New Zealand has a really special place in my heart. While I did spend the trip in a bit of a fog of plugged ears and congestion, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. This trip came at the perfect time in my life and offered plenty of opportunity for reflection, especially as I was touring more of New Zealand.
The second part of this trip starts off in Rotorua. If you haven’t been to Rotorua, the rumours do not underestimate the sulphur smell in the air. It’s strong, and if you’re not familiar with the smell, it’s like rotten eggs, a lot of them.
Exchanging the Breath of Life
In Rotorua, we engaged in a number of cultural experiences. Topdeck includes an overnight stay at a Maori Marae in many of their itineraries and it does not disappoint. We arrived at the Marae and everyone climbed out of the bus. Myself and the other women in the group were lined up in front of the men outside of the Marae. It is Maori protocol that visitors and guests at a Marae or Pa take part in a welcoming ceremony or, Powhiri.
Essentially, this is what happens:
The guests arrive and wait for the official call of welcome. After receiving the karanga, the women of the group walk forward in front of the men. I believe the women precede the men as a sign of respect and peace. The hosts will then make a formal speech and the guests then make a speech. To this day, I still remember the words to Te Aroha which we sang to our hosts.
After the speeches and songs, the men precede the women and the guests line up to greet the hosts with a hongi. The hongi consists of pressing noses and foreheads. This signifies the exchange of the ha, or, breath of life.
After the ceremony, we had the opportunity to explore the beautiful grounds and meet local Maori people. We met Sean Murray, an amazing artist and storyteller. When I returned to Canada, Sean designed a tattoo for me, which represented my life up to this point.
Later in the afternoon, the guys were separated from the girls and we had the chance to explore the property. After an hour or so, we were brought into a different building where we saw all the guys. Here, the guys all performed the Haka, a traditional war dance. It was amazing to see all of them unified, regardless of where they came from, performing this deeply moving and meaningful dance.
That evening, we enjoyed a meal and all sat around talking and getting to know each other. We camped overnight in the Marae, under incredible carvings and history, it was amazing.
After we left the Marae, we visited a thermal park called Whakarewarewa (pronounced Fuk-a-re-wa-re-wa). Try that one 10 times. Whakarewarewa is incredible to explore and is still a living Maori Village. The park offers a myriad of cultural performances and activities, and chance to witness life living in a geothermic region.
We had the chance to visit multiple museums, watch traditional Haka and Poi performances and so much more.
We moved on to Te Puia where we saw bubbling pools of mud, steaming water, gushing geysers and amazing history. What is cool about Te Puia is that you can watch a chef use thermal pools to cook food, as the Maori people did traditionally. Also, the spot has amazing Maori arts and crafts, and we were so lucky to witness a carver in action!
Mount Doom & Tongariro National Park
We had enjoyed so much of learning about the Maori culture and were set to move on to Tongariro National Park, the home of Lord of the Rings’ Mount Doom. But first, Bungy Jumping.
If you don’t know this about me, I don’t like heights. I am perfectly fine to stand on a bridge with a bar in front of me, but I’ve been known to faint, so I stayed away from edges. I volunteered to take photos and made my way to a nice little viewing platform high over the beautiful river, where I could witness those braver than I, leap to their impending deaths. Of course, no one died, and I left with a shred of regret.
A short time later, we arrived at Tongariro National Park. We stayed at the Skotel Alpine Resort which is nestled in the park and offers great views and access to a number of trails. The hotel is a solid 3-Star, nothing fancy, but comfortable enough for a couple of nights. While here, we had the opportunity to either chill out at the hotel and do our own thing or go on a big hike of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I really wanted to explore the area because I was having issues with my knee, I opted out of the hike.
A few of us in the group hung out around the hotel. We went for a walk along a small trail nearby and were treated with a clear view of Mount Doom or Mount Ngauruhoe. It was spectacular. We visited the visitor centre, had lunch, and enjoyed a relaxed day on our own. It was the perfect day for a bit of recuperation. When the group returned from their super long hike, we had a dinner and a party at the hotel. It was a party of epic proportions, including “planking” all over the lounge, complete with a few broken glasses.
When we arrived in Wellington, I immediately felt at home. Not only is the city stunningly beautiful, it is windy as all hell. There is a very trendy, artsy feel about Wellington. I was about to start studying Make-Up Artistry the following year, so I was thrilled to learn we were going to visit Weta Cave. They have an amazing collection of props and collectables from dozens of films, including District 9, Lord of the Rings, Black Sheep and more. It is incredible. If you love movies, you absolutely need to visit Weta Cave.
In Wellington, I ate my first feijoa. The fruit is super tasty and is kind of a cross between a kiwi and a guava. It isn’t for everyone, but it was something I still crave but can’t find anywhere! I’ve considered going back simply to eat a few and grab another bottle of feijoa vodka!
We toured around Windy Welly for a couple of days. We had so much fun as a group here. This was when I really felt like everyone was finally totally comfortable with each other. We had many, many drinks here, sang karaoke, had great cocktails at my favourite bar called The Library, explored the Te Papa Museum, stood atop incredible viewpoints, and so much more. I really couldn’t sum up all the fun, funny moments of that trip, but in 1200 words or less, that’s it.
If you haven’t been to New Zealand, I recommend it. It’s easily explorable on your own, you will meet incredible people who are warm and friendly and so proud of their amazing country. Also, now is a great time to visit. They’ve elected Jacinda Ardern as the 40th Prime Minister. She is the youngest female world leader at 37 years old, a feminist, a supporter of same-sex marriage and a major inspiration!
I look forward to touring more of New Zealand one day. I’ve still got the entire South Island to see!