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The Forum Down Under: Destination Te Papa

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Dave Lee | 13:05 UK time, Thursday, 15 October 2009

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The team from The Forum have flown Down Under to record three special shows. This Sunday, you can hear a show recorded at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand. The show's presenter, Bridget Kendall, is keeping a diary of the trip for World Agenda, which you can read here. In her final note from the trip, executive producer Emily Kasriel wrote us this post:

There was a stunning descent into Wellington airport. I could see rocky edges of land making forays into a dark luminous sea. After disembarking, we queued up to have our passports checked. I noticed a sign from the New Zealand Customs department: "We willingly accept the responsibility of helping to keep New Zealand safe, secure and prosperous."

I was interested in the words they used: safe, secure and prosperous. I'm not sure that many other countries would see themselves and consciously describe themselves in quite that light. This description echoes the thoughts of one of the guests in our New Zealand recording: Bernard Beckett. He's written a very thoughtful science fiction novel, Genesis. It describes the world's last habitable homeland, sealed off from the rest of the world which has been damaged by a terrifying plague and plummeting biodiversity.

While we were welcomed rather than prevented from entering New Zealand, the country does go to some lengths to preserve its unique habitat and flora. Two jars of Australian honey which we'd bought as gifts were confiscated at the airport (they will be couriered to London at our expense). A bugle dog was encouraged to sniff out the apple which I had mistakenly left in my bag.

On Friday we had a coffee, (in my case a fresh honey, lemon and ginger brew to counter a New Zealand cold) in a cafe opposite Radio New Zealand with their executive Producer Phil Smith. He then gave us a tour. I had an interesting conversation with head of Radio New Zealand International, she told me about the very strong links that New Zealand retains with many Pacific islands including Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga.

In fact the island of Niue is still partially administered by New Zealand. 14 Pacific radio stations broadcast the output of RNZ International, and New Zealand Radio have a civil defence role in alerting the islands to impending natural disasters. With the active geological activity over the last few weeks, they have been kept busy. New Zealanders also have a special interest in the news from this area because so many New Zealanders come from the islands. I've been told that Auckland is now the largest Polynesian city in the world. In the wake of the Tsunami I have seen requests at both Radio New Zealand and my hotel for plastic bags full of disaster supplies to send to the area. Many have already been sent off.

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The panel for Te Papa: Left to right: Marilyn Waring, Peter Hunter, Bridget Kendall and Bernard Becket.

We grabbed a taxi in the pouring rain to get to the Te Papa museum to check out the venue for the show. There are rows of beautifully crafted wooden seats in the Soundings Theatre as well as a giant wooden waharoa or gateway, carved at the start of the twentieth century for the New Zealand International Exhibition. What I hadn't expected to find was a specialised pastry kitchen in the museum itself, with two pastry chefs making delicious smelling caramel and piping chocolate filling.


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On our final morning in New Zealand, we decided to experience a little of the environmental purity that the country prides itself on, so escaped out of town, driving along Highway 2 northwards from Wellington.

After about half an hour we stumbled across a sign for the Rimutaka Rail Trail which follows the line of the old railway through the Pakuratahi Forest. Amongst the towering pine trees, blossoming yellow broom, and the green clothed mountains, we spotted many New Zealand Silver Ferns which are called here by their Maori name: the Ponga tree. Their elegant unfurling fronds are called Koru, another Maori word. Once cooked, they can be eaten. If you find yourself lost in the forest, you can also flip over the leaves which are coloured silver on their underbelly, and catch the bright sunlight and the attention of your passing rescuer. Unfortunately the timing of our flight back to Auckland and then onto Melbourne, Dubai and London doesn't give us the opportunity to test our new survival skills.

At The Forum recording at the Te Papa Museum, we kicked off by asking each guest to sum up New Zealand in a word. Controversial former politician and now prominent activist Marilyn Waring, came up with "Potentially". The unfolding emerging fronds of the silver fern echo her description of the country, and can help explain why the silver fern is the symbol of New Zealand.

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Bridget Kendall prepares for the show.

There is an ease in which Pakeha or European New Zealanders slip Maori words into conversation. There is still tension between Maori and Pakeha communities as well as unequal standards of living and life expectancies. But my impression is that the relationship is less raw and frustrations less keenly felt than by Australia's Aboriginal people.

There appeared to me to be more respect and pride here for the Maori, perhaps partly because of their prowess in defeating British colonial troops through many battles. The Maori are also settlers themselves, unlike the Aboriginals who are the oldest culture on earth still in existence.

At the start of the long journey home, a melt down with the New Zealand Airways computer hard drive gave us an unexpected stay in New Zealand's commercial capital, Auckland. I was excited about what I could glimpse of the extravagantly designed Civic Theatre. At the Victorian Albert park the Jacaranda were already in blossom. Some of the other trees in the park looked like they were as old as the park itself. The streets of central Auckland also offered their own riches. I enjoyed finding a meeting point of Victorian and 1930s architecture, and a creative response in the steely urban landscape to an absence of New Zealand's luscious green heritage.

Emily Kasriel is executive producer, Over To You. Read all of Emily's posts about the trip here. All pictures in this post taken by Emily.

Over To You is your chance to have your say about the BBC World Service and its programmes. It airs at 10:40 and 23:40 every Saturday, and at 02:40 on Sunday (GMT).

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