Holes, Hobbits, Hongis, Hangis and Hakas

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, May 15, 2004

After bidding AJ farewell in Auckland (she had to go home and 'close some deals' or whatever it is that people with jobs do) whilst the remaining Stray cats rejoined the bus to go south to Raglan. As all you surfer dudes know, Raglan is a surfing mecca, famous for having the longest lefthand break in the world, apparently. Instead of learning how to 'hang ten' I decided to try and walk up Mount Karioi but the wet and slippery conditions made it a bit treacherous and I only made it half way up. It's so much easier on a quadbike!

It was an early start on Friday 14th as we had some caves to explore. The Waitomo region has over 350 underground caves - and that's just those which have been found. There are several tours on offer ranging from the rather dull to the outright mental. I went 80% mental with the four hour Haggas Honking Holes trip, a mere 8/10 on the Rambo scale.

Donning a wetsuit, helmet and boots we descended into the pitch black down a 20m waterfall, the only light coming from our helmet torches. The cold water was refreshing to say the least but with all the crawling and climbing through streams and squeezing through gaps in the limestone I was soon quite toasty. It took me back to when I was in the Viet Cong tunnels in Saigon, only this time I was crawling through water in the dark and there were no gooks about.

The stalagtites and stalagmites, along with the thousands of glow worms stuck on the cave ceiling, made for some memorable sights, but after that final climb out of the ground I was glad to collapse onto the waiting Stray bus.

From the Waikato region in the west we drove through the town of Matamata (location of The Shire in You Know What of the Friggin What films, and now known as Hobbiton) before reaching Hahei Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. We spent the next morning on a two hour walk around the coast to the beautiful Cathedral Cove, before hopping on the bus to Hot Water Beach. Much of the North Island is volcanic, and on this beach at low tide you can dig a hole in the sand and sit in the hot water from the underground thermal pools. I only managed to dig my toes in a little way, but it was enough to leave me with scolded tootsies.

After lunch (when I burnt my tongue on a meat pie, to complement my sore feet) it was back on the Stray bus driving along the Bay of Plenty, through the kiwi fruit orchards of Te Puke (pronounced Te Pookie) to the small fishing village of Maketu where we were to spend the night experiencing some culture at a Maori home.

We met our host, Uncle Boy, and were greeted by a traditional hongi (nose-press) followed by a traditional hangi (a meal consisting of beef, chicken, veggies, and sweet potato slow-cooked in a hole in the ground). We then learned about Maori history and culture before the real fun began.

About ten local school kids ranging in age from five to twelve who, along with their parents, put on a cultural singing and dancing show. The girls sang and danced with poi (balls on a flax string) and the boys performed the haka wardance. If you've ever seen the All Blacks perform one before a rugby game you know how intimidating it can be, and these kids and fathers were no exception. They reall got into it, shouting and singing, eyes wide, mouths open and tongues wagging to simulate eating their enemies. Along with the thigh and chest slapping I could see why Cook had had a hard time when he first landed - but at least he didn't run away like that tart Tasman.

At Uncle Boy's insistence all the Stray chicks had to learn to dance with the poi and the dudes had to learn the haka. After about twenty minutes of pulling faces and slapping thighs we had it down - sort of. I was taught by a fat kid who didn't really have the moves down himself yet, but he was damn good at the 'I'm going to eat you' faces. We performed it twice to much amusement to the locals, but it was really good fun - and definitely worth the bruised thighs!
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