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Published: April 27th 2012
21st April ’12 Mt. Taranaki National Park, New Plymouth & on to the Waitomo Caves
The drive up to the Mt. Taranaki National Park area was nothing special, long, green and flatish until we neared the NP. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t too great today and Mt. Taranaki was half covered in clouds but we still drove up to the view points and did a couple of walks.
The first view point was up at the Dawson Falls view point, which was reached by going up a long single lane road through very close forest. It was most eerie as a lot of the way we were the only car on the road but it twisted and turned so rapidly you had no idea if anything was coming in the other direction until you rounded each bend. The only time the road got wider was when it split into two to go round a huge tree or a huge rock and then joined up again as soon as it was past it.
On one stretch a car was backed up in the trees facing the road it looked very suspicious, I happened to look back and suddenly
saw a car behind us. So now I’m convinced the suspect car has pulled out and is following us and we are suddenly in the middle of a horror film. When I mentioned this important fact to Howard he just grinned and said that car’s been behind us the whole way….. phew!
When we eventually got up to the top the road ended at a visitors centre and there were lots of cars and motorbikes up there, another one of those bizarre New Zealand moments when you feel like you are alone in the world, go round a corner and find a pile of other people.
From here we did the hike through the goblin (that is what is was called) forest down to the Dawson Falls waterfall. The path followed a very narrow streambed winding through the forest – where you could imagine goblins did indeed live until it reached steps leading down down down to the base of the falls. It was a pretty waterfall and then we had to climb up up up to get back to the path again, it was so steep and the steps were really high so I was totally knackered
Top covered in cloud
by the time we got to the top!
We then drove back down the eerie road and carried on to East Egmont and the view point that was about halfway up the volcano. Had the weather been clearer we would have had the most amazing views of it, as it was it just looked very atmospheric and we still had great views out over the valley.
So it was off on another stroll – or so we thought, the sign post said the Enchanted Walk only 5 minutes, about 30 minutes later and I was not even remotely enchanted, particularly as we seemed to have walked half way back down the mountain then up again. We came to a couple of radio masts, had a look at the views, saw a bird and then re traced our route. I feel like I have done about 10 miles on a stepper and already my legs were aching!
Having had enough of walking up mountains and as the weather wasn’t lifting we decided to drive on to New Plymouth and find a motel for the night.
New Plymouth is a surprisingly big town - most towns we have
seen so far have just had one main road, this town has about 5 and a sea front prom. However despite it only being 4pm on a Saturday all the shops are shut! What is going on? Later we did find a couple of supermarkets and a small shopping centre that were open – hardly anyone in them but they were open!
Anyway we had a stroll along the prom which was pretty and a bit of a walk around the town centre which looked like it would be really nice if it was actually open, but it wasn’t! However we did find a Pac ‘n’ Save supermarket, something we had been looking for during our time in NZ as it was supposed to be the cheapest place to buy food – it wasn’t, but we did encounter the famous NZ hoon on our way there – this is basically what we would call a boy racer but hoon sounds so much more descriptive! So yes it was a prat screeching round the corner in his flash car.
We stayed in a good comfy ant free motel that night which was nice.
22nd April ’12 New Plymouth
to Waitomo Caves
After a nothing special drive we arrived in Waitomo about lunchtime. There isn’t much there apart from a few motels and hotels and various adventure tour places selling assorted packages for the caves. We checked out the i-site – kind of visitor information centres which have loads of information, leaflets, maybe a small display area, souvenir shop and really helpful staff who can give you advice and information on things to do and see in the area, you can also book accommodation through them and use the internet, anyway clutching our 25% off a cave combo ticket which Mary gave us we asked about the cave tours. Turned out that it was cheaper for us to buy our tickets direct at the Waitomo Cave place so that’s what we did.
The Caves were discovered by the Maori’s about 500 years ago, of course once the caves were explored and mapped the government realised that money was being made by running tours they decided to nationalise the caves and take the money. In 1989 the land was given back to the local tribe and leased back to the government, the tribe gets part of the admission
charges and also are employed in the operation. Out of the 3 main caves you can visit we visited Ruakuri and the Glow worm Cave.
The Ruakuri Cave is a sacred site and was used for burials, in order to preserve and respect the burial site a new cave entrance has been made. This is a huge spiral walkway which winds down and round into the cave. It was an amazing cave, full of stalagmites and tites, with streams, waterfalls and magical caverns full of tiny needle formations. There were also glow worms in this cave and at one point the guide switched off all the lights so you could see them glowing in the cave ceilings and walls and they looked just like stars. The guide showed us a glow worm up close on a rock and you could see the light inside its body which was quite incredible!
We were really lucky with our tour as there were only 6 of us on it as opposed to the 20 or so on the next tour which we met on our way out. There was however a very precocious small girl on our tour who started
Ruakuri Cave Glowworm threads
squawking when the lights were switched off, however she soon recovered and the guide gave her the job of pressing the various buttons to work the lights etc and luckily we had no other problems with her.
We saw the people doing the blackwater rafting caving adventure tour as they floated down a stream in tubes and I have to say I was very envious! We also encountered a few of them who had come out of the water for a warm up and I wasn’t quite so envious then! It was pretty chilly in the caves so it must have been cold in the streams and waterfalls and they were underground for 5 hours. Still when we saw the section they had to rappel down I really wished we had done that tour – if it wasn’t for the worry of being injured and spoiling Australia I think we may have altered our itinerary to spend an extra day there.
We spent about 2 hours in the Ruakuri Cave and it was a magical place indeed. Before we left the cave and started up the spiral walkway again we had to wash our hands in the water
that dripped down onto a large rock at its base, this was a kind of ritual cleansing sign of respect as we were leaving a sacred site and burial site. No sooner had I done this and my hands started reiking – it was literally pouring out of them. A lot of people have described Ruakuri Cave as a spiritual place and I would definitely agree with them.
We then went on to visit the Glow worm Cave which only took about 45 minutes. This was a totally different experience, there was about 20 of us on this tour including a very large Japanese family who kept talking and a couple of really annoying Russian kids who didn’t stay with their parents and consequently we had to put up with their sniggering and carrying on. I sound like a right old misery but you had to be there. This cave didn’t have all the stunning formations of the Ruakuri cave but you descended down into a very large chamber and walked into an area where there were lots of glow worms and you could see their insect catching threads really clearly.
We then went down to the river
that flows through the cave and got into a boat, sniggering Russians right behind us and Japanese to the side. The guide asked everyone to be silent to appreciate the magic of the cave, also there were no lights on as he propelled us along the river. Suddenly the whole ceiling was full of stars – well glow worms and it was an amazing sight. As we neared the mouth of the cave the Maori guide began singing and speaking what I believe was a poem it was wonderful - the magic was slightly tarnished by the sniggering and whispering around us.
All in all it was a fantastic caving day, we both really enjoyed it!
We stayed at the Glow worm motel that night (well had to keep the theme going didn’t we?!) and we were the only people there.
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