The last month of normalcy in the world: March 2020. I was lucky enough to spend the very last month before the pandemic took over the world traveling New Zealand and Bali. The first leg of my trip started off at the Hoop Away New Zealand Retreat in Waiheki. People gathered from all corners of the world for this incredible yoga & hula hoop retreat. This was all before shit really hit the fan on March 13th. We really had no idea how drastically life would change once Hoop Away ended. We spent our last (quite) normal week together. And holy crap, it was certainly epic.
Day One, March 4th: I had arrived in Auckland the day before Hoop Away New Zealand began. Flights were packed as usual. Except this time everyone was wiping down their seats with sanitizer wipes. Nothing too alarming. I knew several hoopers were staying at the Jucy Snooze, and after 20 something hours of traveling, I was BEYOND happy when I saw one of my traveling besties sitting on a park bench across the hostel. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t check in yet, so I dropped my bags off and grabbed my camera to take some selfies. Luckily Caterina kept me awake enough so the locals didn’t think I was a literal zombie. We grabbed some lunch where I met up with a couple other hooper friends from way back when and before I knew it, I was passed out in my bed taking a much needed nap. And it just so happened to work out perfectly with the time changes in that I ended up on my normal sleep schedule by the first day of Hoop Away! Lucky me.
Day Two, March 5th: Let the hooping, yoga, and meditation begin! From Jucy Snooze, the hoopers and I walked to the pier where we boarded a ferry. Within a few minutes, we were off to Waiheke Island for Hoop Away New Zealand! Upon arriving on the island, we were greeted by Bianca, the most bad ass Maori guide… and friend! And let me tell you, being in a vehicle thats driving on the opposite side of the road is super jarring at first. Bianca & her wife, Amy, were such an important part of this experience that I just have to give them and Potiki Adventures a huge shout out and thank you!
We started this journey together in the dancing hall. We were even graced with the presence of a Kereru (a NZ native bird that is vital to their ecosystem)! The opening circle was super simple, light hearted, getting to know each other, type of business. We were all a little quiet, still trying to figure out how we fit into this unique group of people. But within the hour, Morgan’s infectious energy was bouncing off the walls for the first ever Hoop Away New Zealand workshop! Later that evening we made our way to the Piritahi Marae. The Marae is the scared space where we gathered to sleep, discuss, learn about the Maori culture, and of course, play time with our hoops. We spent HOURS listening to Bianca tell us all about the story of the Marae, which was designed to represent the human body. She told us how every detail was created by hand, how the ceilings are painted light at the entrance and gradually fade to darkness towards the back, how every single hand painted line and curve has a distinct meaning, and how each statue carving refers to a story or legend of the Maori people. And thats when the reality of the situation began to sink in. We were all truly honored to be invited into such a scared space.
Day Three, March 6th: We woke up at 5am for our first retreat sunrise hike: Stony Batter. The sea views were unmatched as colors of the sunrise swept over the island below us. I’ve only ever seen the ocean as just one giant stretch of water, no end in sight. But up at Stony Batter, you could see land and islands off in the distance and I swear, I’ve never loved water more than seeing those hills on the horizon. It was only day two of Hoop Away New Zealand and I was already feeling such a huge connection to the land. Once the sun has risen, we hiked back down and were greeted by tons and tons of sheep! It was hella cute. But even better, Bianca pointed out a rare bird. Unfortunately it was so far away and running so fast across a field that I couldn’t get a decent photo of it. Still, it was awesome to see the weka bird even from a distance. But just as we arrived back to the trail head, there was some rustling in the bushes behind the fence, and out popped another weka! This time the bird was just trotting along, until one of us would get a little too close. So I made it my personal mission to slowly stalk this bird until it came close enough to me to get the most adorable photo of its ruffled feathers! Mission accomplished.
The rest of the day was jam packed with activities. We stopped at Oneroa Beach for brunch and another amazing workshop! The group spent the next hour learning and practicing HUUULA dance. It was so beautiful to watch, especially with the gorgeous beach in the background. We kicked off the evening hours with another dance workshop, except this time they switched up the pace a bit. The Hoop Away New Zealand tribe went from HULA dancing to hip-hop dancing with Hayley Hoops! We finished the night with an LED hoop jam and my gawd was that fun. Dancing with our light up toys under the stars in NZ?! Yes please.
Day Four, March 7th: Kayaking Day! I opened the doors of the Marae to a beautiful, warm morning. It was completely still. Everyone else was still sound asleep. I tip-toed around everyones beds, trying to not wake anyone. I headed in to the dining hall for a quick breakfast before it was time for sunrise yoga. Miss Mo Jangles led us in a choreography workshop to get everyone moving before we got an even bigger workout on the kayaks! And let me tell you, trying to keep up with everyone, while trying to photograph them, and make sure the waves aren’t pushing me too far back… now THAT was difficult.
