Calling Opotiki Our Home
When I came to New Zealand, I told myself that I would love to immerse myself in the local culture and tradition, especially that of a Māori. Never in my wildest dream would I have expected myself to land in Opotiki.
A part of me still holds dearly to the idea of the comfort and convenience that stem from living in the city. In school, I taught my students to write essays about living in the city vs living in the country, and almost always favored the latter. It was the idea of living in the country or a small town that seemed appealing, or sensible.
So, when I came here, with no former experience of living in the country, I didn’t know how I would survive. Louis, however, loved the idea of staying here. He compared it to Air Salak, Melaka, Malaysia back home.
Opotiki is so small, it may go unnoticed in the map of NZ.
That’s right. Half a page of map covers the entire Opotiki town. It is like a hidden pea in the far right of North Island
Actually, Opotiki isn’t that painfully small. The entire district of Opotiki is slightly larger. How big you may ask? Two pages. About one and a half page more compared to the previous town map. That’s an improvement.
A brief idea of Opotiki
There’s nothing really worth feeling hyped about in this tiny cross-shaped town. Nothing party-exciting, restaurants lining up the streets, buildings after buildings of supermarket, or a place to hangout with friends (not entirely none, just painfully limited).
You see, Opotiki is the ideal place for retirement. It is not at all exciting and you don’t see young people around. In fact, it has been listed as the eighth best New Zealand town to live in, but the worst for doing business in.
Now, you can imagine why all the youngsters and young adults are leaving for the big cities. Shops close early and majority don’t operate on Sundays. There’s no nightlife other than your own cozy homes and cabins. Only ONE supermarket – New World (An image of juxtaposition is clearly established here).
Coming from being used to living in big cities, especially after Auckland, this was the beginning of a stage of utter shock and lots of getting used to.
OMG. WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?
Everything in Opotiki is either limited or monopolised. Options are not an option here. Only a supermarket; two Four Square convenience stores; an Indian food and spices shop; and pharmacy that sells everything else. We even bought a thinning scissors for 26 freaking dollars!
Our Initial Plan
The initial plan was to stay at a backpacker’s lodge with all the other happening young adults. You know, exchanging culture all those things—my hope for a dash of city in such a monotonous small town.
However, when we got off the bus in Opotiki, we were told that there was no double-bed room for us, and everywhere else in the lodge was full. So, we switched and stayed in a homestay with an elderly couple, both of whom we grew to love dearly now.
Of course, we were utterly thankful for the sudden switch of accommodation because our stay with our hosts has been nothing short of wonderful! Also, we didn’t need to worry about communal bathrooms and kitchen because we have all the spaces in the house and garden to ourselves!
So what do I actually find exciting in this godforsaken place?
1. Horses Roam The Streets
This is something that is very common in Opotiki and I have seen it more than three times now. They obey traffic rules too! Although there isn’t really much traffic in Opotiki! Funny enough, the place where I stayed in has a horse stable and grazing field just one-minute walk away. I didn’t realize it was that near to me because we usually use another way to go to town or work.
We happened to be at the right place at the right time. When the sunset was in full force, the horses noticed us and ran to us for some pat on the face.
We were afraid to touch them at first because I’ve had unpleasant experiences with horses in Malaysia. However, they’re just absolutely darlings and I couldn’t stay away! I went back the second time, with no problem patting them and calling them “horsie” again and again. It didn’t seem to annoy them.
2. Walking without shoes
I have seen more Māori people walking barefooted everywhere in Opotiki than meeting Asians. Did I try walking barefoot? Oh yeah you bet, and it’s painful as heck. Louis, on the other hand, was enjoying the Māori way of walking without shoes on our way home from New World.
3. It's a densely Māori populated town
Statistic showed that there are only about 9,000 population living in this small town – majority of whom are Māori people. Our neighbors are Māoris. The schoolchildren I see on the streets are Māoris. Even the supermarket is the place to see even more Māoris.
I didn’t know that Opotiki used to be a populous Māori centre before arriving. Also didn’t know that it used to be a busy harbor place. Gosh, I came here knowing NOTHING. As näive as I was, finding out and discovering things made me feel like I was now way smarter.
Even our Sunday mass was conducted in Māori language once or twice a month.
4. Opotiki has the sweetest sweet corn
All my life, I grow up believing that Cameron Highlands in Malaysia has the sweetest corn. Boy, have I not tried New Zealand’s. If sweet corn is compared to educational qualities, then sweet corn in Cameron Highlands is a high school graduate; while sweet corn in New Zealand is a bachelor degree holder. Let’s not push it too far to PhD, shall we?
Why would I say that it’s a Bachelor of Corns (FOOD) Sweet Corn? I cooked it in a broth for almost an hour and none of the sweetness from the corn was lost! In addition to that, the soup tasted surprisingly sweet. Now, it has won the best staple food in my life. 6 corns for $4. This place is just plentiful with it’s corns! Lining up bays and bays along the highway, growing as tall, or even taller than me. Maybe that’s why New Zealand named this region the Bay of Plenty.
