10.01.2017

DAY 23 - WETSUITS, WELLY-BOOTS AND A WHARENUI

Wake up in the morning feeling like P-Diddy... paid me to do five rounds with Mike Tyson. Thank goodness I secured a bottom bunk last night as I LITERALLY had to roll out of bed in order to get up this morning!

Well, I mean, I could have rolled off the top bunk too. But I don't know if my travel insurance covers that particular kind of clumsy.

But even though it's 6am, I stiffly manage to drag myself and my giant backpack down to the bus, as we're off to Waitomo today! A town that has a population of approximately 50 people (as my bus driver has led me to believe) but has some incredible activities to do - especially if you like cave exploration.

Stopping off at the Waitomo Adventures HQ, we all practically ran inside (not because it was raining. .. With what we're doing today, a little fall of rain will never hurt us now) to choose what we were going do for the day. There's different levels of difficulty and wetness depending on what you're abilities are, but if you know your girl Ellie, I was determined to really get stuck in with the TumuTumu Toobing and tick off the next section of my bucket list - getting to see the Glowworm Caves! 

Although I already know I'm going to have to add Waitomo to my 'To Return' list; the Lost World activities looked like they were pulled straight from the Jurassic Park movies!

Without giving away too much - as it really, truly has to be experienced to be believed - the TumuTumu Toobing is a mixture of blackwater rafting, walking/slipping over naturally formed rocks (some were underwater, a lot which rose so far up we were literally over a metre off the floor), bobbing/swimming through freezing water, climbing through tight holes (a FANTASTIC time to discover I'm a teensy bit claustrophobic), wellies lost and found, and tubing through the caves for around 4 hours. Sometimes in the light. Mostly in the dark with nothing but our head torches to light the way.

Which is as tiring as it sounds, but believe me when I say it was SO WORTH IT to get to the Aria and the Glowworm caves! Nothing quite like floating in a line down collectively singing Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' as it rebounds beautifully off the walls, ending with the stunning sight of millions of tiny green worms winking around us.

One of the best experiences of my life, without a shadow of a doubt.

Once the wetsuits and welly-boots had been wrestled off and our bellies filled with sweet hot chocolate, it was back on the bus to the local Maori Culture centre, where we met members of an actual Maori iwi (tribe) who made us tea, biscuits, roast dinner and dessert. Before we disembarked, we were shown how to do the traditional Maori greeting called the Hongi - the pressing of the nose and forehead together at the same time, and exchanging the Breath of Life (the ha) -  which is their way of meeting visitors... kind of like their version of a handshake, if you will. 

Afterwards we were welcomed into their marae, and shown around their wharenui (carved meeting house) which had these stunningly carved red poles and panels which, we were told, represented the genealogy of their tribe. The walls were covered in photos of their decreased loved ones, and it was amazing to see their ancestors spanning back years and years. 
Now, if you are ever lucky enough to step foot into a marae, theres a couple of things you need to know:

  • Do not wear shoes inside their wharenui - it is sacred ground.
  • Do not eat or drink inside their wharenui - meal times are family gathering affairs, and it is seen as disrespectful to do so in front of the photos of their deceased relatives.
  • Always ask permission before taking photographs in the grounds of their marae, and especially inside their wharenui - different tribes may have different rules. For example, in the one we visited we could take photos of the carvings but not of the pictures of their love ones, and we were asked not to post any pictures of the inside of their wharenui on social media. Others could be different, but please always be respectful of their wishes! Hence why you will not see any pictures I took on this post.
If you're desperate to see, there are several opportunities to go visit a marae in New Zealand's north island - it was amazing to learn about their culture and history, and our hosts were so wonderful and generous to us the entire time we were there.

After dinner we were treated to a performance of traditional songs, such as a beautiful rendition of Pukarakara Ani and the Haka, before they brought us girls up to teach us how to use a poi, and the men to do the haha. 

It was safe to say, after such an awesome day, we were all suitable knackered, so we were invited to all sleep inside the big hall together. It took the entire bus to club together, but with a big team effort, we managed to get all the mattresses, bedding and bags inside and set up for a well deserved sleep.  

Lesson 23: If you're going to injure yourself at all during your trip, it would make more sense to do it during an extreme sport or activity - surfing, for example, or maybe cave exploring. But for goodness sake, try not to hurt yourself falling backwards down THREE STEPS of a sacred meeting hall!

Does my travel insurance cover this kind of clumsy??

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