Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My inner Zen

I awoke today with a slight sadness as this was my last day in Hamilton before I had to continue on my way. As such I had time to fit in one last activity before I had to start my drive. Since I had been in Hamilton I had been bombarded with suggestions most of which I must admit came from more mature residents of the city to visit the Hamilton Gardens the city's number one attraction, I had initially discarded the option feeling it did not fit in with the youth tourist experience. However with time running out and the knowledge it was free I caved in and took the short walk down to the gardens to see what all the fuss was about.

I can truly say I am glad I did, I was generally surprised by the gardens especially the themed gardens which were stunning with my favourite being the Japanese garden, which provided me with a Zen moment and allowed me to reflect on my time in Hamilton.

I had a great time in Hamilton, interacting with the locals, enjoying the beautiful scenery, experiencing the nightlife and cuisine. I felt I had achieved an insight into youth tourism and the investments they place in their tourism practices and the importance it plays in their own constructions of identity. This search for cultural capital which was regulated by this quest for authenticity and "real" experiences dominated my interactions and experiences as one of the most important aspects of youth tourism. This worked to ensure travel was done the "right" way and thus allowed valued cultural capital to be gained and constructions of social and class based identities not to mention self identities to be constructed from the experience, making the youth tourist experience of great importance. As Munt puts it travelling acts as an "important informal qualification with the passport acting, so to speak as professional certification, a record of achievement and experience" (Munt, 1994, pg.112).

Chasing Waves

My friend and one of his flat mates were heading out to go surfing in the Coromandel for the day, and asked if I wanted to come, of course I jumped at the chance with the option to finally fulfil an adventurous activity which plays a big role in the youth tourism as a sense of difference and challenge is required in order to benefit and grow as a youthful identity.

We drove through the lush countryside, on through the small town of Paeroa where we drank the world famous in New Zealand L&P soft drink. Through the Karangahake Gorge were we stopped at the natural reserve and with a fair degree of coaxing jumped into the Waitawheta River below which well and truly provided for this youth adrenalin rush which dictates many of their activities and tourism practices. We reached our destination of Waihi Beach were I spent the day attempting to catch some waves and enjoying the beach vibe. After another surf in the afternoon and with the help of my friend and his flatmate as my surf instructors I managed to catch a few nice rides much to my own amazement. With surfing the awesome waves of New Zealand well and truly ticked off my list we packed up and headed back to Hamilton for my last night.

A major asset of Hamilton is the beautiful and diverse surrounding areas and Hamilton's tourist marketing encompasses this, positioning itself as a central hub in which provides a great place to base yourself to enjoy the city but also the surrounding scenery and activities. This is often representative of youth tourists having a central point through which they travel from and experience the surrounding activities and places of interest, before moving on to another central location.

Continuing the NZ tradition

For my fourth night in Hamilton I had arranged to stay at an old university friends place in Hamilton. When I arrived later that day his place turned out to be a flat and the bed turned out to be his couch, regardless it was more than suitable for my continued youth tourism experience. In a sense it continued this New Zealand tradition of crashing on a mates couch while on their big overseas experience (OE) it also maintained this youth backpacker experience of travelling on the cheap.

I was glad to be staying in the flat as it provided me with an insight into the perspective and the lives of the locals, allowing a true feel of what its like to live in Hamilton, this worked to further my viewpoint of any claim to "really" know a place is claiming to get behind the scenes (Desforges, 1998).

In terms of the youth tradition of "crashing" with a mate where possible, it opened up this broader tradition associated with youth travel. Youth is a time in which travel and high levels of mobility play a strong role. It is a time in which youth have the freedom to find out about the world and themselves as part of this transition into adulthood. Travel is thus an important process, a rite of passage in youths life in which they not only gain valuable experiences and cultural capital but they also extend their own sense of identity. Travel therefore plays a fundamental role in youth's transition into adulthood helping to construct their own identity.

That night I attended a local gig in the city with my friend and his flatmate's and again the Hamilton nightlife culture did not disappoint. In my case the gig provided me with a chance to absorb some New Zealand culture and experience a majority local event not over run my tourists which provided a more "real" and authentic experience. It is important to note here that concerts, sporting events and other festivals often play a central part in youth tourism practices, dictating travel, accommodation etc.

Canadian canoeing on the mighty Waikato

I awoke this morning rearing to go feeling 100% after yesterday's lay day. I had enjoyed my walk along the Waikato River so much a couple of days ago; I decided to head back and take it a step further by canoeing on the river in non other than a Canadian style canoe. I hired a canoe from a local tourist operation and choose a self guided option where I was free to meander along the river at my own pace. Once again the scenery was beautiful and provided a totally different view from the river as I headed downstream with ease, I had arranged to be picked up at Swarbrick Landing on the outskirts of the city and dropped of back in the CBD, which I was glad as I didn't favour the arduous task of paddling my canoe back upstream.

The canoe trip once again allowed me to relate back to this importance of authentic and "real" experiences, which I had strived to achieve. I opted to canoe the river as opposed to a river cruise as it allowed me to transverse the river on my own merits as I feel MacCannell illustrates through his idea of avoiding the more "staged" tourist encounters and instead seeking the genuine backstage experiences and interactions (MacCannell, 1976). I opted for the canoe over the cruise which I felt was more performed and commercial as opposed to this sense of pioneering, challenging and less commercially influenced experience the canoe trip allowed and in that it also provided me with the chance to gain valued cultural capital.

Riff Raff and rugby balls

In response to my fragile state I decide to have a day of recuperation and take it easy. After lunch at the backpackers I ventured back into the heart of the city where I checked out the Riff Raff statue out of the rocky horror picture show to get a photo. This represented a cliche tourist site with a number of tourists arriving to get their photo with the iconic statue and the photo allowed me to show friends back home that I had visited the city where Richard O'Brien the creator had conceived the idea for the rocky horror. Very much a culturally important location.

