From the Waitomo caves, we crossed the Bay of Plenty to Mourea to stay at a Maori marae-a Maori meeting place. Mourea is home to a number of small Maori communities. The Ngati Pikiao people, a sub tribe of the New Zealand Iii of Te Arawa are some of the most spiritual and inviting people I have met throughout my travels. Their traditional welcoming onto their land gave me goose bumps as we walked silently toward their scared marae.
When we arrived at our cultural overnight stay, we were welcomed on to the marae with a powhiri- a traditional welcome. Throughout my night at the marae, I learned about Maori traditions and history while getting involved in a Kapa Haka (Maori song and dance). The girls leaned the Poi and the boys learned the Haka. After the concert and interactive dance lesson we enjoyed a group feast. After over 4 months on the road, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a home cooked meal. I had the best seafood chowder I have ever had with all the trimmings you can think of: roasted root vegetables, peas, pasta, and garlic bread. Desert was a buffet of a variety of chocolates, fruit salad, and apple cobbler topped with cream and coulis. I think that meal was the amount of food I would normally eat in a week.
It was during this amazing cultural experience that I really bonded with my Stray group. We all slept in the Wharenui (meeting house) in the same way the Maori would sleep when attending a tangi (funeral), hui (meetings), or whanau (family occasions)- on the floor on mattresses side by side. Before bed we were told Maori traditional stories and learned what different things mean in Maori. In the Maori culture the ocean is considered one of the most sacred and powerful places. It’s no wonder how I feel a spiritual connection with the sea. It was a great opportunity to stray off the beaten path and get immersed in New Zealand’s culture with locals. It was even more special to experience it for the first time with other travels who are also eager to learn. Stray travelers are an amazing group of people who want to travel just like me. It was a night full of great fellowship, food, new friendships, and laughter.