Tuma Tuma Toobing & Uncle Boy's Maori Cultural Show, Maketu

Maketu Travel Blog

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Our Stray group outside Uncle Boy's Mauri

This morning we headed to Waitomo Caves to pick up our choice of either the Tuma Tuma Toobing or the Haggis Honking. The toobing involved some caving, and then floating on inflatable rubber rings through glow worm caves. The honking involved abseiling through small holes and waterfalls underground. I had deliberated quite hard about which one to do, as Clare had told me about the toobing before I left UK and I couldn't do it anywhere else in NZ. Plus, since Australia I have had to drastically readjust my expectations of the challenges each of these activities. The Honking looked amazing, but really full on and the 'Rambo rating' was 8, compared with 6 for the toobing.

Me about to tuck into a typical 'Hangi' meal
Eventually I settled on the toobing with regrets, but I wanted to follow Clare's recommendations and do abseiling elsewhere.

We took a bus about 25 mins through Yorkshire-looking countryside; the narrow, stoney road curved round the side of huge steep-sided, deep-green grassy hills peppered with sheep. Once there we dressed in a wetsuit, jacket, gum boots and a hard hat fitted with light. Feeling sexy we walked to the cave entrance, which was a ladder sticking out of a hole with a narrow gap through which to slide your body. Pressing myself close to the ladder I slid down to the guide who instructed me to climb through a small hole at our feet and follow the stream for 10 metres and stop at the marker. At this point I started to wonder what I had got myself into, as I could barely see the stream and was crawling into the dark.
The girls doing Maori 'poi'
I stepped uncertainly into the pitch black and stepped through the stream bent double until I saw the faint light of the person who had descended before me.

Once the group had all gathered we set off through the caves and water of varying heights to knee level, sometimes squeezing through narrow gaps, or sitting down and sliding through small rocky crevices on the floor. After a time the water started getting deeper and it wasn't long after that we could no longer avoid the cold water from pouring over the edges of our gum boots. Then again, we found ourselves wading through waist height water, me desperately pressing my legs together to preserve the dry layer between my skin and the suit. Finally we were told to swim up a passage, making sure we didn't kick our legs and lose our gum boots and finally the cold water started creeping up my legs.
The boys doing Maori 'Haku'
We swam about 10 metres and then came to a doggy-paddling halt as the groups members heading up the trail tried to find a way through. Our head lights flashed back and forth as we turned our heads back and forth between the rock face and the guides talking instructions behind us. The water was freezing, and my hands were beginning to hurt from the cold when the guides finally confessed there was no way through and that they had just sent us down there as a joke! I swam back cursing them, before finally, 2 metres from the shallower rocks the cold water finally tipped over the front of my wet suit, the freezing cold water shocking me and my warm, bare skin making me gasp and flounder. I splashed to the side, and as I stood up the cold water from my chest drained down my thighs and into my boots making the experience that much more shocking.
Me caving at Waitomo


Finally we found ourselves at the edge of a watery cave and were handed the inflatable tyres. We had to stand up on a ledge, clutch the tyres to our bums, and launch ourselves backwards into the water with a huge splash. From here we tucked our feet under the armpits of the person in front of us, turned off our lights, and began floating (and singing) down a beautiful, dark tunnel with a ceiling covered with tiny, tiny green lights of glow worms. They are really beautiful, and really much smaller than I expected. Their light is to attract food and to burn off their excretions. They sit in a mucus hammock which the slide up and down in, and let down a mucus strand which catches flying food.

Back at the end of the cave we stopped for a hot drink, a chocolate fish and some terrible jokes, before heading off again into more caves which were becoming more and more sharp and spiky due to the change in rock formation.
The Maori dancing and poi
I got my foot stuck trying to step between two sharp pointed rocks in 'ankle break alley' but fortunately pulled free with only mild foot squash. We learnt a bit about the formation of stalactites, of curtains and columns, and then moved onto our second swim and our second toob experience. This time we pulled ourselves up onto the tyres and floated through the tunnel gently on our fronts looking at the glow worms.

After the tunnel we climbed through a few more caves and crevices, one so small that we all had to crawl on our hands and knees holding the person in front's ankles. They call it ' The Re-birthing Canal'! And soon after we spotted daylight and crawled towards it, bending, turning and crouching into the light.

That night we were to go to a Maori Mauri in Maketu, Uncle Boy's Maori Cultural Evening. Maoris have 'sleeping houses' where they all sleep together in times of celebration or crisis. Uncle Boy's considers himself a regular New Zealander, and his sleeping house isn't authentic, but he is passionate about sharing the experience with travelers.

Despite being clearly quite old, he gets up at 4am every morning to prepare for the day's guests. He says goodbye to one group that have slept over, puts on a hangi, naps for a couple of hours while the food cooks and then greets and entertains the new group from 5pm till late. A hangi is a Maori cooking pit.

When we arrived he described the welcome ritual of Maoris and when welcoming distinguished guests. They is a small covered area opposite the house where guests would wait. A warrior from the tribe would approach and place a leaf on the ground; he would then arm himself and stand in an offensive stance ready. If the guest picks up the leaf, the guest accepts the challenge, the warrior steps back and the guest is welcome. If he makes any other move not to pick up the leaf, the warrior will strike him. The male and female leader of the tribe will then call to the guest from the veranda and the guest will approach. At the door, you greet with a '' - shaking hands whilst touching noses. In the house you remove your shoes and leave them by the door.

Uncle Boys showed us around the decoration of the sleeping house, and then we sat down to eat. Wa had lamb, beef, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, stuffing, salad and coleslaw, with pavlova and fruit to follow. We then sat down to enjoy the cultural show. They performed 3 songs to start with; one describing their arrival in New Zealand, the second a happy song, and the third I can't remember. The performers ranged in age from 6 yrs to 60 yrs and the songs were very beautiful. During the songs the girls sometimes used poi, and after they had finished the boys and girls seperated into two groups to be shown 'haku' - the male war dance, and 'poi'. We were shown a routine to practice, and each given a thing to sing or shout. We then performed our dance to the boys, and they performed to us. It was a good laugh, although it wasn't as easy as it looked, and it made me want to make my own poi and practice as they looked so beautiful doing it.

After the dancing they performed once more and then left us with Uncle Boys who quizzed each of us on our lives. It was interesting as we all got to know a lot more about each other than we had so far. His questioning was wide and often threw up unusual and interesting things about everyone. After talking for a couple of hours we then set up mattresses round the room. I sat out in the kitchen talking to our driver, writing my blog while he sorted out tunes for the van. We went outside to look at the stars and Noddy pointed out some southern hemisphere constellations, plus a Maori one, and we saw a few shooting stars. The sky was amazing, with virtually no light pollution it was actually difficult spotting constellations because there was SO many stars visible. We stayed up till about 2.30am chatting, and then padded quietly to bed in the sleep house.

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Our Stray group outside Uncle Boy…
Our Stray group outside Uncle Boy…
Me about to tuck into a typical H…
Me about to tuck into a typical '…
The girls doing Maori poi
The girls doing Maori 'poi'
The boys doing Maori Haku
The boys doing Maori 'Haku'
Me caving at Waitomo
Me caving at Waitomo
The Maori dancing and poi
The Maori dancing and poi
Maketu
photo by: Tannith