On the Road Again, having a Zorb of a time

Trip Start Sep 03, 2004
Trip End Dec 22, 2004

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Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Hi again!

We just don't know where to start with this entry! We've only been in New Zealand less than a week, and only actually started our tour 3 days ago, but already we have done and seen so much, New Zealand is just simply amazing!!!

Firstly, maybe we should tell you about the tour we're doing. Originally we had booked to go on the Kiwi Experience, which we'd booked back home, not knowing there was an alternative. Well, there is. On Thursday in Auckland we went on a free city tour with a company called Stray, and already hearing a few stories about Kiwi Experience being a bit of an 18-30's bus, we were a bit miffed we hadn't known about this company. They also go to what we consider better places in New Zealand in that they don't really stop off in the big cities, taking you to the real NZ and actually go further off the beaten track. What really sold us with the company was the chance to stay in a lodge in the Tongariro National Park, right below Mount Doom - for those of you who've seen Lord of the Rings! - and the unique chance of a cultural stop in a Maori village, which we'll explain all about later! So, Stray offered us a free upgrade and are actually taking us even further for no extra charge, needless to say we were totally delighted and promised to spread good stories about them!

Onto our adventure...

Day 1 of Stray tour:

We drove from Auckland to a place called Raglan, a gorgeous town on the coast which has the world's longest wave break for surfing. On the way there we stopped off for a walk to Bridal Veil Falls, the most spectacular raging waterfall we've ever seen. Luckily, there was a rainbow right below it and we got some amazing photos, it was a real perfect way to be introduced to the nature and beauty of NZ.

Raglan had a beautiful beach, and although we didn't surf, we still enjoyed watching them and... the waves were biiiig! (Big Bapos to my bro Paul and the Lennons :-)) The lodge was called Kiori Lodge, set in the heart of native New Zealand Bush, totally secluded and really friendly. They'd loads of free activities, so while Andy shot some hoops, I went and relaxed in the sauna, just staring out into the forest and listening to the birds. Then, just before dusk, we'd walked down to the beach and were blessed with the most beautiful sunset - whatever way the clouds were, it looked like a crescent moon behind the golden sun, with the sky all lit up orange - beautiful! (I know I'm using that word a lot, and I know I will throughout New Zealand, that's just how to describe this BEAUTIFUL country!) You just have to look at the photos! After the beach, we were introduced to another of Kiori's free activities - The Flying Fox. It was pitch black and we all headed up into the bush, admiring the glow-worms on the way who were lighting up the bushes with their glowing bums, believe it or not! So, the Flying Fox, it's a zip rope, like what they did on the Krypton Factor. The real fun was that it was pitch black and you go up the hill, sit on the seat and just weeeeeeeee in the darkness, sounds silly, but was the best fun!

Day 2:

After a bit of a hiccup - the bus broke down - we finally set off for Waitomo, a town with an underground network of caves. We opted for an adventure activity - Tumu Tumu Toobing. Kitted out in wetsuits and helmets, we climbed down through a small hole into the ground which then opened up infront of us into caverns with a raging river running through. It was pitch black, the only light coming from the torches on our helmets. Over the next 3 hours we swam, crawled, squeezed, "toobed" and got very, very wet and cold exploring these wonderful caves. It was a truly amazing experience, and neither of us had done anything like it before! The caves were full of stalagtites and stalagmites that were millions of years old - it looked like a 1960's version of an outer space movie, and there was us looking like Mork and Mindy with the wetsuits, helmets and white wellies! Brilliant fun! The caves, at parts were lit up by the glow-worms and apparently the river had eels! If you wanna get a real idea of what we did, go to: http://www.lostworld.co.nz/tumutumu.html, cos we werent, obviously, able to bring the camera down.

Day 3:

Unfortunately the great weather we'd been lucky enough to have in NZ finally broke and so we missed seeing the Coromandel Peninsula, a paradise Beach. What we did this evening, though, made up for everything.

