Days 9 and 10
The cultural Maori dinner was extremely educational and entertaining. While at Maitai, we watched a ceremony in which members of the Maori tribe arrived by long boats on a clear river stream chanting in unison. We then made our way to a stage where they enacted a dance, rituals and gave explanations in regards to their customs and beliefs. By the time the show finished, everyone’s tummies were rumbling with the smell of the Hangi dinner, prepared by slow cooking meat and potatoes over hot rocks in the ground. There were a variety of other sides to go along with the main course as well. Simply put, it was ::DELICIOUS::
I was able to practice some of my Italian with two Italian couples that were seated at our table. It was so much fun conversing with them and I am anticipating my time in Italy when I will have the chance to speak it more frequently! After dinner, we headed out for a night walk and strolled alongside glow worms hiding in the corners of the path. We finally ended at a spectacular clear turquoise spring lake (which we unknowally drank at dinner). There was a HUGE eel on the bank of the lake, although from the size it looked like a snake mated with a lizard to produce such a thing. It was pretty disgusting looking! (Come to find out there were hundreds of these in the river I went white water rafting in. Good thing I didn’t know before hand!)
It was wonderful to learn more about the Maori culture and their beautiful traditions. Learning about new cultures and seeing how other people act in their environment are some of the most fascinating parts of traveling. I am so blessed to be traveling in a period where traditions are still used, if not somewhat intact in everyday life. As westernization continues to infiltrate the world’s remaining cultural societies, tribes and groups, I fear for my children that when they embark on a trip like this they will miss the remarkable beauty of diversity and will be exposed only to the saturation of modernization embedded into what was once a unique culture and a facinating way of life.
As a friend described it; Zorbing is like being a hamster in a cage. Man, am I jealous of hamsters, their life is so much fun! Even though the clouds were dumping down showers of rain, my bunk mate Lee and I decided to head to the Agrodome to try the infamous-New Zealand-created- Zorb. In a nutshell, you put yourself in a huge air-filled ball and you fly down a hill toppling over yourself and giggling like a child on a sugar high. You have the option of going in the Zorb with a friend or going down a zig zag path by yourself. I ended up doing the hydro-zig zag zorb, where they filled the ball with warm water, you dive in, roll yourself off the platform like a true hamster, sit down and get tossed side to side and head over feet down a hill. My only dissatisfaction with Zorbing is that it is ADDICTING and was not long enough!
After returning from zorbing, Mark and I walked to Te Puia, a Maori cultural site, where we took a guided tour and saw thermal geysers, mud baths, a real live Kiwi and even ate corn cooked from a thermal pool!
We had a bus to catch so we did a whirlwind tour of Te Puia and then we were off to Taopo!We arrived late into Taopo, checked into the Tiki Lodge and within minutes made friends with our bunk mate. We walked to the store to grab wine, groceries and cook up a nice meal.
We weren’t impressed with Tiki Lodge so we decided to change hostels and found X Base to be quite amazing. It was the same price but a lot cleaner, better crowds and had a beautiful deck with a BBQ and great views of Taopo Lake. Mark and I spent the sunny day laying in the park reading, listening to jams and trying to get rid of my Seattle pasty white skin!
On the way back to the hostel, who should we run into but our Danish friends! I had run into them at the Zorb in Roturua, of all places, and knew they were headed to Taopo but what were the chances that out of all the hostels they would be staying at the same one?
While Mark and I made a dinner, we also made friends with a guy named Alex, from France. He too was friends with the Danish boys as they were on the same Kiwi Experience Backpacker bus. They joined us after a while, and we ended up hanging out drinking a few beers as the sun set and and talking for ages. Around eleven, Mark and I called it an early night as we were thinking of doing the Tongariro Crossing early the next morning.
After we weren’t able to get a hold of the agency the night before to book our bus tickets we decided to spend the following day hanging out and would go on the trek the next day. We spent the morning shopping for an American football for Mark and I and some stuff for our soon-to-be nephew Thomas. We got him this little Kiwi bird that was in a little egg, which with a pull of a zipper you could open it and it would chirp like it just hatched. Very cute!
