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Maori & Mud Packs

NEW ZEALAND | Friday, 7 June 2013 | Views [663]

The North Island bus trip begins just as it is getting light on Bank Holiday Monday. Much has been made of the Queen’s birthday weekend, and I suspect that there is more patriotism over here than on her home turf!

The trip up to Paihia on the Bay of Islands takes four hours aboard the Naked Bus (apparently so named for stripping back costs to the bare minimum). The scenery is rolling hilly greenery and again I think of Ireland. Arriving, it is slightly overcast but I decide to take a trip out into the Bay, still hoping to spot a whale and possibly swim with dolphins again.

Weather up in the Northlands can change abruptly and not long into the journey we find ourselves cruising in warm sunshine. To reach The Hole in the Rock we must venture out into the open seas for a short distance leaving some passengers reaching for sick bags. The swell is too strong to be able to sail through and we must be content with the photo opportunity. The Bay of Islands is home to 144 islands. In order to qualify, each island must have some vegetation and an area which remains above water level at all times. This qualification aside, the number would probably double. Dolphins spotted on the morning cruise are nowhere to be seen and then one of the passengers develops a medical condition meaning that we need to head back to shore immediately. We are offered a voucher to rebook but the weather has other ideas and the following day both cruises are cancelled due to high winds and rain.

Mid afternoon the skies clear and once again the afternoon turns out to be gloriously sunny. I walk northwards to the Maori centre and enjoy some quiet time on the water front. I get back when without warning the sun disappears and we are experiencing another deluge. I wish I had had more time to get up to the northern most point but Rotorua is calling and as is it, I shall have only a few hours there.

Another early morning and after most of the day on the bus I arrive in Rotorua. In the 20 hours or so that I have here, I hope to experience a Maori cultural tour and of course to bathe in the mud pools and hot springs.

Rotorua is a small town which means that Central Backpackers is very easy to find – fortunately, as I have noted the hostel’s name, but not the street address and left the BBH guide behind. I check in and enquire about what evening Maori cultural experiences might be available. I chose this hostel as it has its own hot spring pool and I am not disappointed.

Twenty five minutes after arriving I am out of the door and on the waka (means of transport, in this case bus) heading for the Tamaki Maori village. Our driver Kahu is welcoming, entertaining and informative about what to expect. Each of the3 coaches must nominate a male leader.  We arrive and are greeted in the traditional fashion which involved some challenging by the village leader and our designated leaders are shown the accepted formalities which will grant us access. Once inside the forest village we are shown some of the cultural activities such as wood carving, warrior training games and of course the Haka, made famous by the country’s much beloved All Blacks rugby team. The night air is very cold and we are grateful when we are shown to the wharenui (big house) where we are entertained with dance, song, folklore legends and history.

We have visited the Hangi (earth oven) earlier in the tour and seen the lifting of the feast from the pit. A one metre square hole holds thin volcanic rocks heated to high temperature. A basket containing the meat is lowered into the hole, followed by a second basket containing vegetables and finally the basket containing the desert. Sacking cloth then covers the contents and everything is covered with earth and left for 3-4 hours. While we were being entertained, the food has been taken to the kitchen and prepared as a hot buffet. Two large wooden tables are stacked with salads, muscles, fish in a white sauce, chicken and lamb, potato, sweet potatoes, carrots, sauces, bread – truly a backpackers dream! The desert table holds steamed pudding, custard, cream, peaches, and a wonderful passion fruit pavlova. The latter, we are told, actually comes from New Zealand although the Australians like to lay claim to it. The atmosphere is jovial and at the end of the meal Kahu leads more singing.

It has been a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I can now leave New Zealand understanding more about the culture of the people who first arrived here around 600 years ago. On the coach back Kahu tells us that it is now our turn to entertain him and each nationality present must sing a traditional song. We are singing ‘coming round the mountain’ as we go round the round-a-bout five times and the journey back passes in no time with everyone in high spirits. Not only has Kahu remembered every single person by name, we are each bid farewell with the traditional clasp and pressing of noses (hongi). Kia Ora – Maori for both hello and goodbye. As the various groups are dropped off, we get a cheerful beep beep from our driver and as the bus pulls away, the singing resumes. What a fantastic evening it has been - educational, cultural and a lot of fun. To think the brothers started their dream of bringing Maori culture to the world by selling their motorbike to afford the deposit on their first coach.

I barely seem to have gone to sleep when I am up again and ready to embark on today’s experience. The QE Spa began in 1942 when it was a convalescent hospital for service personnel returning from World War II. The geothermal spa, volcanic mud, mineral water and steam are used by therapists for rehabilitation or rejuvenation treatments. I opt for a mud facial followed by an Aix massage where massage using oils is complimented by jets of mineral water specifically directed to enhance relaxation. I leave feeling wonderfully refreshed and am tempted to cancel the rest of my world trip to stay right here. But I don’t, and the bus is soon waiting for the return trip to Auckland.

Tags: backpacking, bay of islands, culture, maori, naked bus, new zealand, paihia, rotorua, sulphur springs, tamaki

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