So, several months after buying the ticket, I’m finally going to start my North Island travel. I’ll be travelling around the North Island, leaving Wellington to return to Auckland on the 9th July so I can be back in time for working at the book store. The Stray pickup is at Base around 7:30, so I make my way there and meet up with a handful of girls also hopping on the trip. We get a little worried as the bus is 10 minutes late, but eventually we’re on our way to Nomads for the final pickup and heading out of Auckland.
Stray bus driver’s all have nicknames, and ours is called Maverick. The bus itself is much smaller than I expected, but that’s due to the North Island not being as popular as the south. We’ll be travelling to a town called Raglan today, but we have a quick stop along the way at a waterfall known as ‘Bridal Veil Falls’ due to its resemblance to a veil.
This is where the heavy rain we’ve been experiencing comes good. The waterfall is extremely heavy, and from the top is terrifyingly impressive. It’s a 55 metre drop to the bottom, and staring over the outlook is not something for those with a fear of heights. To put it another way, it takes 15 minutes to walk down the stairs to the bottom – a trip that’s well worth it, but really drives home how tall this waterfall is. At the bottom, once you’ve taken in the beauty, a popular pastime is playing with perspective and taking photos of the waterfall going directly into your mouth. Interesting photo to take home if nothing else.
Raglan is a little bit famous as New Zealand’s best surfing spot. Our accommodation for the night is the Kariori Lodge, a backpackers hidden away in the mountain and surrounded by forest. They also have a surfing school on site, which can provide lessons ($80) or just surfboard hire ($15-45) for anyone interested.
Normally, my budget wouldn’t allow it, but I set aside a certain amount of money for a specific activity happening tomorrow, and got a pleasant surprise when the clipboard was handed around showing the price. I knew Stray offered activities with a discount, but this was a lot more than I expected, and meant I had a little more free cash than planned, so decided to splurge on a lesson. I’ve tried surfing in Bali, and never got a chance to do more than body board in Australia, so might as well figure out how to stand while I’m in New Zealand.
Most people already knew and just hired surfboards, so the class consisted of a girl called Katerina and myself. Our teacher, Bing, started by taking us to the lodge’s ‘sports barn’ and explaining the different parts of the surfboard, and what to look out for in the ocean. Then we were allowed to try the surfboards, learning the correct stance (much like wakeboarding, I favour my left leg which apparently makes me ‘goofy’), and the easiest way to stand on the board (after paddling, put hands in centre of the board, push up, back leg’s knee moves up, push up on fingers, front foot goes between them on an angle, and stand). Managed to do it pretty well in the class, but after 30 minutes we were getting wetsuits and heading down to the beach to try it out for real.
It wasn’t the best day for surfing. There were a lot of double waves – I don’t know if it has a technical term, but waves came in doubles, so the first small wave would pull all the power out of the larger wave behind it, and you’d struggle to get any speed or force. It was however, pretty good for those of us still learning what to do. Katerina, for all that she had issues in the class, seemed to master standing pretty quickly, while I…decidedly did not. For the first few tries, my mind blanked on the sequence and had me falling off the board. When I finally got it in my head, I managed to stand once, and then began a frustrating process where I just COULD NOT get my front foot in between my hands. Even when I got it close and tried to stand in order to correct, I only managed to stay upright for a few seconds before falling off the sides. I did at least get up a few times, but never quite managed a smooth transition or get any speed to it. It was rather frustrating considering it’s the first water sport on my travels that I haven’t managed to pick up easily.
About ten minutes before the end, I had a really bad fall midway through standing and landed badly on my left arm. It was fine, but definitely cut the surfing short. I headed out the water and just kept on watching the others before they had to head back to shore. When we got back, I headed straight for the sauna I’d been told the lodge had (right next to the wetsuit area), and gave it a shot with some of the boys before showering and heading down to the kitchen for dinner.
Normally, unless the accommodation provides food, Stray passengers are responsible for their own meals. However, as this is the first night this group is together (minus those who were on the bus for the Bay of Islands trip previously), Maverick collected $10 from each of us to put together a communal barbeque. This included lamb chops (which sadly hadn’t been cooked as much as they should have been and weren’t very popular), sausages (which were very popular), vegetable skewers, mashed potato and salad, along with 2 different sauces and gravy, which I made.
(Funny story, I wasn’t concentrating with the gravy and accidentally put the gravy granules in someone else’s pan. Ended up having to guess how much more gravy powder I needed since I didn’t know how many cups of water had been in the pot and improvising my shoving salt and Worchester sauce in the mixture to give it more taste!)
For dessert, we had 3 pavlova’s decorated with cream, banana and kiwi. Ended up eating nearly one third of one by myself as several people declined their pieces. We actually had quite a bit of food left over, and got repurposed in the morning.
Once everyone had digested their fill, we headed out of the lodge and down the driveway in the pitch darkness on the hunt for insects. Specifically, glow worms, which inhabited the muddy bank on the side of the road.
I’ve never seen glow worms before (and sadly, my camera doesn’t do them justice so you’ll just have to use your imagination), so it was fascinating to see them in action. The name is actually misleading as they aren’t worms at all, but the larvae stage of a type of fly – but ‘glow maggots’ doesn’t sound as appealing on the tourist brochures. They aren’t capable of defecating, and so release a mix of chemicals that break down the waste in the bodies…which has a bioluminescent side effect and results in them glowing. They then use the glow to lure other insects towards them, and when they get too close, they find themselves caught in a very thin string that comes from the glow worms mouth. The string is covered in a paralytic agent, and once the glow worm feels the vibrations of its captured prey, the string is sucked up like spaghetti and the glow worm has its next meal…which eventually becomes glowing waste and lures in the next victim. Very effective.
It’s too dark for me to see the strings, but the eerie green lights along the road are beautiful. It’s haunting to walk along and see the tiny lights in their hundreds. We’ll be seeing more tomorrow, but seeing them in the wild is pretty awesome.
Our final stop is inspiration point, which is a lookout attached to the car park for the lodge. Normally people come here for sunset/sunrise, but the weather was against us. However, it’s such a high point and so far away from the town, that you can get a fantastic view of the night sky from here. Again, the weather wasn’t great and so a lot of the stars were hidden, but it was still a pretty clear view of the sky. Ironically, if you looked really far to the right, you could see a pale glow – Auckland’s light pollution still visible even from this far away.
We eventually headed back when it threatened to rain, but I definitely want to come back to Raglan in the summer and try surfing again, in addition to coming and giving this lookout a better shot with better weather. For now though, we have to turn on the portable heaters and try and get towels and swimsuits dry for tomorrow’s trip to Waitomo Caves