It was another road trippin’ kind of day. We left Auckland for Waitomo first thing in the morning. Everything we’d read said the trip was two to two-and-a-half hours, but with summer construction in Auckland and some of the surrounding areas, the trip ended up being three hours. This meant we arrived fifteen minutes before our scheduled tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves instead of the recommended half an hour. When we arrived, I could see why they suggested an early arrival: the line was slow-moving at the ticket counter. Fortunately, earlier tours had gotten delayed, so our tour was delayed by just enough time for us to check in and go to the bathroom.
The Glowworm Cave tour only lasts about 45 minutes, which makes the ticketing cost for the tour almost a dollar a minute. I think the jury is still out for me about whether it was worth the cost. Tim, on the other hand, loved it. You first descend into the cave and admire the limestone stalactites and stalagmites as well as the naturally carved caverns. After visiting the cathedral cavern (the highest point in the cave), you’re led down to catch your first glimpse of the glow worms dotting the ceiling of the cave. The guide turned spotlights on so we could all see the long web-like strings descending from the worms that are used to catch their food. In truth, these worms are not really worms, but maggots. The guide said “glow maggots” just didn’t have the same ring to it. 🙂 The glow is actually a chemical reaction in the maggot’s stomach that aids in attracting prey. Mosquitoes and flies are drawn to the glowing light and end up caught in the webs below. The glow worm senses the catch and sucks the trapped victim up like a spaghetti noodle. Yum!
After this first glimpse, our group was led to a waiting boat to navigate under a veritable universe of glow worms. Everyone is instructed to be quiet so as not to disturb the worms or fellow passengers, so we slid under the star-like worms in silence broken only by occasional gasps of delight from those around us. Ten minutes later, we were at the original entrance to the cave and guided on our way back to the car park. It was a beautiful, but brief, encounter with something that felt almost ethereal but also a bit like a planetarium with LED lights representing stars.
To “protect the cave,” photography of any kind is not allowed except at the entrance to the cave. We had a short debate about the reason for this: my dad felt it was to encourage tourists to buy the photos they sell in the gift shop. My theory is that they want to control the image of the caves to be sure no photos are released that make the caves look anything other than magical and enticing. So, this is the only photo we have from this part of our journey:
For anything more, you’ll have to Google it. 🙂
After the caves, we began in the direction of Rotorua (row-toe-rue-a). We stopped for a late lunch in Otorohanga, considered the gateway to the caves (and also the home to Kiwi House that has worked hard to preserve and protect the kiwi bird). The downtown was sweet and our lunch at O, a cafe across from the community library, was perfect. Their iced mochas may have been even more perfect, and that’s coming from a non-coffee drinker!
After lunch, it was country roads for miles and miles. At points, Tim felt like we were driving in circles because the GPS was telling him to make so many left turns. Someone told us that even places that look close on the map in New Zealand are not always so close, and now we see why. It seems like there are no direct routes to anywhere in the central part of the island. But we weren’t really complaining. We didn’t have any deadline for arrival in Rotorua, and the scenery was lovely.
Rotorua is a happening place! It’s one of the central tourist areas on the northern island. Adrenaline junkies can find plenty of fixes here: sky diving, bungee jumping, zip lining, white water rafting, and more. There are also activities for those looking for a slower pace: kayaking, biking, hiking, and other more leisurely activities. We felt a little overwhelmed by all the options, especially given the fact that we only have one full day here. We tried to choose activities that my parents could also enjoy and that would fit into the time we had available before our evening tour at Hobbiton. I guess we’ll see how those choices pan out tomorrow!
We arrived into town around 5 and checked into the Millenium Hotel. We’ve been staying in apartment-style hotels up to this point, so this was our first true hotel of the trip. We have a suite on the fifth floor that is spacious with a separate living room to relax and plan our adventures in addition to the bedroom and bathroom. The location of the hotel is pretty central to shops and was just a fifteen minute walk to Eat Streat where we had dinner at Mac’s Steakhouse. It wasn’t my favorite meal of the trip, but it wasn’t bad.
After dinner, we came back and enjoyed a glass of wine from the bottle the gals from California bought my mom yesterday at the end of our wine tour. Such a fun memory already!
My fingers are crossed that tomorrow’s activities will knock our socks off and be a good mixture of all that Rotorua has to offer. Stay tuned!