Lake Aniwhenua Cultural Experience
We kicked off the second half of our north island adventure with a Maori cultural experience at Lake Aniwhenua. Stray has some special experiences that “take you off the beaten path” and this is one of them.
A local Maori family first took us to a sacred tribal site in the middle of a forest, with wall carvings that are hundreds of years old. Then we went to their Marae, or meeting house, for a traditional welcome and time to learn about their local culture and traditions. In the evening, we stayed at Kohutapu Lodge, where we enjoyed an awesome Hangi dinner (a traditional way of cooking meat and veggies underground) and did some Maori activities, like learning the Haka and weaving a bracelet with flax.
All of this was quite enjoyable, but the whole day and night took on new meaning when the owner of the lodge shared with us the impact that the Stray visitors are having on their community. The town is quite poor and each hangi dinner provides free meals for dozens of local children and elderly the following day. Usually, the Stray group goes to the school to deliver the meals and meet with the kids. We weren’t able to visit the students when the meals were handed out because it was Sunday, but reading the letters that the children wrote at the end of their last school year brought us all to tears. They shared things like how they became less shy after meeting so many people from other countries and how now they dream about traveling somewhere outside of their town. It was really inspiring to learn about the Kohutapu Lodge and their owners’ mission and the impact that together with Stray they are having on this local community.
Blue Duck Station
Another unique Stray experience took us to Blue Duck Station, a remote farm in Whakahora. Besides the fun party we had as a group, this stop was memorable because Santi shot a gun for the first time to kill a wild goat. This is part of the conservation effort underway at Blue Duck as the goats, an invading pest, kill the local species of plants and crops. While he probably won’t need to ever do this again, it was on his bucket to kill, prepare and eat an animal so he can cross that one off the list!
Perhaps my favorite stop in all of New Zealand was the Tongariro National Park. There, we did the Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and top 10 day hikes in the world. We were lucky to get to do the hike at all. The weather is so temperamental that 60-90k winds at the top of the crossing keep people off the cross for days at a time.
19kms long, it’s a fun but challenging 5 hours. The weather went from hot and sunny to freezing and windy in a matter of minutes. The scenery changed just as quickly too. Along the way, there were hot springs, sand dunes, and even a jungle.
As you can see from the photos, this is a very interesting and dynamic hike. I loved it so much! Definitely, don’t miss this if you’re in the North Island.