At 5pm we arrived in Uncle Boi's house. Uncle Boi is a Maori who can trace his ancestry right back to the very first Maoris who settled NZ, and he actually lives on the site where his particular tribe first landed. Uncle Boi was a really special man - he decided to invite backpackers who were able to be respectful into his home and share the Maori culture with them. As soon as we entered, he made it very clear (and you wouldn't mess with this guy!) that we were to treat his house as ours, and that we were welcome to stay as long as we liked. He then told us loads of stories about the Maoris and their culture and history> For example, the original name for NZ is Aotearoa which means "land of the long white cloud" because when the Maoris first discovered the land, the sky was covered in long, white clouds, funnily enough. The Maoris arrived in 1320, and were allegedly the first people to inhabit what's now NZ. They originally came from a land called Hawakki in the Maori language, which many people believe to be Hawaii. Uncle Boi then cooked us all a traditional Maori "hangi" meal, which is slowly cooked in the thermal ground, and was delicious!

After dinner, the real experience began - about 25 of Uncle Boi's family and tribe arrived for a traditional performance. They were mostly kids and teenagers, ranging from 6 to 17 years old , but what was so special is that it wasn't a professional group of performers, but a group of people who want a way to show their culture and perform traditions their ancestors did, and everyone there was there voluntarily. Although, when chatting to one of the little 7-year old girls, Jillian told her how great it was that she was so involved in her culture and asked her if she really enjoyed performing, and as amazingly innocent and funny children can be, the sweet little girl shrugged her shoulders and said "well, you get good money for it!". Cute.

There are Maori culture and language schools now, the Maori language was banned until 1980, so Uncle Boi's nights are a way for the locals to show the native culture to us tourists. And, it wasn't just them showing us their culture, we actually took part. All the fellas had to learn and perform a Hakka, with shirts off, of course. The girls learnt and performed a Poi dance, which involved twirling a ball around and shaking your hips all in time. It's hard to know which was the more difficult, or laughable to watch. You can all judge for yourselves in the photos. We both had an amazing night, it was such an experience, and it was so touching that the locals so clearly enjoyed performing for us, and good to know they "got good money" for it too. There was one 6 year old Maori boy who was so hyper and loud the whole night long. It would've been worth going just to see him on his own.

That night we drove on to Rotorua where we stayed in a hostel because the authorities have banned Uncle Boi from allowing backpackers to stay in house his. No.1 - it doesn't meet the safety regulations for being accommodation and no.2, they wanted a share of his profits!

Day 4:

Rotorua was a town that had a rather strange smell to it. It's built on ground where there is a lot of underground thermal activity, so the air smells of sulphur, just like stink-bombs adn rotten eggs. Thank God we only stayed one night, how people live there is beyond us. Before we left Rotorua, we visited a Maori village which was surrounded by thermal water-pools and mud-pools. We had a guided tour, and went to another cultural performance - this was by professionals, so although it was great to see, it just wasn't as personal as the night before at Uncle Boi's. The village itself was like something out of Star Trek. There were pools of boiling green water and bubbling mud, like nothing we'd ever seen before.

We then left Rotorua for Taupo, but before reaching Taupo, we did what we would definitely say was the funniest experience of our lives, "Zorbing". The Zorb is a large plastic ball that one, two or three people get into with a quantity of warm water, then you're simply pushed down a hill. So simple, but so much fun. The pair of us were laughing the whole way down. And Jillian did something in the Zorb that all the Mullan women, and Naomi Salmon, will know all about :-)

After we both got dried up, it was back on the road to Taupo. There wasn't much to do in Taupo, but on the way, Jillian and I won the bus quiz with Paul our fellow Paddy from Manorhamilton and Louise from London. Our prize was a $20 tab, wow, in Mulligan's bar. That was drunk, and much more. Big hangovers for both of us the following morning. I faded at about 1, while Jillian stayed out 'til 3.30!

More soon...
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