We then grabbed our suits and headed to the beach. We found our Danish friends at the beach and I showed them how to throw the football. It was quite fun and Kristoffer got the hang of it at the end. Mark made friends with a gal on the beach and I went to the store and got us some stuff for dinner. We had another wonderful night just hanging out on the patio deck with views of Lake Taopo in the background. After din, we joined the Great Danes and headed to the bar for a drink and some pool. Mark and I were waking up at 5:30a.m. for the Tongaririo Crossing so after a few beers we headed back to the hostel.
Tongaririo Crossing is a said to be one of the best day walks of all New Zealand. Well, they weren’t lying! The walk was absolutely stunning, and it was awesome to be walking where much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed, specifically Mt. Doom.
We arrived at the base around 8a.m., piled on the sunscreen, ate a granola bar and started the 8 hour trek. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and there were mountains each direction we looked. The trek started off nice and easy by walking along a footpath. There were brilliant purple flowers and small waterfalls and streams along long the way. After about an hour we reached “Devil’s Staircase”, which was a climb up boulders and rocks. With a little help from Van Morrison on my Ipod, the trek to the top was not bad at all. We arrived at the top about 45 minutes later, had a snack and contemplated going up Mt. Ngauruhoe, “Mt. Doom”. This was a side trek that was supposed to take 2 hour return. Although I love a challenge, I was not impressed that the whole way up we would be walking on lava rocks and the whole way down we would have to be sliding down them. Since the scenery to the top did not impress us, we decided to skip this part and ventured ahead. After a short walk down a hill, we found ourselves in the base of a few mountains with about a mile of flat ground til our next climb.
“Go long,” was all I heard Mark say. I dropped my bag and ran as fast as I could, looking back over my shoulder just in time to catch the ball.
“Whooo…..TOUCHDOWN,” I yelled as I did a little victory dance and other hikers looked at me as though I escaped from a sanitarium. Mark and I gave each other a high five and continued to play catch until the end of the path.
We then started up another hill, which when we got to the top the views were BREATHTAKING. I was looking out to a never-ending horizon of mountains, lakes, valleys and gorges.
We climbed up a rock face to get an eagle eye’s view of the magnificent landscape. My heart was still, not a pound could be heard, as I looked over the edge. Intense feelings of gratitude rushed through my body as I sat on a rock. Life is amazing, I thought to myself. Simply amazing.
We trekked onwards and came to a landing. Standing there ahead of us were 3 majestic lakes sparkling like little disco balls at a high school prom. The first and biggest, was a vibrant color of blue, the second an intense shade of aqua green that made you think you were staring at a Monet water color painting. The water from the third lake was so crystal clear it was hard to tell it was water except for the ripples.
We plunged down huge piles of sand-like dirt like we were skiing down a snow slope until we came to the aqua lake where we sat and had a snack and soaked in the view. Words can’t describe how utterly happy I was in that moment.
After we walked by and marveled at all three lakes we carried on down the path. It was a windy step path for over two hours until we hit a resting base where we stopped for another snack to keep our energy level up. Mark made the comment that he wanted to get to the bottom in order to make the 2pm bus. There was buses running until 4:30pm, but the man was on a mission so I didn’t argue. So, instead of a leisurely walk down, it was a mad race to keep up with him. In short, I didn’t get a chance to take hundreds of photos like I normally would.
We rushed down the windy stair steps for another 2 hours until we hit the edge of a forest. Tall trees, ferns, waterfalls and streams surrounded us. We popped out of the forest edge to where the buses were parked. Whoo! We made it and within 6 hours, where on average it takes between 7-8 hours. We had five minutes until our bus was supposed to leave. Well, as luck would have it, the bus didn’t leave for over an hour! So we just lay in the hot sun and rested our tired legs.