"I wanna hang a map of the world at my house. Then I wanna stick pins in the locations that I`ve traveled to.
...But first I have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won`t fall down."
-Mitch Hedberg

Friday, March 19, 2010

Opononi and Opo "The Friendly Dolphin"

We stopped in Opononi through sheer happenstance. I’d been driving for a bit and wanted a milkshake (New Zealand makes a really good milkshake) so we pulled over at a dairy/takeaway to grab a bite. Next thing we know, we see these beautiful sand dunes across the inlet and in typical backpacker fashion we said, “Wanna go for a swim?” Guess what - we did want to.

The water was insanely cold - but refreshing - and the people put up with our bizarre antics with typical Kiwi tolerance. Care and I even had a hopping race, where we frantically hopped down the beach. Good times.
The only thing besides the dunes and good milkshakes that Opononi is famous for is Opo, "The Friendly Dolphin," who in the summer of 1955 swam into the inlet and played with human swimmers for several months. Her interactions with the people were so entertaining that thousands of New Zealanders flocked to this tiny hamlet in Northland to catch a glimpse of the friendliest.dolphin.ever.

Tragically, Opo was murdered by local fishermen (allegedly) after the city passed a law giving her special protective status. A bronze statue in town still commemorates her life and death. Opo was even given a full Maori funeral with all the rights of a tribal member.

Here’s a link to a fan site for Opo that even includes a popular 1950's song about the beloved mammal.

Strangely enough, when we first landed in Auckland some of the front page news was of a new friendly dolphin, Moko, at the beaches near Whakatane. He was such a popular attraction that the city council hired three full time minders (lifeguards) that ensured his safety, and that of swimmers. Unfortunately, Moko didn’t stay in Whakatane for more than a few weeks, but the nightly news speculated on possible places that he might head to next, with guesses ranging as far as Gisborne.
It’s tales like Opo and Moko, the friendly dolphins, that put the subtle differences between New Zealand and American culture into perspective. The U.S. erects statues of war heroes, generals, politicians, and business moguls. New Zealand commemorates friendly dolphins.

Maybe we could use a few statues of Flipper.

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