Our Travel Stories

New Zealand – United in Grief and United in Love.

It’s hard to find the words to write about New Zealand when we have visited this amazing country in the same week it has been gripped by terror and tragedy in the light of the mosque shooting in Christchurch. I wanted to share a blog on the day but couldn’t express my feeling in the way that I wanted to and I wanted to offer so much more than just ‘thoughts and prayers’.

On the day of the shootings last Friday our cruise ship had docked in Napier but we had little over half a day there as the ‘all aboard’ time to be back on ship was for 1.30pm. Cameron and I had enjoyed a morning visiting the aquarium and then had a stroll along the seafront, enjoying the tranquility of the day whilst admiring all the gorgeous fir trees, art deco houses and road signs which lined the street.

Napier in the North Island of New Zealand

When we arrived back on ship Cameron made a dart for the x-box room and sat glued to it for a while whilst joined by another young boy from Auckland.

The other boys mother and I chatted for a while about our families and travels, she told me what a beautiful country New Zealand was and how much she liked living here. She and her husband loved the place so much that they had pulled their sons out of school for a couple of weeks in order to show them more of the country outside of their home town of Auckland.

Within our conversation we had chatted about the big earthquake in Christchurch 8 years ago too – hence why when I looked at my facebook page no more than 15 minutes later and saw my cousins status which said ‘whoa Christchurch 😢’ I immediately thought they had once again been hit by an earthquake.

I went to have a look on Twitter and one of the first things which came up on my newsfeed was a video which I looked at for further information and saw a man randomly shooting at people cowering together in the corner of a room. I watched it for a few seconds and assumed it was a clip from some movie. Not being one for a blood thirsty movies at the best of times I moved on quickly and. continued to trawl though Christchurch related newsfeeds. As I did so I realised the horror which was unfolding and gut wrenching reality that the video clip which I had just watched was not a movie but the sickening act of a white supremacy terrorist live streaming his actions as he went on a shooting spree at two mosques, resulting in the deaths of 50 innocent muslims who had gone there in peace for their daily prayers.

(I should add that as this video made several subsequent appearances on my newsfeed I reported each one to twitter in the hope it would quickly get removed).

In the following hours shock waves rippled through our ship as news spread and updates came in from the media with increasing numbers of fatalities.

In the days which have followed we have witnessed a whole nation in mourning, everyone in New Zealand is hurting and shocked to the core. In a strange way and maybe because of my professional background I have felt it both an honour and a privilege to have been here and to have shared in that grieving process.

Imagine by Shaun Yeo depicting the shared pain of all Kiwi’s

The day after the atrocity we had an excursion booked to Rotorua, part of which was a visit to the living Maori Village. It was here that we watched the Maori’s pay tribute to the tragedy as they dedicated their daily show and haka to all those who had died almost exactly 24 hrs earlier.

It was not only moving and poignant but a reminder that everyone here is an immigrant, even the Maori’s themselves having arrived from the Eastern Polynesian islands several hundred years ago.

In the subsequent few days New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has earned respect the world over for her humanitarian and heartfelt response to the shooting, promising reforms in gun law with an almost immediate effect. My personal view is that if more countries had leaders like this that the world would be a much better place.

As tourist we have enjoyed the most incredible time in New Zealand, and made memories which will stay with us forever. It’s been difficult to show so much excitement however when the nation and its people are hurting. However there is also an extraordinary energy here and its one of strength, unity and love. I believe that despite what has happened in Christchurch this week, in the long term it will be safer and more accepting than ever before, that is the spirit of this country and of its people.

The Spirit of Napier statue (above) actually represents Napier rising from the ashes of the devastating 1931 earthquake. I took this photo just a couple of hours before the Christchurch shooting began. I hope in time that New Zealander’s once again will rise from the ashes) .

The traditional Maori greeting is called Hongi ‘Breath of life’, it is exchanged in pressing noses together but becomes more sacred in the sharing of a breath to show unity between two people. Through the exchange of this greeting one is no longer considered Manuhiri (a visitor) but rather tangata whenia (one of the people of the land). I am privileged to have shared Hongi this week because I know that Cameron and I will now always feel a part of this land.

We leave a little piece of our hearts, but take with us the strength & spirit and of its people.

Last night the Ovation of the Seas sailed out of New Zealand’s waters for the final time this cruise. At midday today as we sailed back across the Tasman Sea towards Australia our Captain put out an announcement and asked everyone onboard to honour a minutes silence for all those who had lost their lives or been injured in Christchurch this week. Cameron and I were in one of the bar areas inside the ship at the time and within a split second of the Captains request everyone fell silent. It was difficult to hold back the tears as it was evident that everyone onboard (both passengers and crew) were deeply moved from being in New Zealand this week.

There are people on this ship from all nations & all religions of the world – for one minute today 5000 of us fell silent together in respect for the 50 who died and all those whose lives have been changed forever. #theyareus.

This blog is dedicated to the 50 people who lost their lives in the Christchurch Mosque Shooting on 15th March along with their bereaved families, the injured and the entire Muslim Community.

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