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Published: January 26th 2016
Our time in New Zealand had to come to an end. From the Rotarua area we headed back to Auckland but had time for one more stop. A few kiwis had told us how great the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo are so we decided we'd stop there for an evening and see the caves the next day.
We pulled up at a tiny campsite and went to check in. Oddly, we found that there were no staff. The whole place was run on an honesty box system. We had anticipated being able to pay by credit card but we just managed to scrape together the right cash. The facilities at the site were extremely basic and the outdoor tables were falling apart. It would do for an evening though. We set up the tent, heated dinner and then went out for a little adventure.
We had read somewhere online that near to the caves it is possible to see the glowworms outdoors if you are in the right place when it is dark. The right place is not far from the entrance to the Aranui Cave on DOC's Ruakui trail. We set out just as the light was fading
and walked for about twenty minutes until we felt we'd gone far enough. This took us through the dark forest, up several flights of stairs, down a flight of stairs near an unseen waterfall, along a board walk and under a natural tunnel in the rock. We stopped for a while at a convenient bench and waited for it to go fully dark. We then turned our torches on and realised just how low powered they were as we could see almost nothing. We set off and almost immediately came to a junction in the path that we didn't recognise in the dark. We followed one path for a little bit but it felt wrong so we went back and continued down the other. Fortunately, about 10 minutes later we reached the tunnel and discovered we were on the right path. Beyond the path we started to see tiny lights on the cliff faces. There was maybe one of two every metre but they were enough to get us excited. I've seen glowflies before but glowworms were something new. We continued walking out, turning our torches off occasionally to get a better view of the worms. It seemed to take
forever but we reached the completely dark car park safely and drove home.
Next morning we headed out to the Footwhistle Cave for our tour. We piled onto a mini bus and our friendly guide drove us a few kilometres to the start of the tour. From here we descended a staircase into a crack in the earth. The Footwhistle Cave was not the most spectacular cave we have ever been in. It's limestone formations were very small and under-developed. This cave did contain glowworms though. When the lights were dimmed they would start coming out on the walls and ceiling, like stars at dusk. First we would see the brightest and then more and more would turn their lights on. They appeared as just a pinprick of blue light - completely impossible for me to photograph with the equipment and time I had available. Our guide lit one of them up to reveal that each of them hangs trails of saliva from the ceiling, which are used to catch prey lured by their glowing derrières.
As well as glowworms, this tour had some unique features. The first of these was a demonstration of how the caves had
been explored by the first tourists. It turned out that they used to take all day to explore caves and the reason was that they were only equipped with tiny dim candles. When one of these was lit for us we couldn't even see the walls. Our guide then took out a magnesium filament. When there was something interesting to see the old-timers would light one if these. It gave around four seconds of searing white light... sufficient to make out details on the cave walls, but only just as our eyes hadn't fully adjusted before it went out. The guide also said that the first tours used to have a lunch break where their guide would light a fire and cook. Despite the lack of food I think we had it best. I can't imagine how horrible the smoke must have been.
The second unique feature of the tour was that as we re-emerged through the crack in the earth we were led into a small hut. Here a little tea room had been set up with four or five tables and a small cast iron stove. We sat down and our guide brought out a pot of
tea made from the steeped leaves of a native plant. He poured each of us a little cupful. The tea had a strange bitter-sweet taste with a minty after-taste. It had a mild anaesthetic quality which made my throat go slightly numb. Apparently it is a natural source of aspirin and was used by Maori as a tonic to cure all kinds of ailments and pains. I didn't like the taste but couldn't deny its medicinal properties.
Following our tea we were taken back to base and we said goodbye to our guide. In the nearby tourist information office we found an advert for unlimited afternoon tea at the Rosebank Hotel. We decided to give it a try. We were led from the car park to our table but our waitress neglected to tell us what to do. Not to worry,we soon figured it out and were tucking into a selection of cookies and carrot cake, tea and coffee, orange segments and kiwi fruit halves. The cookies and cake were excellent and the coffee wasn't bad. Overall we thought it was amazing value for money and would highly recommend it. When we saw the endless BBQ lunch offer we
started salivating but sadly we had to get on.
Auckland was a four hour drive in quite heavy traffic. The countryside looked like my home of Lancashire with its green rolling hills and regular farms of sheep. We camped for one last time in Auckland. We spent the next morning packing and then headed to Mount Eden for a last sight of the city. Mount Eden is a former volcano with an immense crater and great views of the city. If you find yourself in Auckland I would recommend taking the short walk to the summit. After getting our final New Zealand views we decided to treat ourselves to another hot stone meal in the Wynyard Quarter. This is absolutely amazing food and I can't recommend it highly enough! We then headed to the airport to wait until almost midnight for our flight to Shanghai.
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