Published: October 22nd 2010October 17th 2010
We had decided to stay in Hamilton for a couple of reasons - firstly, it was very close to the towns of Rotorura and Lake Taupo and also the Waitomo caves (all of which we intended to visit) and secondly, we had heard there was a reasonable about of nightlife and as it was a Saturday and it had been a while since we had been out we decided to head for there.
The drive down from the Coromandel was pretty uneventful although once again the scenery was great. We arrived into Hamilton at around 6 and immediately saw it was quite a lively town when we passed a large pub, which was holding it’s annual Oktoberfest (German beer festival) as well as several other bars/clubs and nice looking restaurants. We managed to find a private, secure 24 hour underground parking facility and decided that in a town like this with few campsites that this would be our best option for the night, especially as we had planned to go out and did not envisage getting much sleep and certainly did not want to drive to try an find somewhere when we got in the early hours.
we had the task of trying to find somewhere to shower and get ready - we tried all the high end hotels to see if they had facilities which we could use but to no avail so Vic’s sent Scott of in a scouting mission (while she made the bed for the night) to see if he could find anywhere. Luckily when he came back he had managed to find a small B&B with shared bathrooms which he was convinced we could sneak into - aww the luxuries of being a traveller, so after grabbing our stuff we headed over and true to his word we managed to use the hot showers/changing rooms with no one seeing and was ready for our night out.
Our first stop, Nando’s!!! And boy had we missed this lol, after filling up on mammoth amounts of grilled chicken we headed to our first bar - The Octoberfest pub, after Scott had a couple of beers and Vic’s finally managed to have her first Malibu and Coke of the trip we went on a little bar crawl around the town playing some pool and generally people watching before heading to a small nightclub until
about 2am. We finished the night by splitting a small meatball sub from Subway (see just like being at home) before crashing out in our camper both looking forward to the next day and the famous Waitomo Caves.
The short drive from Hamilton to the caves was around 45 minutes and as we were both undecided on which activity to go for (There are several tour companies each offering various tours into the caves - with the overall goal to see the glow worms.) we wanted to get there in good time. We arrived and headed to the i-site and museum to gather some information and after a short deliberation (Scott trying to convince Vic’s) we opted for the Waitomo Black Labyrinth which included; a decent into the caves, waterfall jumping, white rafting/tubing in the darkness of the caves and obviously the main attraction a viewing of the glow worms.
Luckily we managed to book on the only remaining tour of the day and as an added bonus both managed to obtain good discounts with our student cards and were the only two in the tour group with our guide. After a quick briefing and getting kitted out in
our wetsuits, boots and hard hats with lights, we hopped in a van for a short ride to our starting point - this is where things started to get a little scary.
We both selected rubber rings and our guide informed us that the water can get as cold as 5 degrees so to get used to it we were asked to jump backwards off a small waterfall into the flowing river. Vic’s went first and as soon as she hit the water her eyes almost popped out, it was freezing but we both had a good laugh about it. Now for some reason, Scott imagined that the tour would start on a river/stream on the outside then flow through a hole in the rock type cave and pass out the other side, so we were both quite surprised that after 20 minutes walking through the forest we came to a tiny opening which our guide informed us was the start of our caving. We both looked at each other nervously and with water up to our knees, crouched down and squeezed through the entry into the cave. We were then asked to stop to give our eyes time
to adjust to the dark and after a short while we turned our headlights on andwere greeted on the side wall by a huntsman spider. Now as you know, Vic’s is absolutely petrified of all things crawling so after being told these ‘monsters’ can jump upto 2 meters she was practically hyperventilating so we quickly carried on our decent into the caves - but a bigger fright was yet to come. After squeezing through several small gaps, with about 3ft a room between the water and the cave roof we came to an opening where we would be performing our first backwards jump in the dark off of a waterfall, the guide briefed us on the general direction we should jump and just as Vics was about to shoot off the edge of the waterfall we spotted a large black water eel. The look on both of our faces must have been priceless but after being informed that they were harmless and scared of people we took the plunge and started tubing through the cave. There were several more jumps and at certain points we had to lie fully flat in the rings so that they could pass under the
small spaces in the cave. After a while we were told to look up and could see sunlight passing through a little opening above; now this little opening was in fact 3 meters wide but as we were now 300ft underground it looked tiny!
We carried on walking a bit more through the caves, holding our tubes as the water wasn’t high enough to go through in them, until we came to a part which was pitch black. We were told to turn off our head lights and look up to the ceiling of the caves; this is where we saw what the caves are famous for- Glow worms! There were thousands of them shining bright, they looked like stars in the sky and it was quite cool to see so many of them. Glow worms are actually maggot type creatures and it is their poo at the end of their small bodies which creates the glow to make them shine- lovely! To eat they create a small ‘fishing’ type line (like a spiders web) which hangs about 2 inches below them and it catches small creatures which get stuck in it; the ones who glow brighter are hungrier
than others. They only have a life span of 10 months- 9 months of the 10 they are growing and eating, then they mate and create more glow worms, then they die and the cycle continues with their glow worm eggs.
After staring up at the glow worms for about 10 minutes we started to move on again through the caves and were told we could now float along in our tubes for a while being pulled by the guide in the pitch black. This was actually really relaxing, until we reached a point in the cave and the guide said the biggest ever water eel was spotted here and it was so big it could eat a baby...in the dark it was pretty eerie to think this massive eel could be under us somewhere! Vic started splashing loudly with her feet as she was told eels don’t like noise and movement and we carried on our journey. We then reached a point and the guide said we were near the end and had been in the caves for an hour- the time had gone so quick it felt like 20 minutes- and we would now turn off our
head lights and find our way to the exit without her guiding us. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds as there was only one way to float- forward- so we did this for another 10 minutes before we saw light at the end and the small exit out of the caves.
We had a quick photo at the exit to say we had survived the trip (!) before jumping back in the van (wet and cold) to get back to the tour office. We were quite relieved to be back in the open air although we really enjoyed this trip and it was something different- we could have done a dry walking tour through the caves but so glad we chose the wet scary option instead!
The tour included hot showers afterwards and a cup of soup and a bagel which was great as it meant we had our showers and lunch for the day! Then we said our goodbyes to our guide and made our way East towards Rotorua; a town well known for its geothermal activities and smelling like rotten eggs due to all the sulphur from the nearby geysers...
There are more photos below