New Plymouth to Waitomo
28.09.2009 - 28.09.2009
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It poured rain most of the night. Heavy rain. It stopped briefly when we woke up and did our toileting without getting soaked again. Suffice to say we didn’t get to walk around New Plymouth. There is a foreshore area and lots of walks. There are also lots of gardens and nature walks, which were out of the question. We quickly decided to move onwards and upwards towards Waitomo.
The Waikato/Waitomo region is defined by its rolling hills, lush farmlands and fabulous scenery. Today it was abit hard to see everything, but it was still a great trip. It was just over 175kms from New Plymouth to Waitomo Caves which was our destination of the day. There were hundreds of sheep, cattle and dairy farms that we drove by today. The poor animals were not enjoying the weather.
From New Plymouth to Awakino the Highway (No.3) hugged the coastline. The winds were strong and gusting. You could feel the wind moving you side to side and at time to the middle of the road. The beaches along this stretch of the coast are black volcanic sand. Something I had never seen before. I had never seen black pebbles like that at Napier either. A handful of firsts there alone. So for that part of the journey we got frequent glimpses of the Tasman Sea and its angry waves.
The biggest township before Waitomo is Te Kuiti. Te Kuiti is known as the “shearing capital of the world”. It is also the last chance to get some supplies. Waitomo doesn’t really have much in the way of stores. We arrived at Waitomo information centre to see what our options were for the day. There are many activities to do for the thrill seeker and as well as exploring the caves. As we have two small children and a Grandma in the group, we weren’t looking for something too long or too strenuous. A 45 minute tour of the Waitomo Cave was the choice. We booked at the information centre and then drove the 500m down the road to the cave marshalling area/entrance.
It is there that you check in and form your tour group. They are currently constructing a new centre there so there are temporary accommodations. The new centre will be state of the art and very contemporary looking in appearance. You walk up several flights of stairs and down some more before reaching the cave entrance. The start of the tour the guide takes you through the various chambers and points out the different formations, explains that it took 30 million years to form these caves, they are made of limestone, etc.
While the caves are beautiful, they don’t contain many delicate structures or formations. Those that are there are lovely – but that is not the reason we chose this cave, it was because of the glow worms. These are little larvae that live in the roof of the caves and provide a bioluminescence light. After nine months these larvae enter a pupae stage and then become a glow worm fly. These survive only 3 -5 days to reproduce before dying of starvation – they have no mouths. The glow worm produces vertical threads like spiders web which hang from the ceiling to catch their prey. These look like wet sticky filaments under the torchlight.
After walking through the caves we descended to the underground river to get a closer look at the glow worms. There were about a dozen of us in the group and we all hopped into a aluminium boat in the near pitch dark. Sam was very scared of the dark as were another two children in the group. Our guide pulled us off the pontoon by pulling along set ropes. In the silence of the caves we moved in the darkness with our eyes gazing upwards at the fluorescent ceiling. It was like looking at a thousand little milky ways - the starry sky on the clearest of nights in the country. It was breathtaking and everyone was sighing and oooing! It was amazing. For about 10 minutes we floated on the river below these creatures enjoying their light show. We loved it! It is in our top 5 things we’ve done or seen this trip. Can’t recommend highly enough to everyone.
No photography is allowed in the caves – hence no pics to share.
The rain stopped mid afternoon and a brilliant blue sky emerged for the rest of the day. I did the washing at the campground and all the visiting Victorians and Poms went swimming in the arctic pool. It is an extremely pretty area, but not much different to the rest of the place. New Zealand turned on another fabulous day. The rain – please go away!