Student Blogger Study Abroad

Kia Ora Mai Na Aotearoa – Hello from New Zealand!

Photo of New Zealand Cohort

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Naomi Clayton is HECUA’s student blogger for the New Zealand program Culture and the Environment: A Shared Future this fall. Naomi is a student at Grinnell College majoring in Anthropology. Read on for her first post!

Hello! My name is Naomi Clayton, and I am a junior attending Grinnell College with a major in Anthropology and a concentration in Technology Studies. I go to school in Iowa, but I consider Idaho to be my home because I was born and raised there. I can’t wait to share all of my New Zealand experiences with you all!

I selected HECUA’s “Culture and Environment: A Shared Future” program in New Zealand because of how perfectly it resonates with my interests in anthropology and the natural world. I came into this program expecting to experience hands-on learning about Māori perspectives and New Zealand policy, but at only 23 days in, I have already learned so much more! Our program leaders–Charles Dawson, Peter Horsley, and Ngārangi Marsh–are an absolute wealth of knowledge. One of the first things that our cohort learned was the difference between Māori and tangata whenua. “Māori” is the name given to the indigenous people of Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud – New Zealand) by the colonizers, and it translates to “common,” “plain,” “ordinary,” “normal” and “simple.” On the other hand, tangata whenua means “People of the Land,” so everyone in our group has been consciously working to use more empowering language when referring to the indigenous people of Aotearoa. Everything that Ngārangi shares with us is so interesting and powerful, and several statements have really resonated with me. He told us all “kia mate ururoa,” which translates to “be strong, be fearless, be like a shark.” He also shared three lessons from his tangata whenua ancestors: tumanako (faith in self), whakapono (belief in what you are doing), and aroha (love – do things with respect and humility). We have learned so much from the conversations, lectures, tours, visits, and adventures during our road trip.

Our time in New Zealand seems to be flying by, which is probably a result of our busy schedule traveling around the North Island. We spent our first couple nights at the Mana Retreat Centre on the Coromandel Peninsula, which was the perfect location to get over jet lag, meet each other, and get grounded before we started the road trip. Ngārangi led us through a traditional tangata whenua greeting called hongi, which is when two people press their noses together inhaling to share breathes. In contrast to westernized culture of rigid handshakes, hongi fosters warmth and close connection with those around you. We then traveled to the Valmai House in Cambridge, which is an old Victorian villa with a rich history about a Māori-Pakeha (non-Māori New Zealander) family. We stopped along the way to visit the Pakaraka Farm, which was co-founded by Jeanette Fitzsimons and her husband Harry Parke. Not only did they share their immense knowledge of permaculture farming, but Jeanette also spoke about her 14 years of experience as a co-leader for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand in Parliament. We later shared kai (food) with Stu Kneebone who is both a farmer and an elected environmental councilor for the Waikato Regional Council. Our discussions with both Jeanette and Stu were very engaging and inspiring; it was very impactful to see the constant hard work they put in to weave politics, policy, farming, and the environment’s overall health together both in the office and back home on their lands.

Top of rocky mountain looking out over water
Pukewhakataratara Mountain. Photo Credit, Naomi Clayton

After learning all about the drastic negative impacts of farming on New Zealand’s soil and waterways, we decided to dive a little deeper, quite literally, by spending a day spelunking in the Waitomo caves with Black Water Rafting. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and we all had fun squeezing through tight spaces, swimming through freezing eel-infested waters (don’t worry, they were more scared of us than we were of them), seeing beautiful glowworm lit caverns, and scrambling through the caves. From the Valmai House, we traveled to the Kōkiri Centre in Raglan. We stopped to stretch our legs at the Maungatautari Mainland Ecological Island, which is 3,400-hectare plot of land surrounded completely by pest-proof fence. It is obvious how much time and effort are dedicated to protecting this space and preserving New Zealand’s endangered bird species. While it is an ongoing battle against the invasive predators, their efforts are paying off because we were able to see and hear many birds, including the endangered kaka parrot.

