Swallowing Naki

October 6, 2009

South of New Plymouth

I’ll say it again: Japanese culture is stalking me. Not only was I able to find a cherry blossom festival in the heart of New Zealand, but my next destination was, unknown to me, the site of most of the filming of The Last Samurai. I know what you’re thinking… Japanese stars, based in Japan, why not just film over there? Well, they did a little:

– Katsumoto’s temple is in fact the Shoshazan Engyoji Temple in Himeji
– The fake Imperial Palace is the Chionin Temple in Kyoto

But by and large, the the majority of scenes were shot in New Plymouth in the Taranaki region, the so-called “Texas of New Zealand” by Lonely Planet for its rich oil deposits. I think I’ll just stick with the local expression and call it “Naki.” Much more concise, don’t you think?

I arrived alone in a dark alley to walk the 2.5 kilometers to my Couchsurfing host’s flat north of town. Although Ryan and his mates were very hospitable once I knocked on their door, I wish I had dragged my feet a little… they were in the middle of a Patrick Swayze movie tribute, and I have to say Point Break really, really sucks. Nevertheless, after my days and nights spent with organic hippie WWOOFers and a few female Couchsurfers, it felt great to hang around guys my own age again, a breath of fresh air. I also learned that one of their flatmates was none other than Jason Eaton, a great All Blacks rugby player whom I would meet the next day.

Sooo… the Naki…. New Plymouth is hardly the center of nightlife for the Taranaki region, but I must admit I was impressed with the walkabouts available to me: climbing Mt. Taranaki (snow-capped at the time), taking a run along the Coastal Walkway into town (trail runs about 10 km), and hiking to the top of Paritutu hillock, nicknamed “Mt. Suicide” for its extremely sheer rock facing the sea. Probably the best place next to Mt. Taranaki to get a decent shot of the city.

Mt. Taranaki in the distance

Back to The Last Samurai – the “battle in the fog” scenes were filmed in Mangamahoe Forest north of town, but in Pukekura Sports Ground of Pukekura Park, you can see where Tom Cruise ordered a Japanese soldier in training to shoot him. Mt. Taranaki acted on behalf of Mt. Fuji, and was paid $87 million, which it used as fertilizer.

Pukekura Sports Ground

I have to say this excursion was more of an experience in Couchsurfing than in seeing New Plymouth. Although I enjoyed the city and the local mineral pools…

Mineral Pools, New Plymouth
Mineral pools, New Plymouth

…I was confined to the flat after it rained for a solid two days. Nothing but internet and watching Jason play rugby… on Playstation. Funny stuff, if you think about it. The guys were really sweet as, taking me boarding along the walkway as the sun set, introducing me to the Naki Burger at the Crowded House pub: a dish so large I doubt given the biggest loudmouth on the planet could get his chompers around it. Beef, bread, cheese, tomato, onion, egg, bacon, lettuce, dressing… I’m sure I’m missing something.

If you do surf with Ryan, take your country’s flag with you and he’ll raise it on his flagpole. I only wish I had had one of Texas to donate to their cause, but I settled for teaching them Texas Hold ‘Em over bowls of kava… sweet as. Kava, to those of you unfamiliar with the exploits of J. Maarten Troost, is a drink common to the south Pacific islands, a root traditional chewed by young boys, mixed with their saliva, and added to a little water and spice. Think of a hallucinogen with a lot more ooomph; Troost was out of it for two days when he tried his first bowl. As ours was powdered and imported, I only got the sense of it numbing my senses slightly… and tasting like really dirty water. Worth the experience, though – maybe if you drink more something will happen. And you can always, I mean always, say to the pretty girl next to you: “Maybe it’s kava talking, sweetheart, but I think…”

Kava bowl, by ANZ Cluster Munition Coalition
Kava bowl. 2008 Pacific Regional CSO Forum, Auckland, 12 August 2008.

2 Responses to Swallowing Naki

  1. Evie Roberts on April 26, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Patrick Swayze is one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, he would surely be missed by a lot of his fan.

  2. Manu Stanley on June 16, 2010 at 5:12 am

    Nice to know about the shooting locations of “The Last Samurai.” The director did a good effort to make it look like ancient Japan. Naki is definitely on my list. 🙂

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