NZ722 – ascending – MLB to AKL
An encounter with Aotearoa in flight
going home—leaving home
(perhaps it is always the case that the habitus of getting there is first experienced in the transit of leaving—airport drop-offs, check ins, departure lounges, carry on, buckling in, safety videos…)
The chatter and casual bustle of stowing bags is saturate with the familiar
A fellow Melbournian-kiwi slumps beside me and nods to my copy of Michael King’s Penguin History of New Zealand—re-reading, fittingly at the part about Abel Tasman.
“good read that one”
having trouble with his buckle and his belly
departing—on our way—already there.
and how to forget
the graceful curving
of a beautiful hula dancing stewardess who once showed me the correct way to buckle up 1,000ft high and rising over Hawai’i
The seatbelt light is off and those time honoured words of greeting emblazoned on the in flight screen in front of me
“from Maoriland” the old postcards would have added
But the in-flight safety video features no dusky hula beauties, just Bear Grylls, chomping on a glowworm.
And—shudder—an infomercial selling 100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand (Extended Edition)
“Unveil your very own middle-earth experience in a place that will forever keep you under its spell. Traveller, your dreams are waiting right here in New Zealand”.
A place of “your very own”? With all those disputes over ownership and sovereignty? With soaring house prices? New regulations for first time home owners? Surely not…
This must be a Middle Earth that is completely
from that Aotearoa/New Zealand of law and politics.
The irony of Aotearoa being re-colonised by yet another a dreamscape of fantasy inhabitants is not lost many of those its citizens who are not elves, dwarves, goblins, wizards or hobbits. Way, way, way-way back when the first Lord of the Rings movie was released (is it possible to remember that far?) and ‘Middle Earth tourism’ was only just begining to re-saturate the leisurescape with this new 100% Middle Earth, I clearly remember a casual conversation with a young Maori bookshop assistant on Queen St. Assuming I was tourist (I am), she asked with a cheeky smirk, “are you here to look for hobbits? I’ve heard they’re all over the place down south.”
But here, on NZ722 and in this little teaser, I witness not a decoupling but a deft interweaving of at least three key tourist fantasy leisurescapes: there is “Ao-tea-roa”, there is “100% Pure,” and there is “Middle Earth”.
Not a doubling, Paul Carter, but a veritable tripling!
In the short film, and like Michael King’s Penguin History, there begins of course a primordial, ecological, cosmogonic creation story. This is a world in which giant eagles (Pouakai) “once ruled the skys,” and “where creatures dwell in ancient caves” (Cave Weta in Waitomo).
Having created this wonderland, it is to be peopled: First come the “Warrior Princesses” of old-world tourism’s Ao-tea-roa—dusky maidens, “who know how to warm your heart.” Then come Pakeha wine-merchants—“wizards,” of production, consumption and capitalism.
And, finally, this world of indigenous magic and cosmological wonder is a world to be toured by touring tourists.
“Where you can play on mountains protected by Gods, it is a place that will forever keep you under its spell. Traveller, your dreams are waiting.”
The inhabitants—Maori guides, Pakeha wizards, and presumably hobbits—are of course endlessly, smiling, welcoming, happy to chat with those travellers. Greying leisure seekers chomp gourmet food and wizardly wine, and luxuriate in sunsets and on golf courses. Adventure seekers and backpackers, beachside families, Asian tourists, and hobbit hunters form an endless parade in happy-snappy montage. And so this is not explicitly Middle-Earth, nor is it some Colonial-inspired Maori-land, nor is it even that 100% Pure Aotearoa/New Zealand of glistening rivers, deep green rain forests, and lake-reflected mountain peaks.
it is all of these