For the last four days, I've been traveling along the north eastern corner of New Zealand where I had zero access to the internet, cell phone signals, or credit cards. With a pocket full of Kiwi dollars, I jumped on a bus from Taupo on Friday morning and headed off to Te Kaha. On the way we made stops at a sacred tree (which we hugged), several churches with beautiful Maori carving, and mostly just got used to our bus driver's wild driving through windy mountain roads (I would have been a little nervous but he's been rolling through these highways since 1959).
It was a quiet first night spent walking around the beach, taking in the sunset, and staring at stars. Early the next morning, we booked it down the coastline to Rangitukia where I spent the afternoon learning how to carve Maori designs out of beef bone. Later in the night I picked up a .22 rifle and fired a gun for the first time in my life. It wouldn't have been that big of a deal except that I was out at 11pm hunting for possum. (I know some of my "PETA" friends are scolding me for possum shooting but it was a one time experience that I took part in mostly because the possum in NZ are considered to be pests that eat bird eggs and destroy fruit trees and crops) I was surprised at how well I did with the rifle, swiftly picking off two possum from the moon roof of an SUV.
With blood on my hands (not literally) I slept soundly for a few hours before waking up early to hike up into the hills at 6am to watch the sunrise. From this point in New Zealand I was among the first in the world to see the beginning of the new day. By noon we'd arrived in the beach town of Tatapouri. There, I threw on some waders and walked out into the ocean to feed huge stingrays. These are the creatures that stung the late Steve Irwin. Weighing around 60kg, these guys swim right up to you for a bite of fish from your hands, waving the poisonous barb at you like a dog who's just gotten a treat. Afterwards, we watched one of the guys from Dive Tatapouri feed a little blue penguin that they were raising in captivity. It was a rare opportunity to see this species up close and fun to watch the little dude gobble up hunks of bait fish we'd caught while feeding the rays.
Afterwards, I grabbed a surfboard and tried my luck on some New Zealand waves. It was my first time on a fiberglass short board and it was really tough. Bigger waves than Australia and one slippery board made for a frustrating few runs. But once I got up a couple of times, it was all good. Later in the afternoon, we took a ride over to Whangara where the film Whale Rider was filmed. After taking a look at some prop whales and replica waka, we were invited into a Marae (a Maori meeting house) by one of the local elders. She gave some of the history of the people in the area and some behind the scenes details on the film and ended our visit to the Marae with a traditional hongi (the touching of noses between Maori's). Before we left, she also took a group of us down to the beach to do a blessing on the bone carvings we'd created the day before.
And today, it was back to Taupo. We stopped at a hot river where I watched steam rise around me as I sat beneath a waterfall, soaking my achy muscles. Bone carving, possum shooting, stingray feeding, surfing, and bathing in hot rivers... what a weekend.
Labels: New Zealand