about the excellent organization of the event with a row of probably more than 100 buses waiting to take spectators back to the towns where they had parked their car.
We drove north for almost an hour to the Flat Hills Café, where Max was delighted to jump in the bouncing castle and to feed the lamas and goats. Sam and I agreed that the shows had definitively been worth the many kilometers we had driven in the last two days. But at the same time, we were looking forward to a couple of more relaxed days for the remainder of our time in New Zealand.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged festival plane maori tatoo helicopter f16 haka airshow f18

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