After the Bay of Islands, we drove back down to Auckland to pick up 5 more people and to switch tour guides. The rest of the North Island was led by a guy named Boom Boom. We were now 8 from the UK (6 English, 1 Irish, 1 Scottish), 5 Americans, one being a student in Australia, 2 Chinese who were also studying in Australia, 2 Germans, 2 Aussies, and 1 Swiss. In an attempt to stop cursing, Boom Boom would yelp “Holy catfish!” whenever the situation called for it. Will became thoroughly amused by this and the saying became a staple in the group. It worked until we starting saying “Fucking catfish!”
Now riding in the packed Boom Boom Bus, we headed towards Raglan with a brief stop at a sustainable farm run by a guy known as Charlie #2 and his wife Jan. Charlie #2 is a marine biologist who used to work for the government and is now running this farm after retirement. He charmed us with his stories as he led us to the alpacas, sheep, local birds, donkeys and his eel farm. Then, he gave us pieces of raw beef on skewers to feed the eels. Just a little swish of the raw beef in water drew the eels to the surface in a mad dash.
His dog, Minty, ran around in several psychotic circles then planted himself in front of everyone with his belly up. This wasn’t a volunteering event. It was a command to rub his tummy. Cutest, friendliest dog ever.
Charlie #2 then taught us how to spin and weave wool on contraptions that I’ve only seen in museums and Amish country. It was actually much harder than I thought but, with a really nice music playlist and a groove, I can see myself pounding out a whole wardrobe of wool sweaters in no time.
We then met another couple who ran a surfing school, the husband’s name being Charlie which was how Charlie #2 became deemed, well, number two.
We knew Stephen (the Irish guy) was a bit of a ladies’ man. We even witnessed him talking it up to an alpaca who had just sneezed.
Stephen: “Oh, bless you! I know how you’re feeling. One moment, we’re in warmer weather. The next, it’s colder. I understand.”
Stephen: “I had to buy throat lozenges. Would you like some?”
The rest of us looked on in amusement.
Later in the day, we went kayaking along the shore lined with stacks of pancake rocks, both in the water and out. There was a tiny opening in one of them which Lauren suggested paddling through. After thinking “uh, we ain’t fittin’ through that!” I said, “Sure, why the hell not?” We laid so far back on the kayak that we became one with it, and as we made it through while laughing maniacally, my nose nearly grazed the rock. We high fived each other in ultimate glory and everyone else, now intrigued, followed us and did the same.
(My photos from this day became corrupt on my camera. First photo above: taken with Lauren’s GoPro; the photo below was taken from a Google search)
We camped out the next couple of nights at the Lava Lounge which had an amazing hot tub. As a few of us girls stewed in the tub, a morepork (native owl) perched itself on an outdoor lamp and watched us judgmentally as we guzzled down bottles of beer and cider. Back indoors, the night started out with a separation between those of us born in the 80s and those in the 90s but, with an increasing amount of alcohol and an extremely TMI round of Never Have I Ever later, all of us quickly assimilated. You might say that mentioning “TMI” is a bit redundant but, if you’ve witnessed the game yourself, you also would’ve dubbed it TMI. Stephen, in an attempt to scope out which of the girls found his Irish accent hot, proceeded with “Never have I ever been turned on by an Irish accent.” Sorry, dude.
In the morning, we had a training session with the Raglan Surfing School to learn how to paddle with the incoming wave and stand up on the surfboard in one full swoop. The motions were broken down into 4 components – 1) while laying flat on the board with your toes touching the tail, place your hands on the board next to your chest, just below your shoulders; 2) lift your chest up while looking straight ahead; 3) pull one knee through, depending on if you’re goofy or regular, with your fingertips on the board; 4) stand up with your knees bent and your arms up by your chest. Yea, sweet as. Enter: actual water.
The sun was actually peeking through as we approached Ngarunui Beach. With thicker wetsuits on, the water didn’t feel as cold. The day was looking golden. Now, as a snowboarder, I thought surfing wouldn’t be as difficult. But, I only managed to get up once in the timespan of about an hour, with the help of the instructors pushing us into the incoming waves. By the end of it, I was so famished that I began dreaming of a ribeye steak or a really loaded burger. Heck, I just wanted a whole damn cow. Instead, we headed into town and bombarded a very tiny sushi place, Aloha Sushi Takeaways. Fresh NZ salmon don. Yea, I’ll devour that. Thanks. Flat white at Raglan Roast? Hell yea.
Not a complete group photo but, this one includes the 5 new people – Mani, Marlow, Anna, Alex and Jason.
Paddle boarding was canceled due to inclement weather and so, we chilled out at our lodge with a few of us tending to our neglected scrapbooks and journals. For some reason, Stephen became adamant on reading mine, thinking I had written about my many supposed sexcapades. After my numerous refusals, he wanted to reach a compromise that involved me summarizing my entries out loud using high quality adjectives and adverbs. This was key for him, being an English teacher. Upon hearing this, Boom Boom began to recite a mock version of my journal:
“Day 1. Arrived in Auckland. Had a coffee. Met a guy. Had a passionate night.
