Geo: -39.2901, 175.562
Part one: Auckland to Tongariro National Park. Today was the first full day of driving like a Kiwi! And it was a successful one! No turning onto the wrong side, no getting lost and no accidents. Traffic around Auckland was not bad and once we were outside the city, it was pretty light. The scenery outside Auckland was mostly rolling hills with lots of cows and sheep. The speed limit on the main roads is 100 km/hr (about 60 mph) and in towns is 50 km/h. So even though the distances are small, it takes longer to get places due to the slower speed and winding roads. Our first stop was the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. It took us about 2 and a half hours to get to the Cave and we arrived in time to take the 11:00 tour. You start with a walk through parts of the cave, learning the history and about how the cave was formed. The cave was first discovered by a Maori leader in the 1880s. Since that time, the cave has slowly been made accessible to visitors. The main draw is the glowworm population. They are basically teeny tiny flies that spin a
Countryside on the way south
sticky thread and sit inside it. Then they glow to attract other insects for food. The brighter the glow, the hungrier they are. The cave tour ends with a silent boat ride in the dark along the river at the bottom of the cave. It is amazing to sit in silence staring up at the hundreds of little glowing lights that look like stars. Renee and I truly enjoyed the tour and it was worth the slight detour off the highway and the entrance fee. We had a nice lunch of PB&J in the parking lot and then continued on our way. The road became windier and the scenery more and more beautiful. It was nice that the traffic was so light as I wasn't rushed and was able to drive the speed I was comfortable at. By the time we got to our hotel at the park, it was cloudy and starting to drip. We were able to check in and then took a drive into Tongariro Park. The goal was to take the road to see Mordor. Unfortunately, the clouds blocked all views. That was fine with me because the road was so steep and windy and I usually have my eyes closed when driving on such roads. This time I was the driver and had to watch where I was going. Renee was disappointed that we weren't able to see Mount Doom or any Orcs. We also did not see any Kiwi birds, but did see a sign on the road warning to watch for them at night. Our hotel, The Park Travelers Lodge, was more geared towards the backpackers who frequent the park. We did have a room with two twin beds and a tiny bathroom. We had dinner at the Lodge and shared an order of bruschetta and a bacon cheeseburger and fries. It was delicious. Then we settled in for the night. Unfortunately, the other residents didn't seem to want to go to bed and were out in the hot tub outside our room from probably 1 AM to who knows when. So it was probably good that we went to bed at 7 since we were awake for several hours in the early morning.
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