Eggs, Sticks and Crazy Hat Lady

2nd March

Rotorua smells of eggs. Not the “Mmmm eggs & bacon & buttery toast” kind of smell, but the rotten eggs kind of smell. This sulphur city is pretty stinky due to all the hot mud pools and thermal activity.

Today is a big day. It’s the Maori experience. We learnt lots, ate lots and then we ate some more. Before we entered the village, we had to elect a chief. We voted old Paul. Old Paul and the Maori chief greeted in the traditional way: touching noses twice, saying “Kia Ora” and then giving a short speech about why we are here. Old Paul almost went in for a third nose touch. Damn it Paul, making us look bad. Keep focused! Our feet walking on their land was a big moment. Women had to walk behind the men, and when we entered the sleeping rooms, no shoes were allowed.

These people take tradition very seriously. You can’t laugh. But with man-boobs jiggling and their eyes bulging, I had to bite my tongue a little.

We learnt about the carvings on the walls – the different Gods, influences and morals.

“Does anyone have any questions?”

Crazy hat lady raises her hand. “Can you remind me where the bathroom is?”

Crazy hat lady always asks irrelevant questions.

Time for cake. Unlimited cake. The banana bread was unreal. Deep fried scones with jam and cream was then followed by leaning Maori songs and dances and playing traditional games with sticks. The sticks were big – human height.

Crazy hat lady did not listen to the rules and threw her stick at the wrong time and almost took Jess’ eye out.

After more playful activities and learning about tattoos, carvings, fitness and fighting, it was time for the feast. Our little backpacker bellies were over the moon to digest mountains of roasted veggies, salads, fillets of fish, every meat you can imagine and the biggest, juiciest mussels on the planet. All meats are cooked underground for hours on end, to ensure tasty, tender goodness. Dessert didn’t disappoint either. Toffee sponge, custards, fruits and passion fruit pavlovas.

Our bloated bellies then got semi naked in bikinis and we got in the hot tubs and hit the bar. Then around midnight we gathered around a ginormous fire, roasted marshmallows and listened to Maori stories.

We stumbled into our beautiful tent room that might as well be a hotel and, quote Matt: “I think this was the best day of my life.”

***

Crazy hat lady wakes up before 5am, waking up innocent fellow travellers (ME).

Crazy hat lady unpacks her backpack and viciously rustles plastic bags.

Crazy hat lady gives a loud, running commentary: “I’m opening up my bag now…”

“I’m folding my clothes now…”

“I’m putting on my socks now…”

Crazy hat lady then irons every item of clothing with her hair straighteners.

What is life.

***

Breakfast was fit for a king.

Apart from my disturbed sleep, the Maori experience has been amazing. I’m relaxed, well fed, but most of all, I now have SO much respect for their culture and history.

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Friendships, Humidity and a Near Death Experience Black Water Rafting

25th – 29th Feb

Before I left for travelling, people would gasp in horror when they found out I was travelling by myself. “By yourself!? Wow you’re so brave!” This ginormous gasp confused me. I thought it was extremely common for an early twenty-something girl to go travelling by herself. The gasp also worried me – had I bitten off more than I could chew? Will I feel isolated and lonely? Will some situations be scary without a good friend or loved one by my side?

This last month has really tested my social skills. At home, I am lucky in that I have always found making friends quite an easy ride. However, travelling alone certainly isn’t the same as making friends during Freshers Week at university or at a new school. When travelling, you’re thousands of miles away. You can’t just pop home if you’ve had a bad day.

I realise I’m making it sound all doom and gloom; that wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to stress it’s not always easy. However, the brilliant thing about travelling is that when you step out of your comfort zone and start conversations with strangers, you may just hit the jack pot. I was sad to say goodbye to the friendship group I made in the South Island, but these past few days I’ve met some incredible people. My time in Paihia, Auckland and Hot Water Beach has been full of laughs, never ending conversations, cool coffee shops and art museums. There’s been nights out, pizza and lots of new names that I won’t forget.

Take Matt – my new big brother. Never will I forget him cutting some dude’s hair after a few too many pints. Matt wore a head torch.

In addition, it felt like I had been friends with Jack and Emily for years. And after a perfect coffee shop & museum kind of day in Auckland when the weather was disgustingly humid, Martin and I are planning to meet up again when we’re both in Melbourne.

I now need to go and face the downpour to purchase a lock and key for my backpack because my other one is broken so I had to get reception to cut it. Nice one Liv.

Ah, I really hope this sweaty stormy weather dies off soon. The hostel I’m in is an absolute poo-hole and the humidity is not helping. I had a cold shower but because the showers and loos are so revolting, I still feel dirty. And with my handy yet stupid travel towel, I never feel dry. To stress how stinky the hostel is (every room smells of sweat / sick / feet)… After my shower, two guys join me in the lift. One of them asks, “have you just had a shower?” (Yes). “Oh my God, you smell so clean, it’s amazing!” He edges closer, sniffs my hair and smiles.

***

Was glad to be moving on from Auckland. We stopped off at Cathedral Cove on the way to Hot Water Beach. Even though it’s cloudy and rainy, it’s still beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, I met a couple of girls who are the most glamorous travellers I’ve ever seen. Judging them on their immaculate appearance, I didn’t think we’d have much in common. My no make-up, scruffy self truly admired their efforts though. They were on my bus, so it wasn’t long before we were chatting. And guess what? I get on with them like a house on fire. I know I’ve said that about a few people but I mean I really, really like these girls – I know I want to and will stay in touch. Looks mean nothing.

Speaking of looks, Hot Water Beach looked rather strange. Hundreds of people, digging their own shallow spa pools in the sand. Some patches were insanely warm – so hot you’ve got to be careful not to get burnt. You’ve also got to be careful not to die. That happens here.

***

1st March

Journey to Waitomo today. I’m not heavy enough to do the Black Water Rafting, damnit. But then Arias (the driver) rang up and they gave me the ok! They just said that they will look after me extra well and give me extra layers to help with the cold.

Initially, I wasn’t sure about spending so much money on caving, but I’m so glad I did. It was fantastic! Yes, I really did feel the cold and was numb and frantically shivering at points, but it was worth it.

We entered a tiny hole in the ground to a whole other world. Tubing underground with rubber rings through fast flowing water, in the dark, was ace. Jumping backwards off waterfalls into darkness was pretty cool too. They warned us at one point about ‘The Human Blender.’ You really don’t want to fall down there… You probably won’t come back up….

No word of a lie, when I was tip-toeing around The Human Blender, I slipped and fell. The guide caught me! He saved my life! I didn’t fancy him before then but now he’s my hero. He also gave me his wetsuit jacket when I got super cold. That’s true love right there.

My favourite part of the adventure was when we all lay back in a line, holding onto the person’s feet behind us (like a caterpillar). We all turned off our head torches: complete darkness. Looking up, the rocks were speckled with glow worms – millions of them. I think it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. This wasn’t a manmade theme park ride. This was real. I’m underground, flowing through water on my back, admiring the sparkling-star-like glow worms above me. I’ve never taken drugs, but I imagine this is what the hardcore stuff feels like. SO TRIPPY! It was probably the most surreal, most enchanting thing I have ever done.