We headed back for lunch along with the next workshop: Flax Weaving! The Maori people have been using flax grass since they first arrived in New Zealand. It has so many useful properties, including a use for medicine, juice, bandages, fishing gear, ropes, and footware. So of course, with flax being such a staple in the Maori culture, our friend Ricky led us in a weaving workshop! In the end, we all decided to combine all of our creations to make one big bouquet of flax weavings to present as gift to Bianca & Amy (the Marae coordinators for Hoop Away New Zealand).
Day Five, March 8th: At the crack of dawn we hit the road for another hike. And this one was STEEP. I know I wasn’t the only one wildly out of breath when we got to our viewing spot. It was only 7am and I was already ready for a nap. Once the light started hitting the tops of the mountains, everyone got a boost of energy. We started journaling, hooping, and exploring the area. On the way down, Bianca stopped us to point out different wineries as well as plants and animals that were unique to the area.
After lunch (which, by the way, Amy made herself every afternoon using products from the Marae’s own garden!), we all hopped in the shuttle and headed to a lookout point of Matiatia Bay. You could barely see Auckland from here, but it was stunning to see how far away we were! More importantly, you could see One Tree Hill way off in the distance. One Tree Hill was the first settlement location in Auckland when it became colonized. There’s so much history behind this location, and it was amazing listening to Bianca tell us all the stories about it before we headed off to our next destination: Whakanewha Park.
Bianca & Ricky had us lie down under the giant pohutukawa tree, watching as the leaves danced in the wind, with the sunlight peaking through every so often. They told us the story of the separation of Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother) and how this opened up Te Ao Marama, the world of light, that we live in. As we lied under the tree, symbolizing Tāne Mahuta (god of the forest), we felt the spirits of the forest around us, above us, and beneath us. It was such a beautiful part of our experience and really help us feel even more connected to the land. When our story time came to a close, we embarked on our nature walk, where Bianca pointed out every plant around us, giving us tons of detail about their properties and their importance.
That evening we went to a lookout point to watch the sunset and munched on our picnic dinner of fish and chips. It was cloudy that evening, so unfortunately there was no sunset to view, but what we saw was something even more beautiful: Haylee Hoopla ripping her pants as she performed a choreographed dance for us. Watching and hearing everyones laughter was more beautiful than any sunset I could imagine.
That night we went back to the Marae for an extra special treat! We watched an incredible NZ documentary: Hip Hop-eration! It follows a dance group of senior citizens as they tried to win the Las Vegas Hip-Hop International championship. And if that description alone doesn’t make you want to watch it, maybe you’d just have to meet some of the cast members in person! Liz, one of the dance members, came to watch the documentary with us and show us some of her sick moves! She was such a joy to be around and it was a complete honor meeting her in all of her glory!
Day Six, March 9th: I woke up before the rest of the Hoop Away New Zealand participants to sneak into the kitchen for some pictures of Amy. She was our wonderful chef for every meal throughout the entire week, and I for sure did not want her hard work and contribution to go unnoticed. Amy was an absolute treasure to be around and filled our bellies with the BEST food in all of New Zealand!
However, for dinner this day, we planned to do something a little different. We went to Jeanine Clarkin’s house, a renowned Maori fashion designer! Jeanine was such a fabulous host! She showed us around her studio and home, cooked us an incredible spread of dishes! When we arrived back at our hoop space, it was time for the SHOW! Because what’s a hoop retreat without having a showcase performance for the locals? It went SO well! Everyones performance was outstanding, moving, and sometimes hilarious if that’s what they were going for haha We even had a bunch of littles join us on stage to see who could hoop the longest! Can you say “future hooper in the making”?! It was the perfect way to close out Hoop Away New Zealand!
Day Seven, March 10th: The last day. It was quite emotional. We packed our belongings, cleaned up the Marae, and gathered under the incredible hand-carved ceiling that we had been admiring all week. We shared memories, laughter, and tears while discussing the incredibly transformative experience we had all just been through together. It’s always hard saying goodbye, but this time, it really didn’t feel like goodbyes. It definitely felt more like a “see you later”.
Afterwards, we had one more experience planned. You can’t visit Waiheke without going to a winery! We had a smorgasbord of food to choose from, and every last bit of it was delicious, along with some wine tasting. Not to mention, a few of the girls were obsessed with our super attractive server. We ended up chatting with each other and sharing even more stories and laughs, mostly pertaining to how everyone met prior to the retreat. But we realized that of all the questions we asked during Hoop Away New Zealand, no one ever asked how Bianca & Amy met. We spent our last little bit of time together listening to their love story before it was time to head back to the ferry. We ended up running a liiiiitle bit late (who can blame us), so we had almost no time for hugs but we sure as hell made sure we got our hugs in anyways. This retreat was enlightening, information, and transformative, and I highly recommend not only any hooper visit the island of Waiheke, but any human ever. New Zealand is filled with magical landscapes, magical creatures, and magical humans. And it’s beyond worth a visit at least once in your life.
And just like that, I was on my way to South Island, New Zealand for yet another journey.