Summer is nearly over here in Aotearoa, so I hit the road again leaving the Bay of Islands behind and hitchhiked south back to Auckland City to begin my travels further down to the rest of the North Island......
Stray for some social interaction with other adventurous travellers which as by name, strays off the 'beaten track' and gives you these cool opportunities to do things you wouldn't necessarily be able to do as a lone traveller - so I hopped on board with a Kiwi driver 'Happy' leaving the city rain of Auckland behind and headed south on the bus towards the hippy surf town of Raglan stopping off at a 55 metre waterfall called 'Bridal Veil Falls' , it has that name because well.......its supposed to look like the veil of a bride on her wedding day....whatcha think?
Fortunately the weather cleared up for us by the time we reached Raglan Town where we went to stay in a funky resort called Karioi Lodge up in the rainforest with a sweet view over the ocean - it was also home to Raglan Surf School so when the rain settled and the sun came out, those of us who were up for getting out on the surf kitted up with wetsuits and hired a board from the school and pretended to be surfer dudes....
Return to Raglan Beach..., the rain previously seemed to keep everyone else away but we braved the choppy waters and glaring sun to try and catch some waves, very tough but the Stray crew gave it a go!
Swingin' Waitomo Caves
When you're a traveller on Stray you're pretty much guaranteed an adventurous few days whilst on the bus with other travellers with the amounts of activities and opportunities to get your teeth into in New Zealand. Leaving funky Raglan after a night in the rainforest and 'fish and chups' we left the coast and headed inland to visit Waitomo Caves - meaning 'Water in the Ground/Caves' in Maori for a mixture of adventures on offer. Most opted for 'tubing' sitting in well....a tube floating down the waters of the caves in the dark and looking up at the roof of the cave at thousands of glow worms which looked like this.....
Pretty cool hey??? like constellations of cave stars. They're really maggots and their glow is actually......wait for it.....their faeces...yep seriously...they are worm like maggots who entice their prey (flies, spiders etc...) with their glow and have long strands hanging from the cave which traps them and they can't escape - woah!
They could just be a load of LED lights really....
But of course, that was too easy to do it like that...so a handful of us opted to do an Indiana Jones style adventure and go visit them 80 metres under the surface of limestone and see them up close on the calcium carbonated rock.....just to make sure they're weren't LED lights....ha
....by abseiling down the waterfalls.....quite a very wet and alarming 4 hour tour and I convince myself I'm bonkers
Night in the Mourea Marae
Now this was a special stop on the Stray Journey and the one I'd been most looking forward to. We were going to be having a cultural evening and staying in another Maori Marae named 'Rangitihi' of the Ngati Pikiao tribe in the small town of Mourea about 2 hours drive from Waitomo just outside of Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty.
Nestled on Lake Rotoiti, this would have been the third Marae I had been officially 'welcomed onto' but I always looked forward to staying in Maraes because each one was different with their stories behind the ancestors and the beautiful carvings that adorn them - plus.... you always learn something new about Maori culture from staying in all Maraes.
Being welcomed on, us woman had to work in front of them this time as the Marae had been built on battle field which hosted a tribal war so much blood was shed on the grounds and its protocol that the men would walk behind the woman to watch out for the danger from the outside and the woman would watch for any danger coming from the Marae....interesting stuff
It was protocol that when we all entered the Marae, taking shoes off of course (to leave any bad spirits out of the Nue Whare Meeting House) that we listened to the chief with his welcome speech and song and then greeted him and his family with the 'hongi' touching eachother's noses (apparently if it is done three times, its a sign of marriage intentions) to make yourself part of their family......then we had to do it to eachother!
Ha! I think we all had sore noses after all that nose pressing!
Part of our experience with the Ngati Pikiao people was for them to give us a cultural experience of the women swinging the 'poi' and the men demonstrating the Haka dance in all their Maori pride and traditional dress.....
Sneaky clip of the Haka dance for us....
Then...it was our turn..
yep.....we girls had a lesson of our own from the ladies of a Poi dance themselves and had to perform to the boys....
......who were too busy learning the Haka themselves outside!
Think we did an ok job in the end...but was really good fun!
We were going to be sleeping in the Nui Whare with the ancient ancestors guarding us as we slept so as in the army had to arranged 34 mattresses, sheets, pillows and sleeping bags for our night sleeping together in the Marae - just like a massive slumber party really!
I found his knowledge of his culture and roots really interesting, learning that the reason why you'll find the colour of the carvings inside a Marae always red, is because it is representing the red ochre colour of the clay that Maori's believe was used to mould the frame of the first woman that the forest god 'Tane' breathed life into.....
The Forest God 'Tane' is very important in Maori culture and is acknowledged constantly as he was the one that separated his parents, the Sky Father 'Ranginui' and the Earth Mother 'Papatuanuku' apart from their strong embrace to let light in the world and relieve the earth from the darkness of their closeness. The rain is what Maori's believe are the Sky Father's tears from being separated from his beloved wife.....don't you just love how the Maori's see the world? I do! The connection they have is so profound to everything around them that we Europeans could never really have.....its so magical.
Anyhow, the ancestors served us well and we awoke refreshed the next morning to move on to the Rotorua to hop off and go my own way and carve my own adventure in the Maori capital of New Zealand....watch this space :)
Bay of Plenty, New Zealand