Wednesday, February 13, 2008
It's A Zoo Out There!
When I flew out of Christchurch this morning bound for a job in Invercargill, I never expected to find myself in a cafe considering men's underwear design, cheetahs on bicycles, tribal artefacts and giraffe-themed toilets. But that's Invercargill for you - full of surprises! And that's just what travel should always be about - surprises. And you don't have to travel far for a surreal experience. Some of the strangest encounters can be moments away from your own doorstep. It's as Paul Theroux says: "True travel is launching oneself into the unknown. There is no excuse for it except that one offers oneself in the spirit of experiment. To me, one of the most compelling trips holds the prospect of the unknown near home ..... the whole point of travel is discovery."
And so to toheroa gathering - that magnificent big shellfish now only gathered in patches off the Southland coast - and only then by Maori customary fishing rights. Our mission: to write about toheroa, photograph toheroa, cook toheroa, eat toheroa - but not necessarily in that order - for Ngai Tahu's magazine TE KARAKA. With editor/photographer, Phil Tumataroa leading the charge, we bundled three kaumatua (tribal elders) of Murihiku Marae into our saucy blue car and headed for Oreti Beach. In a wide expanse of endless white sand beach, they knew exactly where to look, exactly where the toheroa beds lay and within minutes we had dug a handful from the wet sand. Half the pleasure of eating toheroa is in the digging," they laughed. "And there's nothing better than eating them fresh and raw, straight from the sand, with juice running down your wrists. It's the joy of the hunt."
Catch, Cook, Eat
How lucky are we to know award-winning Ngai Tahu chef, Jason Dell, who works as executive chef at Blanket Bay, one of New Zealand's most luxurious lodges. He's on our side. He makes us nice things to eat. He lets us wash his dishes - if we're really lucky we get to chop his parsley. It's his mission to take the traditional kai (food) of South Island's Maori and whip it into tasty dishes that give it a whole new modern interpretation. Then we sit the kaumatua down and give their taste buds a surprise.... and if we've been good, writer and photographer also get to eat. It's hard to call it work - but we insist it is!
Murihiku Marae sits on a rise on the outskirts of Invercargill city, overlooking a spread of yellow-green fields. It's a large complex complete with kitchens, meeting house (wharenui), offices, social rooms and, next door, the kohanga reo (maori language pre-school). Like most marae it is rich in carving (whakaairo). And in an inspired move, drawings from the tiny tots of the kohanga reo decorate the marae interior with almost as much importance as the wooden equivalents carved by master carvers. It's a lovely juxtaposition and it's good to know the next generation of Maori artists are being encouraged.