Published: May 29th 2010May 20th 2010
I was trying to convey how cold the water was and how black the hole was...
My last stop on the way to Auckland was at Waitomo Caves, where I'd been for a standard gloworm tour on my first visit to NZ. There are thousands of caves at Waitomo, all carved out of the limestone by water over thousands of years, and most discovered in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, some by accident. As this was my second visit, I wanted to do something a bit more adventurous, so I booked onto a caving tour. Now I've never been one for squeezing myself through tight gaps in dark caves... in fact the thought of it fills me with dread, but this trip would be mainly abseiling down waterfalls, rock climbing and looking at gloworms. The trip was called Haggas Honking Holes, Haggas being the name of the lucky landowner below which our destination cave sits, and there were four of us doing it on this rainy May morning. Our guides were Allan and Louis, who led us down to the cave mouth after getting us suited up (a black two-piece wetsuit and white wellington boots... how fetching!). After squeezing ourselves through the narrow entrance, we were chucked straight into the action, with a 25m abseil down a
A library photo of the tomo I abseiled down (photo thanks to Waitomo Adventures)
tomo, complete with icy cold water cascading down it. After that it was straight into a second abseil, down a small waterfall (with instructions to 'get on our knees and crawl to the right' once we were at the bottom), and then our third and final drop, but this time Louis took the controls and winched us down... in absolute darkness! Now down as far as we'd go, our journey followed the stream through various beautiful caves, complete with gloworms (which are actually gnat larvae which ignite their poo to generate bioluminescence... or 'maggots burning shit' as Allan put it), stalacmites and stalactites. And a frog, who seemed quite happy to be stroked.
And then, before we started our ascent back to the surface, we had to crawl through a narrow hole for a photo... in water, on our chests, without enough room to even hold our heads straight. It was only for about three metres or so, but that was enough for me... a potholer I will never ever be! The climb back to the surface was great fun, as we got to rock climb up three fairly decent bits of cave, secured only by a safety rope.
Waves at Piha Beach
Great fun, and probably slightly easier for me being 6ft 5! We'd only been underground for a few hours, but I was glad to see daylight and even gladder to step into a warm shower. After lunch with the rest of the group, I went back to the hostel, plonked myself in front of the fire with a good book ('The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins... highly recommended!) and arranged my return to Auckland the following day.
My drive back to Auckland was uneventful, so I returned Clyde without any hitches (though can you believe that insurance isn't mandatory in NZ?! crazy) and got another pickup from Clubby, who was treating Jake to a Man Day while Stan was at school. I confess I hadn't really thought that much about New Zealand when I booked my flights and allocated myself three weeks here, but luckily I'd timed my trip to coincide with Stan's birthday, so I was returning to Auckland in time for that. Unfortunately, Stan was at school again on the big day, so Jake enjoyed another Man Day and we went for fish and chips at Piha Beach, one of Auckland's main surf beaches on the west
A view of Auckland from Rangitoto Island
coast of the island. It's a dangerous beach, with lots of jagged rocks and cruel rips, which often catch out swimmers and surfers, but today the water was fairly quiet and the winds subdued, so we went for a wander through the rock pools and along the black sand. Back home, we awaited the return of the birthday girl then headed over to Ma and Pa's for a Chinese takeaway... and pavlova, yum!
Unfortunately, I timed my return to Auckland just as a number of weather systems bringing rain and wind started to batter the country. I had another four days before my flight to Fiji, and because I'd been to Auckland twice before, I'd already seen most of the things I wanted to see. But I hadn't been to Rangitoto Island, a volcano (yes, another one!) lying in the Hauraki Gulf a stone's throw from downtown Auckland. Now one thing to note about Auckland is that it's one of the most precariously positioned cities in the world. Surrounded by volcanoes, and with a few right next to the city centre for good measure... you really are dicing with oblivion by living here. But as a visitor, it provides
A basic boathouse on Rangitoto
some great walks. Ferries lave for Rangitoto from the main ferry terminal, and take just under half an hour to make the trip. The walk to the summit, which at around 270m is hardly Mt Doom territory, is an easy stroll across old lava flows and through native pohutakawa forest. Despite it's short stature, the views from the crater rim and summit are sweeping, across Devonport to the city and out to the other islands in the gulf, including Waiheke and neighbouring Motutapu. But my favourite thing about the island was the small fantail birds that live around the shoreline, which is dotted with old bachs (self-built beach houses). The birds dance around you, fanning out their tail and puffing out their chests, presumably as a show of strength or virility. I tried to get a shot, but the Canon couldn't keep up with their pace and light footwork.
There was time for one last day out, at the small seaside suburb of Devonport, which faces the city across Waitemata Harbour. It's a relatively old settlement, and still boasts some lovely old buildings, done up and occupied by trendy cafes, art galleries and book shops. It makes for a
great contrast with the Sky Tower and skyscrapers of downtown Auckland sitting right next door, previously accessible only by ferry before Auckland Harbour Bridge was built. Stan's mum Christine joined us for lunch, and a stroll around North Head, an old hill used as a gun post, as we dodged the frequent showers. The rest of my time in Auckland was spent helping out with Jake and being generally looked after, fed and watered by Stan and Clubby - thanks guys!
And with that, my time in New Zealand was at an end. And so, nearly, was my trip... but before heading back to Blighty, there was one last place I would visit. A place to help me wind down (!) and enjoy my last two weeks of freedom before re-entering the real world. The tropical islands of Fiji...
There are more photos below