Wild Stingray Feeding

Ever been sucked on by a stingray? 

Did you know that you can hand feed a ray? 

In awesome kiwi style the guys at Dive Tatapouri have befriended a couple of the local sting rays and have set up tours where you can either hand feed or snorkel and swim with them. This was definitely an adventure I wasn’t going to miss on our recent cruise around New Zealand’s East Cape. 

Heading out of Gisborne on a mission to drive the East Cape we cruised through Tatapouri and noticed the Dive Tatapouri headquarters. In a now or never kind of moment we pulled in and booked in for the following days reef walk.

The next morning I found myself pulling on borrowed socks and a massive (size 11!) pair of waders. I think I was still a bit bemused. Really, yup, lets go hand feed some stingrays. As in the creatures that killed Steve Irwin.

But I didn’t have much time to dwell. We were instructed to grab a pole (bamboo or cattle prod style) and our small group lined up on the beach in our new ‘wall’ formation. We were given instructions for identifying and feeding the rays, then walked single file out into the reef.

Short-tailed stingrays are larger and rounder than the eagle ray and rarer to sight so I was thrillled to see some join us as well as the eagle rays. Feeding them was an incredible experience. It felt like a gummy vacuum sucking the fish pieces from my fingers. For anyone familiar with calf rearing it’s a whole heap like that. I did nearly run into some trouble when a kingfish that was nearly my size took a swipe at my camera (and my hand!) but this just made for more entertainment. 

To be honest I guess I didn’t really think much of my opinion of stingrays until the end of the session when we were asked “does this change how you feel about them?”. Steve Irwin aside, I put them somewhere below sharks and crocodiles and hugely above jellyfish and water snakes in my things to avoid in the water list. 

A previous shark swim at Napier Aquarium had included rays in the tank, but these hadn’t been mentioned in our instructions and other than giving them space I barely gave them a second thought. 

Having seen a huge short tailed ray suck its way up our guides legs, having even the little eagle rays nudge into us looking for food and the easy way they moved around with us and hearing from the guide that as long as the were confident in approaching us and if we avoided touching certain parts of their bodies were were safe, I’m comfortable in the water around them. 

Feeding wild stingrays by hand like this has really changed my opinion of them and I’m thrilled I gave it a go. This is definitely a must do if you find yourself in the Gisborne/East Cape region.  

Dive Tatapouri is located about 20 minutes drive from Gisborne’s town centre on State Highway 35. They do a variety of tours including a Reef Ecology Tour, Wild Stingray Feeding and Offshore Cage Diving.
Contact: 64-6-8685153 or http://www.divetatapouri.com/

Morere Hot Springs

 Hot pools are a particular favourite of mine. A great way to wind down after a hard day at work, or walking down to the local hot water stream for an  early morning dip, I’ve experienced a few in New Zealand from the hot water stream with no facilities to the geothermal fantasy that is the Lost Spring Spa. I’d visited the hot spring at Morere as a child and was looking forward to visiting again.

A treat not to be missed – gorgeous hot and cold springs set amid 364 hectares of rainforest. Rare in the world of hot springs, the Morere Springs produce 250,000 litres a day of hot ancient sea water. Known for its therapeutic values, the water is piped to a series of public and private hot pools. It is definitely worth taking a walk on any of the various walks in the Morere Scenic Reserve, from 10-minute walks up to three hours. Especially famous for its nikau palms, the dense virgin rainforest is home to a wide range of native birds.” AA TRAVEL GUIDE

I did have to laugh a little to myself after re-reading the AA’s guide to Morere after our visit. A treat not to be missed? I don’t believe it. While the Morere Springs and Scenic Reserve do make a nice place to stop on the way from Napier to Gisborne they seem to have let themselves go. They are priced comparable to Waikete Valley Thermal Pools or Taupo Hot Springs Spa however lack a lot of the facilities and features of these other options. At this point I think it is also worth noting that there is a base entry fee whether you are using the pools, reserve or walks of $8 per person. Morere Hot Springs are located 46kms from Wairoa (just over half an hour drive) and 52 kms from Gisborne (40 min)

 With options to chose from including hot and cold, indoor and outdoor, public and private pools we paid extra to use the private hot pools. These are set between the family style outdoor pool and the plunge pool. The outlook was lovely and the pool was of a reasonable size for two people, however the building was dark and grim and looked in need of a good clean. There was graffiti on the wall as well, never a good look. The private pool was amazingly hot; the kind of hot that melts away aching muscles and does wonders to relax. They were that hot I could understand the 30 minute time limit.