Day 2. Had a great breakfast. Could’ve used a bit more milk in my cereal. Met another guy. Another passionate night.”
Later on in the trip, I found my journal being sold in a stationery store and contemplated buying it and somehow placing it into Stephen’s luggage at the end of the trip, with the pages filled with fake entries and one page at the end saying “SIKE!” But, the journal cost a bit of money and the effort really wasn’t worth it.
To prepare for our next day’s visit to a Maori village in Rotorua, Boom Boom came up with the idea of doing a Chief Factor where the guys would compete to become the chief of our group. The chief is responsible for protecting their people, especially in time of battle. Since Maori women are so well-respected, only men can be chiefs to protect them. In our case, we didn’t really have such a great selection to choose from. (Script taken from a video clip.)
Will: “I…don’t even know what I’m doing…Yea…I think I’m out of this one. I’m really confused.” (To give you some background, he usually didn’t know what he was doing or what was going on.)
Lee (not pictured): “I don’t even want to be chief. I do my own thing and wander off aimlessly and I come back at the wrong time.”
Boom Boom: “So, he may not even be there for the battle.”
Kira: “No, he’d be off on a stroll. I feel not protected.”
So far, a poor showing.
Stephan: “I know Chinese Kung fu.” This one invoked very loud cheering, haha!
Alex: “I’m from Scotland and come from a long line of battle-fighting ancestors.”
Stephen, who had his shorts rolled up to boxer brief status to show off his runner legs: “Um, hello. Guten tag. Ahnyoung. Ni hao. G’day. I’m an 80s kid which means I’m experienced. Some people think I’m going bald. That’s actually not the case. This is a choice. I’ll protect all of you, which is a good thing. So, yes, I’m not bald. Also, I’m a bilinguist. I’m Irish so I love to fight. So, if there’s any problems, I’ll happily put my body on the line. We’re also great at hugging in Ireland so, I’m just going to open the floor if anyone wants a hug […] So, uh, that is why I want to be chief.”
Jason: “How’s it going, everybody? So, I’m usually quiet but, that could work towards my advantage. If you’re in danger, I could help you. If you’re scared, I could help you. If you’re lucky enough, maybe you could take off this belt (a belt made earlier that day from local palm leaves). So, I use the surroundings to my advantage. It is a nice belt. If any of you girls are lucky enough, I’ll be your chief.”
Julius: “I want to be your chief because…I’m the only one who can play the piano. AND, I’m brave. PLUS, I did the skydive. AND…eh, that’s it.”
Immediately, the girls shouted “I vote Lee!” just to annoy him but, guess who ended up being the chief? Yea, Stephen. We then ended the night with a flexibility contest where we all took turns bending down and picking up an empty cereal box with our mouths, our arms behind our back. With each round, Boom Boom cut the box smaller and smaller until it was just a flat cardboard flap on the ground. Did I pass all rounds? You bet I did!
We started the day at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Five of us did the Haggas Honking Holes which was supposed to be the high energy abseiling adventure, complete with rock climbing and squeezing through extremely small crevices with ice cold water flowing all around you. This is not for the obese or the claustrophobic.
After a briefing on how to abseil, we headed for the caves. You’re not allowed to bring cameras with you so, the guides took some shots for us during the adventure. This photo doesn’t accurately depict the 80-100m drop. SO COOL.
The stalagmites (g – ground) and stalactites (c – ceiling) were incredible. We ducked extra low to avoid hitting them with our helmets. If you knocked one down, you pretty much destroyed hundreds and thousands of years worth of growth. With that in mind, I ducked so low that I gave myself a few neck cramps. My favorite part was, obviously, turning off our head torches and seeing the glowworms…well, glow…like stars in the sky. Sticky glowing threads hung off each one to attract prey; seeing a whole bunch created a chandelier look. Hitting these threads would destroy their chances of capturing food and, therefore, surviving. So, I ducked even lower. There weren’t as many as I would’ve liked but, the experience was still great. The only dimmer to my experience was to hear that glowworms aren’t really worms but insect larvae. Insert tingle down spine.
You could tell that you were in Rotorua, a geothermal city, just by the steam and the smell of sulfur emanating from everywhere. A few people in the past made the mistake of diving into a nearby body of water, only to be burned to death by the waters boiling from the volcanic heat. Only go into thermal baths designated for human use! And, never dunk your entire head in as people were known to get severe ear infections from the water.
We then met with a Maori chief and his nephew in Ohinemutu who talked about their culture and showed us the Tamatekapua meeting house. When greeting people, they touch forehead to nose with the person, and breathe in deeply while still in contact. This is called the hongi (not hangi, the method of cooking from which our dinner was made). After they sung a few traditional songs for us, we all stood up, with Stephen as our chief, and sang for them a song which Boom Boom had us rehearse.
Te aro-ha (Love)
Te Whaka-pono (Faith)
Me te rangi-marie (And peace)
Ta-tou ta-tou e (Be amongst us all)
Sometimes I sing this song even now without realizing, while I’m doing chores or just walking in the city. During a Q&A, I asked them, “Is there ever a divide between those who are of full Maori blood and those who are mixed?” This question seemed surprising to him. He answered, “No matter what the percentage, if you’re Maori, you’re Maori.” Love that.
