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Cycling through Mordor

In the week I spent in New Zealand I met more geologists than in the rest of my life put together. That’s because in Finland, the interesting geology happened thousands or millions of years ago. There, it’s happening right now.

After the Sword Symposium, and before heading off to Sydney to teach a seminar, I took a couple of days and headed up to Rotorua. This is in the heart of a super-volcano that blew up a few thousand years ago, and is still rumbling away just enough to make geysers, mudpools, and all sorts of sulphurous geological features. The earth is alive, and curiously sterile.

I drove up with a couple of the symposium attendees (thanks again, Les), who dropped me off at my hotel after the seven hour drive from Wellington. It’s not that far, about 450k, but the roads are small and twisty, and often occupied by trucks. I drove some of the way, and was glad of my experience learning to drive in the Peruvian Andes. The drops here were laughably shallow, and the roads luxuriously wide in comparison.

I spent the first morning in Te Puia, a park occupied by the biggest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. [This video shows right-way-up when it's on my desktop, and is rotated here for no reason I can figure out. If you can tell me how to fix it, please do!]

There were also some amazing holes in the ground, perfect for chucking rings into (and a lot easier to get to) such as this one:

And even pools of bubbling mud. Perfect for chucking people you don't like into, I'd imagine.

There is a Maori craft centre as part of the complex, which as an ex-cabinet-maker I found fascinating. This chap is working on a traditional Maori weapon, the Taiaha.

This is about the same length as longsword. Part of the experience included a traditional Maori welcome ceremony. I videoed the second one I saw, because watching the first made me think of hmm, I don’t know, medieval longsword?

The stances, the twirls, all seemed very familiar. Which comes as no surprise if you think that the weapon is about the same length, and medieval Italians were human too. I think I’ll take this video and subtitle it with the guards and strike names from Fiore…

Speaking of traditional Maori culture, my lovely hosts at the hotel lent me a bike, and I rolled gently into town in the evening, looking for dinner. I found an all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue place that seemed to be full of locals, which is usually a good sign. It was an excellent feed for a reasonable price, but that wasn’t the best bit. It turned out that most of the diners were there to celebrate a young man’s 21st birthday, which is a big thing here. This included the usual speeches (I assume they were the usual, it was all done in Maori, but the pattern of laughs, and bored shifting about, is universal), but then about 25 people got up and started singing in harmony, with the hand waving and so on like that which you can see in the video. There were several rounds of this; everyone sitting down, somebody talking, then another song, all accompanied by a single guitar.

I didn’t take photos or video because it was a private gathering in a semi-public space; they were not putting on a show for me. But it beat all the tourist stuff into a cocked hat. I’ve lived much of my life in tourist traps, and find that packaged stuff for tourists is just much less engaging than similar activities that the locals do for themselves. It’s like the difference between staying in a hotel and staying at a friend’s house.

After an early night, I went out on the bike again, into town then round the geothermal trail. Oh my. The sulphur, the stench, the freaky smoke coming out of the ground… the earth is not supposed to do that, dammit!

It was amazing. And on my little tour, I came across these fine specimens, which, if I’m not much mistaken, are the famous Black Swans.

After lunch and a nap, I went back into town, and was very glad I did, because I stumbled upon the cultural heart of New Zealand.  Atlantis Books is amazing, especially when you think that Rotorua is basically a one horse town. I got chatting with the owner, who may be stocking my books there at some point!

I have an established approach to visiting new places. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with the distracting stimulation of everything around you, because it’s all new. So what I do is choose one thing to go and see or do, and then burble about randomly for the rest of the time. In this case, Te Puia was the one big thing. Having done that, I had done what I came to do, and it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d felt like spending the rest of the time reading a book in my room. I follow this approach on every trip. This means of course that I don’t see as much stuff as I might otherwise, but planning and scheduling is kept to a minimum, what I do see I remember, and I am exposed to serendipity. Such as the Black Swans, and Maoris singing out of love.

I do the same thing in very many other areas of my life, from teaching a class to writing a book. Put one solid achievement in the bank, and let chance have a chance to surprise you.

On Wednesday I flew down from Rotorua to Wellington. Rotorua airport is miniscule and, get this: there’s no security checks.  If I’d had one handy, I could have taken a gun onto the plane. It was amazing how much that lack of hassle improved the experience of flying.

I followed the same basic pattern of “do one thing then burble about” in Wellington, which I'll write up in due course.

I am now safely home in geologically stable Finland, unbitten by spiders and unscorched by volcanic activity. This will hopefully improve my writing schedule a bit, so the next instalment should be up a bit quicker.

After Wellington I went to Sydney to teach a two-day seminar. For those who came, I thought you'd like to see the notes published somewhere, so here you go!

Day 1; Dagger:

Day 2: Longsword: 

Whaaat? you can't read my writing?

Guess I'd better type these up then 🙂

Watch this space!


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