Later I headed out to The Base, a large retail complex where I indulged in the classic tourist practice of retail therapy. I brought a Chiefs rugby jersey and ball which is Hamilton's and the greater Waikato's professional rugby team competing in the Super 14, to which I was later informed to my disgust that they were being well and truly beaten in this years competition, making me rethink the option of attending a home game. I also brought a a few more New Zealand items such as a New Zealand branded shirt, a small stuffed kiwi and a green stone necklace.

The purchasing of souvenirs and other items is a representative act of collecting place, by buying items which are place specific and have selected meanings attached helps with this accumulation of cultural capital once they are displayed back home. As the collection of places refers to this notion that places and experiences are gathered for the purpose of being able to use this capital, to be put on display so to speak and benefit from the investment (Desforges, 1998). This gives the impression of collecting places as a contemporary expression of class identity being projected and upheld through tourism.

Flaming shots and fuzzy reminders

I awoke this morning feeling a bit worse for wear of which was largely down to my own demise. Once again being true to my word and in the name of research I immersed myself in the youth tourism culture, a big part of which involves experiencing the local nightlife, in my case I was subject to the infamous Hamilton nightlife. It started out innocently enough with a few quite drinks back at the backpackers with the fellow tourists, this however rapidly grew with great gusto and before long with a stride in my step we were heading into the CBD to discover first hand what Hamilton had to offer.

It turned our Hamilton has a very lively night time culture which was centred around this South end of Victoria St which i has experienced earlier in the day being immersed in this cafe scene, however come night and it transforms into an entertainment hot spot backed with bars and clubs and particularly on the Thursday Night I was out, over run with young student revellers. Bars such as the Outback and Bar 101 are some what fuzzy reminders of my cultural capital quest. Indulging in local iconic traditions such as a back draft (shot lit on fire and sucked through a straw) in the Outback do play a big role in this process of collecting place, by consuming icon features of the place it helps the tourist in really experiencing the place and getting a greater sense of what the place is really about adding to the experiences and knowledge available to the tourist.

On a serious note, the local nightlife plays a big part in youth tourism, experiencing the exciting and vibrant city culture which is know more evident than at night. The night time economy is riddled with space and place relations. In terms of Hamilton the bars, clubs provide a space in which tourists can interact with locals and are highly valued. A lot of the venues are set up to encourage the tourists presence, especially youth who in terms of geographies of space hold a lot of power in the night time economy, with it traditionally being seen as their spatial place of interaction.

Trekking the Mighty Waikato

After a good sleep last night I'm up early and ready to go for my first full day in Hamilton. I've decided what better place to start my exploration of Hamilton than at is most dominant feature, the mighty Waikato River, New Zealand's longest at 425 kms. I opted against a guided river tour and instead since the weather was fine and I had energy to spare I set out to trek the banks of the river. I stroll along at my own pace enjoying the natural scenery, I even debate at one stage to take a dip in the river, but quickly change my mind after a rather cold toe test. After a couple of hours I arrive back at my starting point thoroughly exhausted and in need of a rest but content with my interaction with the natural environment and sense of accomplishment from the challenge, which I feel allows "true" cultural capital to be gained.

This is key among youth tourists in the search for authentic and "real" experiences, which represents a fundamental importance in their trip in order to truly gain valued cultural capital. In this sense the attractions and activities they interact with will be less structured and guided, being more representative of free and independent tourists (FIT). Authenticity also plays a role in dictating our travels as it is through this search for authenticity (and in a larger sense cultural capital) that can be seen to relate to larger issues of class and status differences based on the consumption of tourist experiences as positional goods (Moforth & Munt, 1998).

In light of my state of exhaustion, I felt I had earned a good lunch so I headed back from the river to the bustling cafe scene at the South End of Victoria St, where I sat in the warmth of the winter sun and watch the people hurry by.

Eagles nest and exploring the city

I checked into my accommodation earlier today, the Eagles Nest Backpackers located on the main street Victoria Street in the heart of the city. I choose to stay at this back packer accommodation as it is characteristic of youth tourism practices, providing a cheap place to stay. It was also appealing due to its central location so it was easy to get around and explore the city and it provided an avenue to stay with and meet other like minded tourists which plays a big part in the youth travel experience in terms of the relationships they form being of high importance.

Once settled in I decided to head out and explore the city and the sights it had to offer.

This represents my first interaction with Hamilton and highlights this phenomenon of collecting places. Collecting places is highly evident among youth tourists, look at any blog or social networking site and they are saturated with the images of young tourists in exotic, exciting locations taking part in adventurous activities they have undertaken on their travels. These photos represent a form of collection, with the main use of these photos/videos, souvenir's, language etc. is to be put on display back home and act as a form of visual and physical proof. I have framed Hamilton as containing a set of valuable experiences and knowledge which i aim to set out and collect with the goal of accumulating cultural capital. Cultural capital in turn is converted to narrate new identities (both public and personal) and act as a marker of difference in class, social and economic identities.
My interaction with Hamilton in terms of photos, experience's and souvenir's allows me to collect the place, it in a sense allows me to collect Hamilton's experiences and knowledge on offer and tick it off my list. This gained cultural capital from my time in Hamilton will further allow me to distinguish myself from others based on my tourism consumption practices and can provide me a higher degree of class and social based identity on my return, due to my valued experiences and knowledge (cultural capital) collected on my travel's. This search for cultural capital in the tourist experience which can be beneficial to the tourist upon return plays a role in dictating the tourist experience in terms of places to travel and activities to partake in, all with the fundamental quest for cultural capital in mind.