Maori Madness

The only issue I have with Stray is the constant early mornings. At least with the car you can dictate when you want to get up… 7:30am every day when you are on holiday is not always the most fun. But Stray is all about getting you “out there” and that generally means longer drives and earlier starts.

En route to Raglan

We leave Hahei at a suitably early time for the long drive to Raglan. There are a couple of stops along the way, including in Hamilton (where we watched the cricket) and in Paeroa, home of NZ’s “world famous” Lemon&Paeroa (L&P) drink. It’s fizzy, so obviously I don’t like it, but apparently it goes great with Canadian Club. What doesn’t mix well with canucks, eh?

Raglan itself is a surfer’s haven. Even the main beach isn’t so much sand as a grassy hill overlooking great surfing waves. A few of the people on the bus head off to learn how to catch a wave, but I’ve fulfilled my surfing quota for this holiday. The hostel in Raglan is nestled up in the trees and hosting a wedding, so unfortunately we can’t take part in the free flying fox. And after our bottle of pesto sauce goes missing, Lofty and I improvise a pasta with ingredients from our giant orange cool bag and the ubiquitous ‘free shelf’. Turns out great!

Blackwater Rafting and Maori Dancing

Waitomo is glowworm central. I had my first glowworm experience in Dunedin, where a path from our campsite led to a small enclave filled with the little lights (we only got a little bit lost in the dark, thank god for head torches). Waitomo is also home to ‘black water rafting,’ something that sounds different and cool but in reality is quite tame, at least by my adrenaline standards. We get kitted out in thick black wetsuits, helmets and ‘gumboots’ (aka wellington boots). After hiking through the bush (not fun in a wetsuit) we crawl down a small hole to get to the caves. Then it is a glowworm experience, and I have to admit it is pretty cool. Glowworms in abundance. They form constellations in the dark, and it’s hard to remember that we are underground and not outside, under the stars. Glowworms are actually fly larvae (aka maggots) and the light they produce is their waste product. That casts a different light on the star analogy. When we turn our headlamps back on, we can see the dangling strings of web they hang to catch their food. Each worm drops between 20 and 30 lines. In the light, you can see the larvae wriggling along their web like translucent liquid through a straw.

The first tubing tunnel is fun. We jump into the tubes from a tall ledge and float through in the dark. The tunnel is called “aria alley” and we sing everything from love songs to ‘Happy Birthday.’ After that it is a matter of crawling over jagged rocks, avoiding stalagtites (and -mites) and trying to keep the frigid water out of our gumboots.

Uncle Boy’s Maori Spectacular

“Uncle boy” is the enigmatic owner of a Maori homestead in Maketu. Stray advertises this as the best night on tour and the excitement is high. Uncle Boy gives us all a big welcome speech and we perform the traditional Maori greeting of touching noses. Then… eats! It’s not a traditional hangi (where food is cooked in steamy ovens in the ground) but the food is yummy anyway. The best part by far is the dessert… a delicious pavlova.

After dinner, the fun really begins. A group of young people (between 5 and 23) from the area perform a traditional Maori welcome dance for us. It’s one of the most unwelcoming dances you can imagine, as they make some scary faces with wide eyes and poking-out tongues. But we are assured that it only means good things… I can’t imagine what the first Europeans to watch one of these dances must have thought. They probably believed they were about to be killed and steamed in the hangi! The girls all have a ball on a string (a ‘poy’) which they twirl around with incredible skill. The boys are slapping their thighs and shouting and hitting each other with force, performing the ‘haka’. It’s these last two dances that we are going to learn. We’re split up into boys vs girls and the boys go into another room to learn the haka. All the girls are given a poy to work with and we are taught a basic (but tricky!) routine with a fair bit of shouting and looking scary involved… but mostly spinning and shaking our hips to the music. After about 15 mins of practice we are joined again by the boys and they give a stunning rendition of the haka! Talk about scary – but in a good way – for sure! It makes our rendition of the poy right after look positively lame by comparison. We all sleep en commune for the night and wake up (early) again, to head to Rotorua and Taupo for St. Paddy’s Day! Yes, this entry is that out of date… I’m trying desperately to catch up but there just aren’t enough internet hours in the day!


Stray bus!

Stray busI said I wouldn’t. After travelling with my own car for ages, watching tour bus upon tour bus descend on our pristine sights, I said I wouldn’t. But I have. I’ve joined the Stray bus. And frankly, I couldn’t be happier about it. Don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned Sunny (our rental car) completely – he is trucking Sarah to and from Auckland as we speak. But having the car by myself isn’t economical – gas prices are just way too expensive unless you are sharing the costs – and the bus is a fun way to meet new people and not have to worry about driving.

From Auckland to Hahei

I haven’t seen much of Auckland apart from where Sarah works and the front door of Base hostel. It’s somewhere I’ll explore at a later date, but we do get a great view of the city from the top of Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano. There is a huge compass there with distances on it, which reminds me just how far away I am from home!

We then travel up the Coromandel peninsular, another beautiful spot which is similar in a lot of ways to the Bay of Islands. Again, more stunning beaches – tough life, eh? The bus driver, Nana, drops us off at Cathedral Cove. We spend some time taking silly pictures and cursing other tourists who get in the way of the perfect shot… despite being annoying tourists ourselves.

We arrive back at the dorm to the smell of fish, sausages and lamb chops on the barbie… can’t say we don’t eat well on the trip either! After a huge feed, cooked by our awesome driver, we head out to Hot water beach. The sun is already setting and the beach is empty – that is, until we spot where the thermal pools are. There, despite the chilly early evening temperatures, girls are lounging around in bikinis and men in their swimsuits. The guys on the stray bus are carrying the shovels and preparing to dig. It takes a while for us to find the right spot (and eventually some of us usurp the holes already dug by other people) but once we do, hot water pools up out of the ground like an instant bath. The sea rushes up to the very edges of the pools, always threatening to cross and drown our hot baths with its cool, salty water but generally keeping its distance. The result is heaven. The water is a gorgeous temperature, as long as you avoid the places where it is scalding hot. We relax in the pools until night falls and we have to find our way back to the bus by moonlight.

Post-beach follows beer, poker and a discussion between myself, Manuel, Cameron (a fellow Canuck) and Lofty on what practical jokes to play on the other people on the bus… none are acted upon but I did learn never to share a room with Manuel.