Did you know that Auckland, New Zealand is actually the Pasifica capital of the world?
Not many people do. When overseas people consider New Zealand they think about the English and Scottish heritage or maybe even the indigenous Maori population, but very rarely do they realise that Auckland has a significant Pacific Island population that really shapes the city’s atmosphere. Overall Auckland has more than 200 different ethnicities living side by side – that’s more than London!
The only drawback is that you need to look (or know where to go) to really experience Pacific Island culture, you won’t find it in the typical central city or tourist haunts. Here’s three ways you can get a great taste of the Island vibe in Auckland city.
Yeah I know this is only on once a year but if you are in Auckland in early March make a date with this free festival hosted by the Auckland City Council. Pasifica celebrates the Pacific Island culture by setting out Island villages – each village with its own stage and Whare (meeting house) and market stalls – where each island nation can demonstrate its own unique culture, preparation of food and crafts. This year it was on at Western Springs and there were 11 villages to explore on a hot sunny Autumn afternoon. We particularly enjoyed this Umu at the Niuean village on Sunday. Cooking food under the ground is popular throughout the South Pacific and each Island culture has its own name for this type of cooking. In Niue its called Umu, in Fiji it’s lovo and in New Zealand it’s called hangi.
At the Pasifica festival you’ll see traditional dancing, handicrafts, drumming and even worshipful singing and dance. These beautiful korowai are hand-stitched, hand-dyed ceremonial ‘skirts’. They were the most incredible colours, and the Maori women told me that they took hours to prepare the feathers (chicken feathers mainly), dye them and then hand stitch each one in place. The Englishman and I were thrilled by the colours, they really were a work of art.
Christianity has had a huge impact in the Pacific Island nations and forms a focal point for village and family life. We caught this display last weekend and found it truly memorising.
2/ Another opportunity to really experience the pride of the vibrant Pacific people is to attend the annual secondary school cultural competition – Polyfest – where over 200 school groups compete on 6 different stages. Polyfest is on this weekend in Manukau City. Click through for details – Polyfest
3/ Even if you’re visiting Auckland outside of these annual events there are still a number of ways you can experience some Island time and be wowed by the craft and food of the Pacific. Head on out to the markets on a Saturday morning – either to the Avondale Racecourse in central west Auckland or drive further out to the Otara markets in South Auckland’s Manukau City. Otara boasts that over 80% of its population are ethnic Pacific Islanders – from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and Cook Islands. In fact there are more people from the Cook Islands and Niue in Auckland than there are in the island nations themselves.
We used to head out to the Otara Flea Markets when I was a kid whenever we wanted to grab some fresh veges or fruit especially food from the islands that we were missing from our life in Fiji. Occasionally we even set up our own stall at the markets selling superfluous stuff – garage sale/car boot styley. These days expect to see stalls selling cheap and cheerful crap but also excellent fruit and vege and wonderful handicrafts from all over the place! The markets are fun and loud and cheerful but do also be aware that this is not a very well-off part of town so don’t flaunt expensive cameras and phones. Take cash for tapa cloth, bone carvings, lavalavas and cheap clothes and for your pick of tasty diet-obliterating treats from the food stalls! Read up more here – Otara Flea Markets.
4/ Pacific Island Church – Newton PIC – One of the best places to experience the local Pacific culture is to attend a service at the Newton PIC where the congregation’s harmonious singing is guaranteed to impress. Church is a big part of Pacific life and each Sunday families will be dressed with the women and girls wearing Puletasi or lavalavas and the men wearing an interesting combo of western suit and PI lavalava, often in a combo of white top and black ‘skirt’. After church families get together in local parks to hang out together, eat and sometimes to even have a game or two of kilikiti. Grey Lynn park is a great place to join in the fun.
5/ You can also experience Pacific Island culture in Auckland not a destination as such but more a way of travel. Music! Music is a huge part of life in the South Pacific and Auckland now boasts a number of Pacific Island radio stations like Flava and Niu FM. These stations do carry easy-listening soft pop and multi-harmonied versions of How Great Thou Art or Maori waiata but increasingly the younger crowdare listening to a kind of ‘Pacific reggae’. Think Bob Marley in a Fijian sulu or even the next step on from the global hit ‘How Bizarre’ which was performed by the OMC.
Huh, bet you didn’t know OMC stood for Otara Millionaire’s Club!
Of course the last and perhaps best way of really getting a taste of the South Pacific is to head out to Auckland International airport at Mangere and fly out to Fiji, Samoa, Rarotonga or Niue. Most of the islands are not too far from New Zealand, share a time zone and in many cases currency which make them perfect holiday destinations especially during NZ’s winter months. You could be poolside in Fiji by lunchtime! But if you’re short on time or cash, you can enjoy an approximate experience by spending the time in Auckland and catching the Island vibe.
Have you ever explored the Pacific Island culture in New Zealand? Have I missed any favourite haunts of yours?