Tongariro National Park
The past few days were completely rainy and so miserable that the hikes along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing were canceled. Still, we all woke up at 4:30am in hopes of a sunny day. We were so damn lucky.
If you come unprepared, especially during the winter months, you can rent pretty much everything – hiking shoes, waterproof/warm clothing, a daypack, crampons, ice axes, gaiters, helmets, etc. I believe our tour came with crampons, ice axes, gaiters and helmets included.
Our group was joined by another 15 or so random people and we ended up splitting into 2 main groups – the fast hikers and the slow trotters. The guides up front had to periodically stop us so that the remaining people could catch up to us. We would be sweating and stripping off layers one minute, then putting back on the layers once we stopped, as our bodies would quickly cool down in the cold winds. As a result of all the stop-and-going, we couldn’t hike past the Red Crater summit to the Emerald Lakes as there wasn’t enough time for them to do an avalanche check and then for us to hike it and back before sunset. I now feel extremely determined to go back one day and hike the entire thing. Perhaps when it’s summertime.
Mount Doom is to the left. That would be Mount Doom of The Lord of The Rings. Insert glee here. Regardless of the slow trotters, the entire hike was all things amazing. All 20km of it. There were times when the wind was so fierce (wind chill was -10 C), any exposed skin would become extremely irritated. There would also be phases of clear sky and total fog.
I couldn’t even tell if I was walking in a straight line anymore. The snow was also going past my ankles, making the hike that much more thigh-burning. That is Mount Doom, still to the left. One guide went ahead of us to shovel out a path in the mountainside. Total props to you!
Before proceeding towards the Red Crater summit (and our eventual lunch spot), we were given a tutorial on how to put on our crampons and how to hold our ice axes. Because I’ve been to Iceland before, I was all like, “been there, done that, bitchessss.” Well, that’s what I was thinking inside my head. On the outside, I was helping people around me put theirs on. Come on, guys. I’m thoughtful! Right?
I could stare at this ALL DAY.
We tried to take a group photo. However, in typical Asian fashion, Sherry and Stephan were having a photo shoot here as they did at every tourist attraction. Pose with left arm on hip. Pose with right arm on hip. Pose with both hands on hip. Pose as if I just happened to turn my head as you were “candidly” capturing a shot of my backside. Pose with both arms up in the air. Okay, that was just the standing portion. Now, repeat while I sit, kneel, and lie on each side. Okay, now the wind is blowing in my favor. Capture that long black hair waving in the sunshine.
We all watched in complete amusement and maybe a bit of confusion. We also grew tired of waiting for them to come take a group shot with us. And, so, I had this genius idea of leaving a gap in the middle to “include” them in the photo. They had no idea what was going on and they kept posing on. Sherry (in the middle red jacket) was blocking Stephan though. Hey, we tried. By the way, I’m the 3rd from the left, squeezed in between 2 people with my helmet blending into the next person’s jacket. I swear I’m there.
In addition to bothering me about my journal, Stephen also questioned any girl who would be caught texting on their phones. “Are you sexting?” he would ask excitedly. That was usually answered with a dull no. Here, we caught him texting. “Well, are YOU sexting?” “I’m mountain sexting. And, later on when we mountain bike, I’ll be mountain bexting.”
Ohakune / Taihape / Wellington
On our way to our final North Island destination, we stopped at Ohakune and took photos with…a giant carrot. Apparently, this town is “where adventures begin.” Hm.
One thing I noticed about New Zealand was that several towns had very large statues of select fruit and vegetables. #veggiepride. If I had encountered this carrot early on in life, perhaps my vision wouldn’t be so bad. Yea, I know that was a total dad joke.
Moving on with our day of randomness, we stopped in Taihape for a gumboot throwing contest. Yea, there was an actual area dedicated to this. Boom Boom came prepared with a nice leopard print gumboot but, once we reached the throwing field, we noticed that gumboots were already supplied. The guys outperformed most of the girls and so, by the time it was Lauren’s turn, we cheered her on extra hard. She swung so hard that the gumboot, instead of going forward, went straight up into the air and landed in the tree behind us. In laughter, we then threw gumboots into the tree to finally knock the stuck one down. Luckily, none other got stuck. No gumboots left behind. (Photo credit: Lauren)
Finally in Wellington, we had a night out to bid farewell to Boom Boom and half of our group, and meet 3 new people who were joining us for the South Island. As people proceeded to have shots, Gen, Caroline, Julius and I rushed off to catch the funicular up to the Carter Observatory. The funicular was of the psychedelic kind and it passed through a rave-like neon light tunnel which Gen and I danced in to an ntz ntz ntz beat. No one else was in the funicular but us. We were all space nerds, Gen in particular, and this just added to our excitement to check out the moon and Saturn through the Thomas Cooke telescope and then the space show in the adjacent theater. We came back to the bar to everyone else dancing on the tables.