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Unfortunately the facilities are very basic and it’s always interesting sharing the bathrooms with spiders and their webs. Frankly, I’ve seen better kept long drops.

Following my misadventure with the facilities we decided to walk up to the plunge pools. These are a brief 10 minute stroll through a beautiful grove of Nikau palms and native bush. Nikau are the southernmost growing palm tree in the world. The Maori use the leaves for a variety of purposes including thatching houses, cooking and weaving. The berries are edible when green and the flower can be cooked and eaten and the heart of the leaves (rito) can be eaten raw. Walking through the palms gives the reserve a decidedly tropical feel, in spite of the weather. The path follows the clear stream that was visible from our private pool and leads up to the site of the #2 bath house.

The three plunge pools are set in a semi-open aired gazebo surrounded by native trees and ferns. One is hot, one medium and one cold. Watching people dash from the hot pool to plunge into the cold made for good entertainment. These pools were in much better condition that those closer to the office and while they were public pools, not private, I’d definitely use these next time I visit the springs.

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The Morere Springs have a history dating back to pre-European times when they were used by Ngati Kahungunu. The springs were discovered by Europeans in the 1890’s and the first bath house was built in 1904. Eventually 3 bath houses were built on the site with a landslide in 1962 damaging the bath house furtherest away which lead to its closure.

Despite the facilities, a visit to the Morere Hot Springs should still be an essential stop on any trip around New Zealand’s East Cape, if only to say you’ve bathed in hot ancient sea water. I really enjoyed wandering through the pleasant tropical atmosphere of the rainforest and will definitely remember to leave time for a longer walk next time we visit. 

White Pine Bush

White Pine Bush is located at Tangoio, 30kms (approx 20min drive) north of Napier on SH2 as you travel towards Wairoa. One of the first reserves set up in the area, the 19 hectares of remnant lowland podocarp forest features dominant Kahikatea stands and a grove of Nikau Palms you see today have survived centuries of land clearance.

Fire was used by the Maori (pre-european settlement) of the region to flush out prey and open up land for crops and settlement. Post European settlement the land clearance continued to make way for farm and pine/exotic forest plantation.

Kahikatea, a species only found in New Zealand, were known as “White Pine” until the mid 1900’s. They are a ‘swamp’ forest species and grow up to 60 meters and up to 2 meters across. Only about 2% of Kahikatea forest is thought to remain. This stand boasts some up to 800 years old.

Ongaonga (a giant stinging nettle that grows up to 3 meters!) is the exclusive food of the caterpillar of the red admiral butterfly. Watch out for them while completing this walk as a bad sting can be extremely painful and cause dizziness for up to three days.

We arrive about 9am on this overcast Friday morning. I’m less than impressed with the weather. The east coast is known for its lovely sunny climate but we get chill overcast fogginess and I pull on a jacket to cut out the wind.

There are two main walking tracks, a 30 minute loop with another loop taking the walk to 1 hour. The 30 minute loop is described as ‘sealed’ which is most certainly is not, however it does appear to be suitable for wheelchair access (although this could get muddy when wet), while both tracks are suitable for most ability levels.

The walk is easy and the path is fairly well kept though a few parts were more overgrown than I’m used to seeing. A lot of the 30 minute track is on boardwalks and there are picnic tables under the trees in a clearing at about the midpoint. This is also where the second track loops in from. The paths are well signposted with lots of information regarding the native plants and birds in the area, a quick history of the reserve and geological information.

The track follows and crosses a small freshwater stream where we spent a couple of minutes unsuccessfully trying to spot some eels. We did have a kereru (New Zealand Native Pigeon) fly overhead and land on a branch quite close by and watch us wander past.

From the car park there appears to be usual access to bathroom facilities however this was closed due to low water levels during our visit (Hawkes Bay, Eastland and much of New Zealand was in drought conditions). Please also note that dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed.

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