Feeding Wild Stingrays and a Pa Site Maori Experience

Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the light of the new day, so we can’t leave “Gizzy” without seeing that first light for ourselves. Dive Tatapouri have made it easy for us: with low tide being around 6.30am to go out onto a reef and feed some wild stingrays, there’s no way we can miss the sunrise.

An epic sunrise at the first city to see the sun

When we arrive at the Dive Tatapouri base, just 15 minutes out of Gisborne, we walk onto the ultimate beach hangout! Surf boards, sailing ropes, deck chairs, and all sorts of cool details decorate the beachfront decking area, not to mention the numerous hammocks tied between trees on a sheltered sandy area. It’s the perfect place to watch the colours of the sky get more intense at the morning goes on. When the sun finally peaks out over the ocean on the horizon, the owner of Dive Tatapouri, Chris, comes out with some “Gizzy Fizzy” to enjoy on this particular stellar sunrise. (We know we started drinking early yesterday, but this has to be a new record for us).

Feeding wild stingrays

Now that we have some more daylight, our guide for the stingray feeding, Alex, gathers up the small group to get started. We are equipped with some sexy-looking waders and a wooden pole, then we gather on the beach for a quick safety briefing. Alex uses the beach as a canvas for some beautiful drawings of the two types of stingray we may see today: the long-tailed stingray and the eagle ray, to depict where we can and cannot touch them. He also warns us of the dreaded kingfish…

With that, we head single file onto the rocky reef following Alex’s footsteps. The highest the water goes is only to our waists during this reef-walking expedition at low tide. Impressively, Alex can already see there are some rays swimming about the buoy ahead of us just by looking at the patterns on the water, as well as spotting the kingfish… Dum, dum, duuuuuuum!

Are we sure we want to do this?!

When we reach out stingray feeding spot, the water is fully occupied by kingfish. Finally, we get to find out why we should not try to pet these bad boys. Alex dips his finger in the water for just a second, then there’s chaos in the water! Kingfish are trying to snap at his finger, and man, they can move fast. We and our fellow tour-goers look at each other with worried expressions, as if to say: “Are we sure we want to do this?!”

We can't think of a better way to start the day We can't think of a better way to start the day
Alex giving us a briefing before we hit the water Alex giving us a briefing before we hit the water
Kingfish Vs. long-tailed ray: who will win the fight for the barracuda?! Kingfish Vs. long-tailed ray: who will win the fight for the barracuda?!
Meet the stingrays! They all have names! Meet the stingrays! They all have names!

Is it a stingray or a sea puppy?!

The sight of the first whopping eagle ray takes our cares away. It comes gliding up to Alex and starts trying to climb his leg, while Alex strokes it like it’s a freakin’ dog! Wow! We have never seen stingrays act like this.

Alex gives us heaps of insights into the stingrays and answers all of our many questions as more rays come to join us. Eagle rays gentle push up against us, while long-tailed rays slowly glide by. Sure, the kingfish are still around, not scared by us or the rays, but we are all very relaxed and just enjoying this close wildlife encounter.

Monster eagle rays and feeding the kingfish

The time comes to now feed the stingrays. Alex hands over a piece of barracuda each and explains how to feed them considering that their mouths are on the under part of their bodies. The largest eagle ray, who is said to weigh about 120kg, dominates the feeding area we have made while we are all lined up, holding our poles between our feet. Although some of us have trouble feeding the huge slippery girl, others finally manage to feel the vacuum of her mouth quickly suck the barracuda from our hands!

Luckily, the kingfish did not try to mess with the huge eagle ray when we are trying to feed her, but Alex is going to show us one trick with feeding the kingfish! One by one, we hang a piece of barracuda above the water and wait for the huge fierce fish to leap out and grab it. No fingers were bitten off during the making of this blog post.

We spend as long as the tide allows us out here with the rays, petting them, feeding them and learning more about these awesome creatures. Then it’s back to shore where the rays and kingfish follow us for one last hug on the legs.

Onward to Whirikoka Pa Site

After getting out of our waders, we hang around Dive Tatapouri for a little while longer, but we still have a huge day ahead of us. We are heading inland to Whirikoka Pa Site to stay with a Maori family and learn more about indigenous culture of New Zealand.

We are greeted by our host, Marcus, who gives us, what he calls, a “Marcus welcoming”. This involves walking around the marae (meeting place), learning about the different aspects of the carvings, the powhiri (welcoming ceremony), and some important aspects of New Zealand’s history. The Maori have an amazing skill of story-telling, which is no different with Marcus. We learn more about the real Maori culture hanging out with Marcus than we have in the three years we have been in New Zealand!

Learning more about the Maori culture inside a traditional-style hut Learning more about the Maori culture inside a traditional-style hut
Robin gets to work... We are going to be here a while. Robin gets to work... We are going to be here a while.
We saw the sun coming up this morning and this epic sunset this evening. We saw the sun coming up this morning and this epic sunset this evening.

An authentic Maori experience

After getting a complete “Wow!!” moment when we step around the back of the wharenui to discover that we are actually on top of a hill overlooking a sensation view of mountains in the distance with a valley floor occupied by a braided river. Marcus shares his visions of restoring the land that has been deforested and farmed back to native forest. But what he is currently working on right now gives us a bigger “Wow!!” moment than the first. Walking around the perimeter of the top of the hill, our eyes lay upon a lower level of the hill turned into a traditional-style fortified village, i.e. a pa site. Wooden buildings made out of manuka with thatched roofs, a watch tower, a circular seating area dug into the side of the hill with a central fireplace, and the area is completed surrounded by a fence made up of sharpened sticks. The pa site is not complete yet, but we’re going to help a little bit with the construction this afternoon!

Helping build the pa site

Armed with a drill and some rope, we start securing some carvings to some upright poles. Robin brings his sailing knot-tying skills to the effort, but he will have to learn a new skill to create some wooden seating areas… Using semi-traditional methods (a machete) Robin gets to work on chopping the second hardest wood in New Zealand, manuka, in half. Literally, blood and sweat goes into it, but by the end, he has contributed something to an awesome place for more people to come and learn about the Maori culture, so you can’t help but feel good about that.

We share meals with the family, watch the sunset from the pa site, and end the night by sharing stories around the campfire. It’s a truly authentic Maori experience, which we are super stoked about it continuing tomorrow after a night of sleeping in the wharenui. Join us tomorrow!

Laura and Robin
“What? Where are the 360 pictures, you bunch of slackers!” Well, just look at this post to read the devastating story about what happened to our camera…

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