I am happy that all of Stray’s buspasses include some unique stop where travelers get to learn about the culture of the Maori people and stay in a traditional Maori Marae which is where the Maoris usually have their social gatherings. For us this place was Mourea, a small village on a lake where our bus driver “slim” had grown up.
When walking in we were asked to have the girls walk first, a traditional way of saying that you come in peace. Then the hosts met each one of us by pushing our noses and foreheads together and giving a loud sniff to get to know us and then welcomed us all in their own language.
In the course of the evening we also got to learn some words in their language, learn to play with poys and learn to do the Haka dance that the New Zealand rugby team shows every time before they have a match. We also got to pour out questions from our curious minds to really get a good understanding of the history and modern life of the Maori people.
Wataimo town is a tiny place. There are just a few houses, a shop, a couple of cafés and then there are glowworm caves.
For those of you who do not know what a glowworm is, it is a kind of a larvae that has a tail glowing like a led light to attract flies and mosquitoes that they catch in their sticky strings hanging down from them, almost like a spider. After nine months as a worm they turn into a mouthless fly that mate, lay eggs and then dies of starvation just so that the cycle of life can repeat itself.
Around Wataimo there are over a hundred such caves and all kinds of expensive activities like tubing, abseiling and ziplining are offered where you also get to see what looks like a star sky of glowworms. Myself I just joined a fifty dollar walking tour that included a ten minute boat ride at the end which for me was just perfect.
When our Stray bus rolled up at the Kariori Lodge we had a quick introduction about our accommodation for the night before it was time for us to get ready to do what we came there to do, which was surfing.
Board and surfboard hire was super reasonably priced at 20 bucks for an hour which then also included driving to whichever place had the best waves and rinsing of the wetsuits afterwards. I have always had to do that myself before, so that was nice for a change!
The beach we went to was right between town and the lodge. The sand was black and the waves were rough. I was there on quite a windy day, so it all was a bit messy with waves coming from all sides at the same time but I managed to have a couple of long rides all the way into the shallow waters. I still wish I would have come on a more calm and sunny day though to see what New Zealand’s most famous surf spot is like on its best.
A really cool thing about the Kariori Lodge was that lots of glowworms could be seen on its driveways at night. They also had a house calles “the barn” that was separated from the rest of the camp so that the ones who wanted could party all night and the rest could just have a quiet night around the bonfire or resting for morning surf sessions.
Before getting to Auckland I had thought that the place was just another business city with nothing to do, but I could not have been more wrong. My couchsurfing hosts Jan and Matylda from Norway and Poland were both quite outdoorsy and showed me all kinds of hikes and day trips that could be done from their home.
The next morning we were all up and ready in our hiking outfits heading to the area around the surfing village Piha, just half an hour drive from Auckland. First we went to the black sand beach to pick some shells and watch the surfers fight their way out through the rough waves. We walked an half an hour track leading up to a viewpoint and back down to the beach to get to our next spo, the kite kite track leading up to a cascade waterfall. The walks were both easy, but scenic and good to get a good lock at the flora and fauna in the country where I will spend the next few weeks.
Tonga was probably the country the country I had been looking forward to visiting the most on my South Pacific trip, mainly because I had booked my trip there on the perfect time for spotting heaps of Humpback Whales that would come up from the Antartic to give birth. The best part about it was that Tonga is the only place in the World where you could get close and actually swim with these giant creatures.
My whale swimming trip started off with around four long hours of driving around and scouting. The crew almost seemed like giving up when we finally spotted a huge mother with her newborn calf. The mother laying on her side on the surface while the calf was playfully going up and down in the water next to her.
The guide could not go as he had a sore back and the other guy was old and decided to stay on land, so it was just me jumping into the water and swimming nervously towards these two giant creatures. Unfortunately Humpback Whales swim faster than humans so both times that I jumped in they were quick to disappear even how fast I paddled with my fins. It was still quite an adrenaline filled, incredible and unique experience that was worth the 150 dollars paid for the trip.
The next day I got up early to pick up a rental scooter that would take me around the island. On the way I stopped by sanctuaries for bats and flying foxes, several tiny beaches and blowholes and some mighty caves.
There was a light mist as I went, but after several hours of driving the water got through my clothes and the cold and fever from the day before crept on. I drove to the hospital as a last stop, where the doctor inspected my infected cuts on hands and feet to tell me that I need to get on a penicillin cure right away. When walking out asking how much they would charge for the visit the doctor just said “nothing- hospitals are completely free in Tonga!”
Pigs feeding in the ocean- you can hear them crunching shells a long way!