This week was my last week of classes, leading up to a month-long exam break, during which I only have three exams. Preparing for a good deal of free time, I decided to kick off this month by doing the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a gruelling 4-day hike spanning almost 50km and rising almost 2,000m in elevation. The track promised spectacular views of the Northern volcanic landscape, and I was thrilled to be going with a large group of avid young trampers like myself. I had attempted to do the shorter version of this hike at the beginning of the month, then again the previous week, each time having my plans cancelled due to the highly changeable alpine weather. As luck would have it, it was the day before the hike was set to begin that I got the news: there had been an avalanche warning on the mountain, meaning that our trip had to be cancelled. This was consequently not the first, or the second, but the third time I had tried and failed to complete this tramp, and left me with a solid four day gap in my otherwise thoroughly planned schedule. So, disappointed but determined to make the best of the situation, I went about planning four days of activity in Auckland.
Since, at this point, I have spent a fair amount of time in Auckland, I sometimes settle into the mindset that I have to travel somewhere else to do something interesting. This past weekend has entirely disproved that theory, with my real introduction to underground Auckland. The city is such an international hub, home to the only international airport in the country and eternally bustling with tourists like myself, that it can take some work to get to the heart of the people that really define the area. Over the weekend I ate at small Kiwi-owned bistros, shopped around local craftsmen shops, and explored neglected boroughs. However, a breakthrough moment for me in my endeavor to really know the city happened when i discovered Auckland's underground theatre scene. Looking for something to do on a Saturday night, branching out from our usual pub spots, my friend suggested to me that we try and see a play. As it happened, that night was the closing night of "Cult Show", a breakout feminist manifesto at The Basement Theatre. The venue was a blackbox theatre space inside a bar, filled with the tattooed, pierced, bearded millenial crowd baby boomers love to mock. I felt right at home.
The play itself was the kind of avante-guard contemporary work that I love, making men out of fruit and throwing water at the audience, all the while engaging in a real, thought-provoking dialogue about modern feminism. Because Cult Show was produced by the theatre, it was a real New Zealand play, taking a deep dive into the NZ Women's Archives and introducing me to historical women I'd never heard of before. I was really intrigued by the debates on Maori oppression, the closest New Zealand parallel to the struggle of African American women towards intersectional feminism, something I'd barely heard discussed in the touristy museums I'd been visiting. It did what good theatre should do, challenge the viewer, and left me really questioning the history of this country I'd been readily accepting. Ultimately, the underground theatre scene of Auckland yielded a better look at Kiwi culture than all the museums claiming to do just that, proving that it takes more than a few months to truly understand the character of a city.