39. From The Ritz To The Rubble

LAST TIME ON LETSCALLITAGAPYEAR…


From behind the village walls came a drum beat and war cries, the sound of aggressive Maori warriors approaching to challenge us. Chief stood firm. A Maori canoe, a waka, appeared from around the corner and the warriors emerged…

Our chief, Erik, stood in front of us with 4 other chiefs as the Maori warriors approached us. We had been warned that this part could look humorous, but as 15 or so huge, angry men with spears advanced on us with wide eyes and snarls, I’ll be honest, it was just a wee bit bloody scary.

Luckily for us the Maori warriors offered a peace token, which our chief wisely and hastily took, and we were in. I think. They were still pretty aggressive looking. Apart from a slight hiccup where another chief stood on the peace token, leading to what I was sure was about to be a Maori v Canadian tour bus war, all went swimmingly.

The chief then welcomed us and we were taken into the village itself, to 5 different houses where we could learn about Maori life. The first stop was all about the poi, which is a ball attached to a string that Maori women used to improve dexterity. Four girls from our group had a go, and most did remarkably well, apart from Leanne, who hit herself in the face.

Leanne had also nearly killed both Katie and I in the stick throwing game from the last blog, yet we were still friends with her, which is testament to her personality and our patience. (As she’ll read this and sarcasm is difficult to get across, I’ll be clear that I’m just kidding, she’s great and also if we left her she’d survive about 2 hours without us.)

We also played some more Maori games, learnt about the tattoos that adorn Maori faces (or more recently arms, which itself is a result of job requirements on face tattoos in New Zealand) and then the 4 boys in the group attempted a haka.

There is a video of me doing the haka. It will, I truly hope, never see the light of day. Katie has it on her phone and if you ask her she will happily send it over, as she enjoys laughing at me. But you won’t get it on this blog, not now, not unless you can pay me a considerable sum of money to fund more travelling and/or therapy.

After our shameful haka (after which the Maoris told us not to call them anytime soon, which was fair enough) we learnt about the hangi, the traditional Maori feast. This is meat, potatoes and vegetables cooked in hot earth. Effectively a huge fire is constructed, burnt until it collapses in on itself at which point the food is wrapped up (traditionally in leaves) and buried for hours to cook underground. It sounds good to you, but we hadn’t eaten proper food for weeks and there was talk of gravy to add to what was essentially a slow cooked roast dinner. I would have fought a Maori warrior for it. I would have lost, but that’s beside the point.
The food still had to be prepared and plated up, so we put our stomachs on hold and were taken to watch a cultural show by the tribe.

This mostly involved watching the things we had just tried to do at the houses done properly, including a haka which was equal parts impressive and scary. After music, stories and demonstrations, the show came to an end and we were taken through for our feast.

The next hour was, and remains in my memory, a haze of meat, gravy and potatoes which I still salivate when I think about. I’m going to stop writing because it’s making me hungry, but it was an insane amount of food and it tasted fantastic.

For dessert was a large helping of embarrassment, as all of those staying over had to perform a Maori song we had learnt earlier in the day. I then also had to muddle my way through another haka in front of the whole room. My arms were all over the place and as most of my friends will know, me trying to look aggressive never quite provides any fear whatsoever. It was quite the after dinner treat for those who revel in my embarrassment. Also, there was pavlova.

Possibly because of my haka, the main crowd of people now headed home and those who were staying over were left, to take advantage of the $5 late night bar and hot tubs. A couple of beers, one glass of wine and several hours in the hot tub later our tribe headed to bed happy, drunk and hot tubbed out.

We woke up in the morning for a quick breakfast, before heading back to Rotorua itself. We were moving on the next morning, but first had a night at the Base hostel in Rotorua. After the luxuries of the village it was a shattering blow to be brought back down to earth by the various failings that all Base hostels share – late check in, bad wifi, general uncleanliness and staff with all the cheeriness and charisma of a recently widowed gorilla. We were missing our Maori village instantly.

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Our free day in Rotorua was spent catching up on some always-fun admin, lying in the park and then sampling the delights of the Base backpacker bar. There was only one highlight, which was when Irish Amy (she’s Irish and called Amy, in case that wasn’t clear) found us some ‘free pizza’. We all tucked in to a pizza each, before Katie and I headed to bed full and happy.

It later (as in 2 weeks later) turned out that the ‘free pizza’ was actually reserved for a company’s team building exercise and we had stolen said pizza from under their noses and eaten it in front of them. We’re not allowed back in Rotorua now.

The next morning, unaware of our guilt, we were leaving for Taupo. First, however, we had a stop at Te Puia, a sort of geological theme park full of geysers, hot pools and all sorts of other geothermal activity. It was pretty dramatic and impressive, even though the whole place stank of rotten eggs. Luckily you can’t tell from the pictures:

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So we headed on to Taupo, where we would be for 3 nights. It was Katie’s birthday the day we arrived and she had psyched herself up to do a skydive, while we also had plans to do the Tongariro crossing – a 20km full day trek which went past Mt Ngarahoe, or Mt Doom for Lord of the Rings nerds.

Unfortunately, of the 3 days we spent in Taupo it rained for around 3 of them. As a result we were restricted to drinking, walks when the rain stopped for 5 minutes and one very wet trip to the natural hot pools.

The night of Katie’s birthday also saw her drink a full bottle of wine and considerable amounts of vodka (which she got for free on account of it being her birthday) on an empty stomach, so you can imagine how the next day was for her. Quiet, is one way of putting it.

Luckily, we were with a lovely group of people in our hostel, who’ve all been mentioned on this blog, so we didn’t mind. Our highlight was probably a hungover McDonalds in a plane, which was a unique and altogether memorable experience. If you’re confused, I was too, but to cut a long and surprisingly dull story about the plane’s origin short – there is an old cargo plane at McDonald’s Taupo which was converted into part of the restaurant a few years ago. You can eat in it now. It’s actually about as exciting as it sounds.

So with fond memories of aviation-based cheeseburgers, 3 days after we had arrived in Taupo we left, if slightly disappointed at our lack of activities. We would be returning to try again, however, but for now we were on the road with our new driver Simon, who brought a whole host of new stories…


Alex Odlin feels that his lack of prowess at the haka may have hampered his chances of making the All Blacks rugby side. His English nationality and total lack of rugby ability has nothing to do with it.

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