As the last week has been pretty action packed, I figured I had to get online and get a blog up because if any more time went by I’d have way too much to write about for one sitting. So, since my last entry I have been traveling down the North Island. I started out in Hahei, near the Coromandel Peninsula, where I stayed with the 20 other people I was traveling with on my stray bus tour. Stray is a company that organizes tours, but not in the tacky tourist way. It is geared towards independent travelers and helps to take you away from the mainstream stuff to see the really unique aspects of New Zealand. When we first got to Hahei, a bunch of us did a really long coastal walk and then chilled at the beach for a while. We then had an awesome barbeque at our holiday park before going to hot water beach that night. Hot water beach is aptly named, as you can bring shovels and dig holes near the edge of where the waves come in to the shore and steaming hot water swells up from the sand, thereby creating your own personal hot tub on the beach. I would dig super hot holes, and then run into the ocean to get a super cold rush. It was a really cloudy night, so you couldn’t see any stars in the sky and it made the beach really dark and the water look black. Because of the darkness, we could see spawning phytoplankton which look like fireflies shining white. As cheesy as it sounds, the best way to describe it is that it looked like the stars had fallen from the sky, as the water was black and speckled with hundreds of white lights. Sometimes they would even stick to you and you would be glowing yourself. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I think that part of what made it so awesome was that it was completely unexpected. We didn’t read about it in any guidebook or hear about some tour where you could do what we did, it just happened. We dug our own hot pools in the sand and discovered a starry ocean and no one can market or sell that experience.
The next day we headed to Raglan, home of world famous surfing. I took a surf lesson, and I actually stood more times than not! I think the longest I could stay on was only like 3 seconds though, if that. But apparently just standing was good so I guess it was a success. After the first day of surfing, a group of us went to watch the sunset and drink at this beautiful lookout that seemed to have the effect of an infinity pool into the ocean. Then me, this beautiful french girl Emile, this tall good looking Swedish man named Magnus, and a young German stud named Maximilian navigated our way through the pitch black forest to the flying fox (more or less a zip line) at our hostel. You literally could not even see your feet in front of you, and as I had not seen the zip line earlier in the day, I had no idea where I was going as I carried the line up a hill, stumbling along the way, until I ran into a wooden platform. I jumped up on the platform, grabbed onto the rope, and was terrified as I jumped off, not having any idea where I was flying or if I was about to smack into a tree or fall off a cliff. The risk in doing this was heightened by the fact that this wasn’t a monitored activity, this was just the four of us finding a zip line in the woods and deciding to fling ourselves on it. At the end of the line I swang forward and then it flew me backwards into the woods. It was scary as hell but so much fun. We then headed over to the sports barn, which was basically just an open barn with ping pong tables, surf boards, air hockey, poker tables, etc. We sat around the poker table and took turns teaching each other drinking games from our countries. I taught the group kings, and I’m happy to report it was definitely the best game offered up. Cheers to you, alcoholic youth of america. Needless to say, that night ended in debauchery.
My bus of friends left the next morning, but I decided to stay in Raglan and surf for the next few days. Unfortunately, the first day was probably my best surfing day, as the conditions were super intense the next few days and it was a huge struggle to even get out far enough to catch a wave. They also gave me a smaller board (bigger is easier) which I clearly was not ready for because I spent a lot more time falling off. Even though you can hardly call what I was doing on that board surfing, I still had a ton of fun learning and spending the days at the beach. Surfing is addictive, so looks like I’ve got another hobby to add to my ridiculously random list.
After Raglan, I headed to Waitomo, home of famous caving. I decided to go on an extreme caving adventure, and I have a huge gash/burn in my hand to tell the story. I basically spent the day doing the equivalent of canyoning, just underground and in darkness. I abseiled down underground waterfalls, threw myself off small cliffs, crawled through small tunnels you swear you will never make it to the other side of, and rock climbed in the dark. There were 6 of us and 2 guides, who did not hold our hands either. They’d be like OK at the bottom of this waterfall, take the caribener off, crawl through that tunnel, jump off the ledge on your right and then follow the water to a rope and wait there. So then I’d make it to the bottom of the waterfall, have water pounding down into my face and be turning around looking for a possible way to go but seeing none, and then realize that a small little crevice in the rock is my only exit option. I’d then take off on my own, pissing myself, hoping that I was throwing myself into the right tunnel. It’s a wild feeling to be trapped in a cave, 80 meters below the ground, water flowing at you from all directions, with no one and no escape in sight.
After this adventure, I left for Maketu, where I would stay the night in a Marai. A Marai is a Maori meeting house (the Maori are the native NZ people) where they have community meetings, funerals, church services, etc. I ate with this family of Maoris, then they performed some spiritual dances for me and the other guests. The women then taught me the Poi, the dance of the women to entertain the men. The guys learned the Haka, a sacred dance calling to their ancestors. We then performed with the Maori family, which was an honor and a truly unique experience. That night we slept in the main hall of the Marai, everyone together in one room on the floor. Today I am in Rotorua, home of zorbing (flying down a hill in a giant clear ball) and heavy thermal activity. Perhaps a mud bath tomorrow? A thermal spa? So many options, today I am happy to just relax on my own. And tend to my wound. Ouch.