Days 222-223 Wednesday & Thursday November 28-29, 2007 – Kawhia & Waitomo, New Zealand
Note: The two photos of glowworms in the article/gallery below were provided by our tour company.
Wednesday morning we set out early on the road towards Waitomo via a 100km detour along the North Island’s west coast. About an hour south of Hamilton, we stopped first at Bridal Veil Falls. The falls lie among the bush about ten minutes from the carpark. Upon arriving, we agreed that Breidal Veil Falls are among the most impressive we have seen thus far in New Zealand. After a quick hike to the bottom to get a different vantage point, we headed back to the car to continue our journey.
About 2km down the road from the falls, we turned onto a 55km long unsealed mountains road. After almost ninety minutes of very rough driving, we emerged at the small fishing village of Kawhia. Kawhia isn’t much more than one small street with a museum and a couple of takeaway restaurants. We did find a few interesting artifacts at the museum on the wharf. While the museum is small, we found the authentic 1880’s Maori whaling boat to be worth the visit.
After leaving the museum we spent a couple of minutes walking along the waterfront and taking in the picturesque view. The guidebook said fish and chips were the things to eat in Kawhia so we headed over to the local takeaway and ordered up some food to eat by the harbour. It is perhaps one of the best locales I have seen to sit and eat a quiet lunch.
When lunch was over, we didn’t find much else to do in town so we began our trek back inland to Otorohanga. Otorohanga is about 15km away from Waitomo where we were staying for the night. Other than being a base for people visiting Waitomo, Otorohanga’s one claim to fame is the Otorohanga Kiwi House which houses a fine collection of native birds including a group of Kiwis.
The flightless Kiwi bird is the national bird of New Zealand and their namesake. Being nocturnal, the Kiwi is quite elusive in the wild, so seeing it in captivity is the way most tourists go. We were lucky enough to arrive near a feeding time, so the ranger brought the birds close to the glass in their habitat, which is kept very dark to fool them into thinking it is night time. After looking at the Kiwis for a bit, we made a loop around to the many other exhibits housing some of New Zealand’s native bird species.
By the time we were finished at the Bird Reserve it was getting late so we headed down to our cabin in Waitomo to settle in for the night. On Thursday morning we headed over to the tour office to get tickets for the 1pm tour of the Waitomo Caves, which are world famous for their glowworms. The tour included visits to two caves, one with glowworms and a more traditional one with stalagmites and stalactites.
With some time to kill before our cave tour, we headed over to a shop selling items made from rabbit fur. At noon everyday they do a sheering presentation where a rabbit is shaved down to nothing. While it looks a bit jarring at first, by the end of the show it is clear that the rabbits are not in any pain. When the show was over we had an opportunity to pet the rabbit and feel just how soft their fur is. Before long it was time to head back over to the tour office to head out to the caves.
Our tour group consisted of three older British couples and a younger couple from the Netherlands. The first cave was a thirty minute drive through the rolling hills of Waitomo. Along the way our tour guide spoke about the area and the many caves that have formed as the limestone has dissolved over thousands of years.
Finally our tour guide parked and we had a ten minute hike to the first cave entrance. At that point we were given safety helmets with lights attached so that we could see in the pitch black cave. At the entrance, we walked along a metal walkway until we reached a raft that was setup for us to ride. As we were about to get on the raft one of the British men dropped his keys into the shallow water so our tour guide hopped down to get them. She arrived just in time as an eel was just about to swallow them.
Once we were all aboard the raft our guide instructed us to turn off the lights. We then spent the next thirty minutes going down the cave and back illuminated only by the brilliant glow of glowworms. (All pictures of glowworms in this post have been provided by the tour company.) The sight of thousands of fluorescent blue dots was breathtaking. The closest comparison I can make is to that of seeing stars in the sky at night. The whole experience was literally beyond words and has to be one of my favorites so far!
Once back at the dock we walked out of the cave and took a break to drink some tea and eat some home made cookies. The next cave was about 10 minutes away. When we arrived at the second cave things were a bit different. A complex wooden walkway was built and many of the limestone formations were illuminated. Along with the stalagmites and stalactites we saw quite a few groups of bones. Apparently it was very common for animals to fall into the cave from above without any way to escape. The most interesting set of remains on display were those of a very large Moa bird.
The tour took just over three hours and upon returning we had dinner and waited for it to get dark. Our guidebook mentioned a walking trail through the bush that is illuminated at night by glowworms. We headed over there and found it quite magical, but Jasmine was scared as we were the only ones and it was pitch black. I guess walking through the middle of the bush at night just isn’t for her.
From Waitomo we are heading to Rotorua which is the thermal center of New Zealand with many hot springs and geysers to see. The Waitomo Caves are spectacular and a must see for anyone who visits the area. Shawn Reece really enjoyed the caves and can’t wait to get to Rotorua to see the thermal activity. Neither can we!
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The Coomer Family