Right! I’m a woman on a mission to catch up (again, yawn) on my travels. Focused and in the zone (well in Wellington’s public library actually).
Here are the top seven stand out memories of my trip down New Zealand’s North Island:
1.The magical glow worms at Waitomo Caves
Waitomo is the Maori for water hole – and centuries of erosion have formed caves that are now home to the romantic glow of the arachnocampa luminosa. Smart marketers called them glow worms, realising I suspect, that glow maggots wouldn’t have the same appeal.
I took a boat ride through one of the most superbly illuminated underground tunnels – it was so jaw-droppingly beautiful it was almost too perfect, like we’d fallen into Disneyland, but this was real. If you ever get the chance, go.
2. An evening spent in a Maori meeting house
Heading over to the east coast of the Bay of Plenty to Mourea for a ‘cultural overnight stay’, I was a little apprehensive about how cheesy the ensuing events might be. And then I decided to have fun regardless of what might be ahead of us. Greeted by the traditional nose press hello, our host family were absolutely lovely and hopefully had a few laughs at our pitiful attempts to recreate Maori dances.
Sadly, or luckily, I have no pictures of our poi dancing – especially as 20 uncoordinated Western women swinging pompoms on strings was never going to end well. But we gave it our best shot, even though, in hindsight, the men were always going to win the battle of the sexes with their Haka chanting – because they had a trump card under their t-shirts – their bare naked chests.
I’m really not sure how often Maori people actually dance the hokey cokey (which people in this part of the world call hokey pokey for some reason) but we did get to learn a little bit of the Maori language whilst shaking it all about.
If you feel like having a go yourself, pick your favourite bits to wiggle and have fun…
To ringa matau ki roto, to ringa matau ki waho
to ringa matau ki roto, ka hurihurihia
Kei te hopehope au (I swing my hips)
kei te hurihuri (I turn about)
kei te pakipaki au e. (I clap)
mahunga – head
makawe – hair
kanohi – face
taringa – ear
rae – forehead
tukemata – eye brows
karu – eyes
ihu – nose
paparinga – cheeks
pahau – facial hair
waha – mouth
kauae – chin
kaki – neck
uma – chest
ringa – hand
ringaringa – hands
matimati – fingers
puku – stomach
pito – belly button
hope – hip
nono – rear
waewae – leg
matau – right
maui – left
roto – in
waho – out
One thing we learnt about was the significance of the shaking hand gestures in Maori dance – a wobbling hand is used to denote an emphasis of feeling. Who knew that my natural tremor, which a doctor once dismissed as being due to me having a giant head – and therefore having certainly suffered brain damage at birth – meant that in Maori circles I’m a woman that really feels things!
The evening ended with an attempt at the record for biggest adult slumber party, with more than 40 of us jammed into the Wharenui (Maori Meeting House), mattresses covering the whole floor.
There followed a hot, stinky, snore-reverberated night with the ubiquitous sleep-interrupting-girl-screaming-out-loud-from-her-nightmare (thank god it wasn’t me this time, once was enough!). But the lack of sleep didn’t dampen the fun of the evening, not one bit.
3. Admiring some local artwork
Whilst in Rotorua I had planned on getting a personally designed moko (tattoo) but the biennial Kapa Haka competition was in town and our host from the night before, Richie, was a participant. It seemed too good a chance to miss.
Although we were a day early for the proper competition, we had ample compensation in the wonderous sight of Richie’s decorated ass.
4. Dodging the rotten eggs in Rotorua
Hotbed of geothermal activity, due to a particularly thin earth’s crust beneath it, Rotorua is renowned for its hot pools. Oh and its stench. A sulphurous stink, like rotten eggs, that transported me back to high school chemistry class and the ever-present fear that a girl in our class called Anne would finally succeed in burning us all to death in a horrific bunsen burner ‘accident’. This threat was more than a figment of my fancy, for Anne had had a book of poetry published at age nine. Enough said.
5. Witnessing the phenomenal power of Huka Falls
Some things in nature show you so very clearly that you don’t have to be big to be awe-inspiring. And so it is with Huka Falls. A piddly 11m high but powerful enough that it could fill an olympic sized swimming pool every 3 seconds. Not somewhere I fancy white-water rafting.
6. Enjoying the peace and quiet of Blue Duck Lodge
On holiday? Feel the need to shoot a goat? Well you’ve come to the right place! Or the wrong place if you are an animal-loving vegetarian like me.
Despite my reservations about letting untrained tourists take pot shots at live animals (even if they are considered a pest), I have to acknowledge they do some good work on this 9000 acre working farm, preserving the Blue Duck (Whio in Maori), which is now an endangered species (and not, I understand, from previous tourists paying to shoot them).
The lodge is sat in the middle of nowhere and the sense of tranquility is so all pervasive that it was all I could do to sit and read and meditate and sit a bit more.
Oh and kill some goats*.
7. Walking in the Tongariro National Park
The National Park is mainly famous for its alpine crossing – which is currently not a crossing but a ‘half way there and return’ trek due to last year’s volcanic eruptions destroying much of the path.
I’ve climbed a volcano before and it didn’t make my ‘should do again’ list – particularly not the downhill bit, so instead I opted for delightful 6km round trip jaunt to a waterfall.
Followed by a ride up the mountain (so much more civilised than walking), an afternoon siesta and then a dip in the hot tub before a scrummy dinner.
Everyone doing the main hike came back looking knackered, so I definitely made the right call. Plus I still get to say I went walking in the Tongariro National Park.
* Not really.