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Aboriginal AFL Academy NZ trip diary: Day 3 & 4

Ronald Fuschtei // AAA Participant  December 1, 2017 12:17 PM

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I woke up to a beautiful, sunny morning in Rotorua still with my head still spinning from the previous two days when I came face to face with the other half of my heritage.

On one hand I was incredibly excited, on the other hand I was slightly overwhelmed trying to take it all in.

Later tonight I’ll get more of an opportunity to learn more when I meet my cousin Georgia at our team hotel.

Right now, I’m looking forward to getting around the rest of the academy boys and immersing myself in more of the Maori culture.

After breakfast we walked to a local, traditional Polynesian spa as a way of recovering from the previous two days training sessions.

The spas were set on a lake overlooking an old volcano site. The whole experience was awesome.

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The view was magnificent and the spas were so relaxing. The water was very hot, in some spas the temperature reached 42 degrees Celsius.

The water was filled with minerals that made me feel very relaxed and almost sleepy. It was a wonderful feeling and afterwards I could feel that my mind and muscles were loose and free of tension.

After the spas we headed back to our hotel for lunch. After lunch we all jumped on our team bus and headed Te Puia, a Maori village and exhibition.

Here we heard from another Maori elder who shared the stories about how his tribe ensured their culture thrived and prospered.

The elder was a great story teller. He introduced us to the art of Maori carving and weaving and the protocols behind it. Only males between the ages of 18 and 35 are entitled to carve while men and women of all ages can weave.

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The elder then took us for a tour where we saw another Maori cultural performance, including another demonstration of the haka.

We also saw some amazing natural springs at the foot of the mountains where water was exploding to 20 metres in the air.

It was just amazing to see.

But equally amazing was the elder’s passion for his culture and his ability to share those stories.

He spoke about how the Maori people settled in New Zealand after travelling on seven boats from Tahiti in the 1300s.

He then beamed with pride as recounted how the local Maoris bravely stood up against British colonisation in the 1700s when they won a bitter 30-year war to protect their land and heritage.

It just made me so proud of my Maori heritage but it also got me reflecting on my Aboriginal heritage and how things could have been different back home in Australia.

The one message from the elder that continued to resonate with me was the importance of language. The Maori culture are in the fortunate position of being united by one language. At the height of Aboriginal culture we had more than 700 languages which has now diminished to around 100.

Unfortunately we have been unable to preserve all our languages back home. Once you lose your language you lose your culture and identity. This is the major learning I took from this elder and its something I will continue to reflect on once I’m back home.

After this exhibition we headed back to our team hotel for dinner.

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Once we had a feed we all went to the gym to do some weights before we headed off for some personal time.

For me this time was going to be extra special for my cousin Georgia, who I met for the first time by accident the night before, was coming to the hotel to meet me for a coffee.

We met just after 8.00pm and spent the next 90 minutes sharing stories about our respective backgrounds.

She was particularly interested about AFL and we also spoke about music, family, culture and life back home in Australia.

I learnt that she’d been to Brisbane and Alice Springs and ironically while she was in Alice Springs she spent some time in my Grandmother’s land of Wankagarru where she saw the Dalhousie springs which is very significant to the family on my father’s side.

I also discovered that she was completing her final year of schooling, which is year 13 here in New Zealand. Remarkably, she revealed that she is the youngest of 106 first cousins. My mind boggled. If her family is this big then how many more amazing people will I meet and more stories will I learn in the coming years.

As Georgia left she said she wanted to see me before I went back to Auckland with the team.  

She said she wanted to present me with a special gift, a necklace to take with me back home to Australia.

An amazing trip had become even more special. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for me. I’m learning more and more about myself and culture each hour that I’m here in New Zealand and I can’t wait to discover more.

I woke up this morning already fulfilled by the incredible experiences I’ve enjoyed in the first three days of this tour.

Today was to be our last day in the beautiful town of Rotorua but there was plenty of excitement to come.

We started the day with breakfast and then the entire squad went to the gym for an intense circuit.

Soon after our gym session we checked out of the hotel and headed a short drive around the Rotorua lake to a magnificent forest area for some white river rafting.

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We couldn’t get ready quick enough with everyone eagerly fitted with their life jacket and helmets and armed with their all important paddle.Initially, the boys were excited and jumping out of their skins when we first arrived.

But we all became a little more anxious after we were briefed by our instructors. It wasn’t as though we they weren’t professional but it was more about what was to come.

Our instructor took us through all the necessary paddling techniques and most importantly the techniques to ensure you don’t get tipped out of the boat.

The more our instructor spoke the more likely it felt like we were all going to end up overboard because the river we were about take on has a seven metre drop off a raging waterfall making it one of the most thrilling in the world.

So, after taking in all this information, we were confident with all the safety procedures but naturally a little apprehensive as to what was to come.

Each raft had six team members plus an experienced instructor leading us along the way.

After a couple of minutes we came across our first raging torrent, a 2.5 metre drop into a rapid.

As we approached our instructor called for us to “drop down” which is a move where we put our paddles to the side, sit on our bums with our knees together and basically hold on for dear life.

Within a flash we dropped into the whirlpool below us still holding on safely to the handles, thankfully all still on board.

My other teammates on the five other rafts all negotiated the first drop safely as well.

Phew. One down, one big one to go but suddenly we all felt a little more comfortable.

That drop was challenging enough so when our instructor said well done but the next waterfall drop is three times bigger and has 26,000 tonnes of water flowing per second we knew we still had a massive task ahead of us.

After another five minutes of paddling down stream we reached our moment of truth.

Our instructor pulled us aside to the cliff face, held us up and gave us one last pep talk before the plunge.

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He reinforced the safety manoeuvres if we were knocked out of the raft and stressed the importance of remaining calm at all times whether in or out the raft, under water or above.

So we collectively took a breath and made our way to the edge.

When we were four metres from the edge we got into our safety position inside the raft – backside on the floor, knees close together and holding on with both hands for dear life.

Within a blink of an eye we made our approach, tipped over the edge and crashed toward the torrent of water below us.

Somehow, we all remained intact and most importantly inside the raft.

It was both frightening and exhilarating. Most significantly it just felt so rewarding to confront and conquer our fears. Although most of us won’t admit it I reckon there were a few of us who considered pulling out but to actually stay the course and confronting the challenge was hugely rewarding.

After we completed our white rafting session we jumped on our team bus and commenced our two hour journey to our next stop, Turangi, which is a couple of hours south of Auckland.

Although exhausted the boys were still buzzing with excitement from our river rafting mission.

The journey to Turangi was spectacular and highlighted by the amazing Lake Taupo which is a massive body of water that surrounds the local area.

After settling into our accommodation we had a team dinner followed by a briefing with our tour guide tomorrow.

Tomorrow will pose an equally big challenge for our group.

Today was about confronting fear while tomorrow will be about resilience as we take the 19 kilometre climb up the Tongiaro Crossing.