If you find yourself at the end of the earth at the end of November, stop before you get to Antarctica and have Thanksgiving. The Maori will feed you, as long as you observe protocol.
First, wait outside to be welcomed. By welcomed I mean that men rush toward you with clubs and spears. Try to maintain some dignity as they slap their naked thighs and chests and show their teeth. They glare at you and thrust their tongues down their black-patterned chins, but you remain calm and friendly. That’s when they invite you into their Meeting House.
Next, it is important to notice the wooden carvings of ancestors, considered the keepers of the House. Greet them more humbly than you were greeted. In the dining area, you see leaf-wrapped vegetables and seafood lifted from an underground oven. Sit, eat, and get to know the people. You are in the living heart of this island’s culture, even if it is for the sake of your tourist dollars. You are with this land’s first people and they want you to know who they are. Give thanks, even without a turkey to carve.
After an alarming start, you relax and start to feel at home. You converse with the men and women. They turn out to be gracious, kind, and knowledgable. They are also tenacious enough, in governing New Zealand, to insist on upholding their treaty rights against great odds.
Lastly, your hosts escort you outside. They give you the traditional hongi farewell, pressing their foreheads against yours as if transferring kind thoughts into your brain. The moment feels timeless. When you turn at the gate to wave goodbye, you see their teeth again, but now they are surrounded by smiles.
If you are like me, those smiles remain tattooed on your brain, beckoning you back to the people of Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. Once you have crossed the bridge between hearts, distance means nothing. The end of the earth is not so far away.