New Zealand North Island – Stray Bus

Mineral Pools at Tongariro Crossing

So week 1 of the Stray bus (Hop On-Hop Off bus tour) came and went.

We started with an early AM pickup out of Auckland and made our way to Hahei, which is famous for it’s Hot Water Beach. Here you can hire a shovel and dig yourself a hole on the beach right up next to where the tide comes in. Just beneath the surface of the beach is a hot spring and it pushes out water at temperatures as hot as 140 degrees F. So you have to find a nice balance between the cold ocean water and the hot springs water. It was pretty neat to check out, but we didn’t stick around long.

Stray Bus NZ Hahei Beach
Hahei Beach aka Hot Water Beach

After that our driver, Postie, took us to our accommodation for the night, and we got to know one another over a few drinks. Another early AM wake up call had us up for 6:30 to Raglan. Raglan was probably one of the towns I was most looking forward to because it’s New Zealand’s best surf beach, and renowned for the longest left hand break in the world. I rented a board and a wet suit, (it’s reallly f’n cold in the water) and got out for a few hours of surf. I did a pretty good job out there once again, but to be fair the waves were super easy.

In the evening we got to check out some glow worms that were near the lodge we stayed at. With that out of the way, I saved myself $150 on a tubing trip the following day through the Waitomo Caves. The highlight of the cave tour is seeing the glow worms while traversing through a cave. Definitely not worth that kind of money in my book. I saw some pictures from friends, and that helped to solidify my money saved.

So a group of us just hung out in the sun and chilled out while most of the group did the cave tour. And this is my one major gripe with the Stray bus tour. If you’re not partaking in one of the activities, you’re usually stuck in some small town or visitor center, waiting for a few hours, and then you hop on a bus and drive to another out of the way lodge for the night.

The following morning we made our way to Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in NZ, where a bunch of the group went Sky Diving, and once again ~10-15 of people on the bus didn’t do very much.

From there we made our way to a Maori home stay for the evening at Lake Aniwhenua. We went through a traditional greeting ceremony, this ceremony allowed us to stay in their home for the evening. From there we had a little snack and played a game of rugby out on the lawn. The family then performed some traditional song and dance, and also the Haka, which is the traditional war song used before going to war. The Haka, when performed by hundreds of men can be very intimidating, and was used to pump up the warriors, while also intimidating their opponents. New Zealand’s All Black’s team performs the Haka before each match, and the NZ army also performs the Haka before going into battle.

After the traditional song and dance, the men were taught the Haka, and the women were taught a dance as well. To end the night we had a QA session with one of the Maori men, and he also told us some stories. The main story was their creation story, the same way that we have Adam and Eve, they have their own story about how the world was created, and subsequently mankind. It was interesting to hear the story for sure, and even more so is their reverence for the guardian of volcanic activity. Apparently this guardian is an unborn baby that lays in the Ring of Fire, and every so often he’ll get cranky and want to get out, in so doing, he stomps his feet, and stretches his arms out. Coincidentally, his feet are located where Christchurch is, and his head is around Tokyo. There were also two massive earthquakes that happened in 2010, and since then the Maori people stopped singing songs about the guardian of volcanic activity and the impending cranky wake up he was going to provide those that live in the Ring of Fire.

The following morning where we got to check out some volcanic hot springs at Hells Gate. It was pretty cool to see for 30-45 minutes, but not worth the $35 really. That’s an underlying theme in most of the trip, just about everything has a cost, and more often than not it’s expensive.

From here we went to Whakahoro and spent the day at another Maori establishment. On the way there we had a pretty scary moment with the bus. All of the bridges in NZ are single lane bridges, and our driver had a tight turn to make it onto the bridge. In so doing we were up on two wheels on the middle of a bridge. Somehow he was able to maneuver the bus back onto all four wheels. After that we spent the day playing volleyball and soccer and then had a traditional meal called a Hangi, which is similar to a bbq. They dig a hole in the ground and fill it with rocks that conduct heat very well. The rocks are heated up and placed in the hole. From there the hole is filled different kinds of vegetables and meats and covered with wet cloth to produce steam heat. The fats drip down on to the rocks and that creates a smokey flavor that is quite nice. It was really quite good and reminded me of a Thanksgiving dinner, in a lot of ways. Typically these dinners are served for big occasions.

The next day we got up quite early for the Tongariro Crossing hike. The hike is 19.4 KM and goes up in elevation approximately 800 M to a height of 1,886 M . The climb takes you through a number of active volcano’s, and some wonderful lakes. It was a beautiful day and a pretty tough hike. All in all it took about 6.5 hours to finish, although some finish faster, and some will take longer. It is by no means an easy hike, make sure you bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen! One of the volcano’s recently erupted 14 months ago and you can see quite a lot of steam escaping from the volcano.

From here we took a long trip out to Blue Duck Station, which is out in the middle of nowhere, passing through some pretty dodgy roads. I got some skeet shooting in with a shotgun, I was a solid shot the first go round, hitting 4 of 5 clay pigeons. It really did a number on bruising up my shoulder though, so my second time around I only hit 2 of 5. 60% aint too shabby I suppose though.

From here we went on to Wellington which would be our last stop in the North Island.Postie said a lot of people liken Wellington to San Francisco due to the topography, weather and overall feel. I guess I agree with that. I took a stroll around the wharf and we had a proper night out on the town with a lot of the people from the bus.

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