By Pam Ferla
When twenty-seven Japanese students and three adults stepped off a bus at Tairua School on Thursday, 9 February, they did not expect a raging cyclone, no water or power, and a drastically revised itinerary. But they discovered warm-hearted locals who coped with the drama and did their best to provide a happy experience for the students’ tour.
The Hokuriku Junior High School students aged 14 to 15, plus two teachers and a tour guide, were in Tairua for 12 days with the New Zealand Institute of International Understanding (NZIIU). This promotes international understanding through educational and cultural exchange.
The damage from Cyclone Gabrielle forced Tairua School to close for four days. This and road closures meant some excursions were cancelled and replaced with new activities. Host families and students hunkered down at home (minus power, some without water) for three days. Japanese ingenuity was revealed when the women carefully wrapped clingwrap around soup bowls and spoons, thus avoiding the need to wash with meagre water supplies. There were a lot of card and board games around town and one host’s fancy dress collection provided a fun afternoon as did a visit to Tairua’s Op Shop. When the sea settled, some students were treated to a Slipper Island boat trip and everyone climbed Mount Paku for a stunning view of the area and memorable photos. A rescheduled excursion to Rangiriri’s Lakewood Lodge was a tour highlight.
Kiwis more relaxed - Asked about their observations of Kiwis, one of the Japanese students said Kiwis seemed much closer to nature and more relaxed than Japanese people. Kiwi hosts found the Japanese children very polite, respectful, and more cautious than local children. A host said she loved hearing her students giggling, but they did not like any insects in the house. The students loved eating Hokey Pokey icecream and learned the meaning of ‘help yourself’.
Tairua School principal, Brendan Finn, found himself in new territory when the floods trapped tutor co-ordinators, Rowan Anderson and Anne Fowler, in Pauanui. One incident lightened things when he knocked on the door of a host family carrying much needed bottles of water just as the power was restored. He was gratefully welcomed as, ‘the power magician’. Tairua School’s motto is ‘developing globally-minded citizens’. For Brendon, the best thing was creating the opportunity for authentic cultural exchange. “We were sharing what makes us and them unique and also identifying our similarities. It was an enlightening experience for all of us. My challenge was keeping in touch with students and host families to ensure they were safe. Our host families were incredible and really rose to the challenge.” He also praised the school’s Kapa Haka group for representing the school and community with a high degree of respect and mana. Brendon said one of his memorable experiences was taking four students to Driving Creek Railway in Coromandel. “The highlight of their day was actually going along the 309 Road!”
Tour guide, Yuri Watanabe, lives in Osaka, a city of two million people. She said,“Some areas of Japan have about 40 typhoons a year. The difference is, they don’t last as long as the one we experienced in Tairua. We have many earthquakes and typhoons but we don’t experience having no electricity, water or internet for so long. Doing without those things for several days is difficult for us to understand. Because this cyclone was so long and so strong, I thought I might die, yet Kiwi people seemed very complacent about it and just said, “At least we are still alive!”
The general consensus was that if you had to be stuck anywhere in a cyclone, Tairua and its caring community was a good place to be. The Tairua tour was instigated by Rowan Anderson. She said it was a trip of so many new experiences for Hokuriku School. “The only constant this time was juggling the itinerary day by day. I would like to say a massive thanks to all the host families, the principal of Tairua School and Steve from Tairua Buses. We have terrific communities in our little piece of paradise.”
Caption: Japanese students with teacher Anne Fowler on Mount Paku.