Thursday 11th March – Waitomo Caves
Happy Birthday (Rich’s) Mum!
One of our highlights for the not just the North Island, but the whole of New Zealand was to be the Waitomo Caves. They did not disappoint! We went for a trip called TumuTumuToobing. This was to involve climbing into a cave, then walking, crawling, swimming and tubing to get through to the exit. As we entered the cave we immediately got an idea of how cramped it was going to be in parts as we had to squeeze into the cave entry hole.
The caves were great fun. When we switched off our torches we got a fabulous view of the glowworms on the cave ceiling. Shuffling through the darkness or floating through on tubes allowed us to see the roof covered in specs of lights. Imagine a net of Christmas lights and that gives you an idea of how many green specs covered the ceiling. They could easily have been LEDs rather than glowworms however turning back on your torchlight allowed you to see the webs and worms that were providing the illumination.
The glowworms weren’t the only treat. The cave formations were also great to be up close to. We had stalagites (tights come down says Vicki) and stalagmites plus columns and angel wings. This was our first real caving experience and great to be able to explore. The water was a bit cold at times but the wetsuits provided kept us mostly warm. This trip lived up to expectations as a real highlight.
Leaving the caves we drove on to Rotorua. A brief stop on the way for another bakery and another set of pies meant we arrived in time to see a thermal area just outside Rotorua. The area is known for its thermal activity with mudpools, geysers and thermal springs galore. This means the town is quite smelly due to the sulphur given off from the pools. The geysers we saw at Te Puia were impressive but the rest of the site was underwhelming. As an expensive attraction (£22.50 each) we were vastly underwhelmed and disappointed. I would have wanted to pay less to just see the geysers which were worthwhile and then skip the attached arts and crafts village. We don’t feel these offered much except to feed the gift shop.
Our evening was spent in Rotorua having a meal with Graham and his parents. He has already sent his new wife home after the wedding in Australia and was doing a tour of NZ. We enjoyed a pizza and a catch up before going our separate ways as they head back to Australia then home while we go on round the world.
Wednesday 12th March – Rotorua
This morning we had a lazy start as we haven’t had a break for a number of days. This was welcome as it was raining outside anyway. A brief run was still in order though which allowed us to see the central thermal sites, Rotorua lake and the impressive Rotorua museum. Although wet this was a good way to spend our morning.
Our afternoon was devoted to a canopy tour. This involved ziplining through a forest. Once again this activity did not disappoint and was good fun sweeping from tree to tree as well as leaning about the wildlife in the forest. This was mainly focussed on the attempts to remove predators (rats, stoats and possums) that are a threat to the native birds. NZ birds really aren’t helping themselves as a lot are flightless and generally very tame so are easy pickings for the predators that have been introduced by humans over the last few hundred years.
Although a different activity and a lot of fun, I think I prefer the GoApe experiences we have done at home. In these you are responsible for your own harness and have to clip in and out yourself. On this canopy tour everything was done for you. This took a bit of the edge of it as you did feel a little bit like you were being babysat as the group was herded from point to point. The actual ziplining was great through and the guides were good company. All in all well worth doing.
We are on another busy day so only had an hour back at the YHA to recover before heading out again. We are back in with the backpackers and their love of bolognaise here, YHAs seem to have a constant aroma of it which is good here because it partially covers the prevailing Rotorua rotten eggs aroma. Recovered, we were picked up to be taken to our evening at Tanaki Maori Village. We were unsure about this activity as we often come back from evening cultural experiences thinking that they are just a bit touristy and disappointing. Hopefully this would be better…
Turns out they got it just right. There was a good balance of demonstration of traditional skills/crafts, interactivity and Maori performance, including the Haka. Although it is clearly designed to shift the tourist through efficiently with 3 shows a night we did not feel rushed and the experience still felt quite personal. The food was good too and our shared table didn’t work out too badly as we had a nice chat with an Italian girl, Roberta, who has been living and working in Wellington since November.
Our Maori experience continued back in town. As the night market had been cancelled due to earlier rain we opted for a local craft beer instead. No sooner had we sat down and started to look at arranging plans for tomorrow than we were surrounded by a Maori family. They shared our table and we ended up chatting to the matriarch who was very happy to know we were enjoying New Zealand and wanted to tell us about her family and introduce her daughter who lives in London to us. No so much the traditional Maori family this time but thoroughly modern as it was a reunion of a family spread around the word.
Friday 13th March – Wai-O Tapu and Hobbiton
After the disappointment of our last thermal area in Rotorua we decided to give it one more shot. This time we were up early to check out and head south to the Wai-O Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The early start was needed to ensure we were there at 10:15 when they have a daily eruption of a geyser. You wonder how they can predict the eruption so well, the answer is they cheat. They introduce a mix (similar to soap) that stimulates the eruption of the geyser. This is a much more tourist friendly option than waiting for the pressure to build. While somewhat artificial we did feel the preceding talk to be informative and we still go to experience the power of the eruption.
Following this demonstration we then explored the thermal wonderland. The park was now busy with tourists but no so much that we did not have an enjoyable walk. We explored more mud pools, thermal springs and lakes. The array of colours on display here was very different to what we had seen before. The different minerals here give very unusual, other worldly spectacles.
Overall, even though with some touristy aspects this was so much better than the previous thermal area we visited at Te Puia. We are very glad that wasn’t our only experience on what Rotorua had to offer. Vicki was pleased that this was our last display too, while visually stunning the associated smell is far less pleasing. We were happy to escape it, even the car where I had left my running kit to air on the back seat was a better option.
On our way to Auckland we had one more stop. This was at the Hobbiton movie set. This is the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins as used in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Movies. We were quite excited about seeing this by the time we arrived and were happily doing our Gollum impressions on the drive up (“Nasty hobbitses”).
The tour takes you onto a working sheep farm where they built the Hobbiton set. You get to explore this corner of the Shire, seeing many hobbit holes. Unfortunately there are no indoor sets but you do get to enjoy a beer in the recreated Green Dragon pub at the end of the tour.
The tour lived up to expectations as seeing the sets really brought the hobbit world to life. Even with an unenthusiastic and surly teenager as our guide we had great fun exploring the hobbit village.