Kaka Bird at Maungatautari. Photo Credit, Naomi Clayton


Students walking through caves
Caving. Photo credit, Black Water Rafting

Driving a while longer to the Kōkiri Centre in Raglan, we could immediately feel the power and history of the land when we stepped out of the vans. The site used to be a golf course and airstrip on illegally retained tangata whenua land, but after a significant protest led by Eva Rickard in 1978, the land was returned to the tangata whenua people and is now cared for by Eva’s daughter Angeline Greensill. While we were in Raglan, we visited Xtreme Zero Waste which has become the town’s sustainable substitution to a landfill. They now have been able to divert about 75% of Raglan’s waste from the landfill through their Reuse Shop (which is called Kaahu’s Nest), composting, metal, wood, and electronic drop-offs, and also are consistently working to educate other communities through consulting and mentoring. It was so impressive for us to tour this site and see how an entire town has been able to reduce their ecological impact by that much. It makes me hopeful that communities will be able to adopt similar models to reduce our ecological impact. We also visited with Liz Stanway and Rick Thorpe who are not only instrumental in Xtreme Zero Waste, but they also run Taunga Kererū Permaculture Farm. We had lots of fun sampling their fruits and veggies as well as making new friends with their dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens!

photo of students listening to speaker
Xtreme Zero Waste. Photo credit, Charles Dawson

We packed up again to visit Mike and Sharon Barton–owners of Taupō Beef and Lamb–on our way to our night in Turangi. The Bartons’ farm is one of many that was affected by a policy enacted in 2,000 to protect the nearby Lake Taupō from nitrogen runoff. The policy placed a cap on Taupō catchment farmers’ livestock numbers, thus, limiting the livestock production with the potential for drastic economic consequences. However, the Bartons were able to embrace this change by focusing on the quality of their meat over quantity. By selling premium high-quality meat for a high price, their business thrives. Because the consumer makes a conscious choice to use Taupō Beef and Lamb over other meat that has not produced in an environmentally-conscious way, the consumer is also able to play a role in the protection of Lake Taupō. Mike and Sharon have not only found a way to thrive with the policy cap, but they also discovered a way to give agency and opportunity to the consumer, which I believe is a critical step in creating a sustainable future between farming and the natural world.

The next day, we headed to the Tirorangi marae, which is home to the Ngāti Rangi iwi (tribe) and located at the base of Mount Ruapehu. Mount Ruapehu is one of three active volcanoes in the Taupō Volcanic Zone. We met up with a group of students from Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design in Auckland, so it was definitely a full house at night with roughly 50 people all sleeping together in the long house (ear plugs were a must!). Our hosts, Keith and Mercia Wood, taught us so much about the iwi’s relationship with the rivers and mountains around them. Over the course of the weekend, we visited numerous important sites along the river. We started by spending individual quiet time with the river (even drank from it, and it tasted so clean and pure!) and then traveled to see the different diversion dams and pipes polluting it farther downstream. It was difficult to watch the river’s health continually decline as we continued driving downstream, and we later had an engaging korero (discussion) on hydropower, pollution, water rights, and tangata whenua rights.

students sitting on rugged mountainside in New Zealand
Keith Wood standing near Mt. Ruapehu. Photo credit, Naomi Clayton

Recently, we spent about a week in Tongariro National Park at the Forest and Bird Lodge in Whakapapa. This was based on the other side of Mount Ruapehu, and we were able to also see Mount Ngauruhoe, which is also a volcano (many of you may recognize as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies!) Being in the company of such attention-demanding mountains, I could really feel the mana (power) of their presence. In addition to hiking around the park and backpacking to Waihohonu Hut, all of us spent lots of time working on our group presentations and starting to plan ideas for our Independent Study Projects. My group and I presented on the very interdisciplinary topic of tangata whenua identity by investigating it through the lenses of pride, self-determination, education, and relationship to the natural world. It was quite fitting for the diverse academic nature of this program. We are now wrapping up the road trip portion of the program during our stay at the Friends Settlement in Whanganui. Our hosts emphasized their focus on common values, not beliefs, through the acronym S.P.I.C.E.S. which stands for Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Sustainability. I believe that these core values will need to be a part of every human’s life if we want to have a healthy future on this planet. Everything that we have learned in the program so far; permaculture farming, New Zealand politics and policy, tangata whenua rights, water rights, sustainable power, and more, is topics that I wish everyone could learn and experience because they are imperative to saving our planet and empowering our indigenous people.

Water rushing over rocks in river
Whakapapanui River (Forest and Bird Lodge). Photo credit, Naomi Clayton

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