5. And the most succulent kiwis
I have never been a kiwifruit person. Funny how I ended up working in one of its orchards. How do I know it’s going to be succulent? Well, because I work here and I know!
Located in the region of Bay of Plenty, this area is just teeming with bays of kiwifruits and orchards. New Zealand imposed strict rules and regulations against orchard owners, so anyone who breaks the law would be fined or stopped from operating in their kiwi orchards. At least that’s what I read from the newspaper.
6. Despite being tiny, Opotiki has a domain
And it’s called the Hukutaia Domain. Hukutaia Domain is a forest reserve. But, like the word “domain” suggests, it’s definitely a walk in the park. Within an hour, we finished all three routes available and still had plenty of time to spare.
The highlight of this domain is Taketakerau, an ancient tree that’s estimated to be around 2,000 years old! Every path in the domain leads to Taketakerau somehow. Other than this tree, there were also many other things to see in the domain:
7. Motu Trails for biking and hiking
In fact, Opotiki or near Opotiki, there are 15 different trails and walks that you can take.
From my description up until now, Opotiki seems like a fairly quiet retirement town, but dozens of people flock into the town every weekend to go fishing for NZ’s famous mussels, shellfish, fishes and crabs; cycling along the town or Motu Trails; walking and hiking in the 15 available walks and hikes; and just generally chill out for the weekend.
8. And stunningly Pristine beaches
From the district map posted earlier in this post, you can see that there are four main beaches in Opotiki, all of them facing the same ocean, just different spots to chill at. This was the Hikuwai Beach that I went to with Louis and 2 other backpackers.
If I were to make a comparison between this beach and the ones in Malaysia, I would say that they’re basically the same, just bluer water and cleaner sand. The sand was really soft too, with a tinge of black in the sand that came from the nearby volcanic island—White Island.
Oh, Hikuwai Beach also has great views. From the image above, you can see a stretch of mountains in the distance, half-covered by the morning mist. It was a magical sight to behold. In the far distance, on clear days, we can see White Island.
The waves rose and broke then crashed so rhythmically, that means you can surf here – provided that the waves are at a certain height. We dared only watch from a distance because swimming in the sea right now can be daunting, especially when we’ve only done most of it in calm swimming pool waters.
9. A great recycling system
You could argue with me and say that the recycling system is not only significant in Opotiki but the same all over New Zealand, and I would completely agree with you. When I was in Auckland for a week, I came across 2 types of bins: general waste bin and recycling bin. They were really serious about sustainable living and recycling.
When I arrived in Opotiki, I was amazed to learn that even Opotiki, a town so small, is practicing recycling. Very easily, I can lay my hands on an eco-friendly biodegradable laundry liquid at an unbelievably affordable price!
In such a small town, you can find 2 to 3 recycled labels or clothing shops. One is called recycled labels, while another hospice shop. Due to the small nature of Opotiki town, they are even lined up on the same street! A backpacker friend told me that he bought the jeans that fitted him perfectly, waist and hip all, with just 1 dollar!
Then, there’s the Boomerang bags, whereby people who have bought their goods in New World boomerang their plastic bags, or bags they don’t really need anymore, in the Boomerang bins provided. With that, other shoppers can just pick them up and reuse them if they forget to bring their own bags.
10. The way Māori and Kiwi people pronounce things
When you see the sign below, how would you pronounce it?
Let me guess, most of you will pronounce it as WAH KA TA NE, right? But, in Māori language, the WH is usually pronounced as the English F sound. So it’ll be FAH KA TA NE. And because “KA” is followed, when the locals read it fast, they tend to say “FUCKATANE“.
When the top of the vowels have a long dash (known as macron, like so: ā), the vowel should be a long vowel. Hence, Māori should be read as Maaaaaaaaaaaori.
Another thing that the rest of the world couldn’t grasp would be the way Kiwi people read the “e” vowel. They read everything “e” as “i”. For example, “exit” as “ixit”; “upset” as “upsit”; “Necessary” as “Nicissary”; “Venision” as “Vinison”. Honestly, it’s really mind-boggling, but at the same time, amusing. I also got used to the way they say “tomatoes”.
I relish living in this tranquil town of Opotiki. Driving through waves and waves of mountains and grazing fields going to work everyday was a dream. Never would I have thought that I would end up in this small town, let alone fall in love with it.
Take home message: Searching for non-exciting things may not always mean that you will end up missing out the chance of having a whale of a time. It just means that you’re taking life in a slower, digestible pace. To see life, in all its glory, the raw and untouched view, undervalued by so many.
Then it hit me: This was why I decided to come to New Zealand, and Opotiki has helped me realise that.