Bay of Islands to Auckland and then to Waitomo and the Caves

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February 22nd 2017
Published: February 22nd 2017
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Bay of Islands to Auckland

Left Paihia after a pleasant few days, we are back for one day only on March 7th so hope to do the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.

Before leaving we stopped at the Hurura Falls, we had rowed to these in a Maori war canoe a couple of years ago.

Anyway, onward down the West coast of Northland first of traversing the spine of the Northland passing through some spectacular scenery and the townships of Kaikohe, Taheke, Waima before coming upon Opononi with more scenery of huge sand dunes that surround Hokianga Harbour, the fourth biggest in the country.

This area remains underdeveloped, just how the locals like it.

But for how long!!!

From here it's a drive down through the Waipoua and Kauri forests, the forests boast some of the largest Kauri trees with diameters of up to 8 metres (Big Boys). There was not much to see apart from the forest with no stores or eateries till we got to Dargaville, the sweet potato (Kumara) capital of NZ.

We didn't expect too much here so weren't disappointed.

Stopped at Maungaturoto for a coffee for a pit stop and I kid you you not, as we sat outside the cafe in this one horse town, a bullock ran down the street chased by a bloke and two Utes!!!

We were still two hours from Auckland, and would arrive just in time for beer o clock.

Out for the evening, with John & Heather to Galbraiths, a traditional pub in Mt Eden which brews its own beer. Helped to wash down the fish & chips.

Auckland to Waitomo Caves

This was the first mishap of our tour around the Island.

Sunday morning, breakfast cooked on the barbecue and eaten outside. What a way to start the day!!!

We had booked into the Caves Motor Inn for two days and duly arrived.

What a dump, the restaurant area and reception were so threadbare and from the layout of the tables it was like walking back into the 1960's.

Our booking was for a King Studio room, what we got was a chalet/cabin in a very run down complex.

This place was so far removed from what is described on line it should be had up under the trades description act, I don't know if they have such a thing in NZ.

OK the room was clean, well the bed looked clean and the bathroom was clean.

But the guttering was sagging and leaking, the sliding door to the balcony needed Tarzan to open it, the fridge was not good. We should have left then and there but really there were no alternatives.

We had to grin and bear it (for at least one night)

The Caves are just around the corner, well about 8 km, so putting the disappointment aside we go and see what is on offer.

The Waitomo Caves is a village and cave system forming a major tourist attraction in the northern King Country region of the North Island of New Zealand, 12 kilometres northwest of Te Kuiti. The community of Waitomo Caves itself is very small, though the village has many temporary service workers living there as well. The word Waitomo comes from the Maori language wai meaning water and tomo meaning a doline or sinkhole; it can thus be translated to be water passing through a hole.The caves are formed in Oligocene limestone.

After visiting the ISite, we booked for two caves starting early on Monday morning aiming to miss the organised trips and coaches so after booking the tours it was into the nearest town of Otorohanga, unfortunately closed on Sunday's and for the first time EVER we had a coffee in a McCafe!!!! God forbid.

Could it get any worse, yes - we had to go back to the Caves Motor Inn. The only thing missing was the house on the Hill and Janet Leigh lying dead in the shower. OK a bit over the top but when we found there was no lightbulb in one bedside light and the remote for the TV needed batteries we were on the slippery slope.

By the way Janet Leigh starred in the Alfred Hitchcock film 'Psycho' staying at the Bates Motel for you younger people.

Well I decided late in the evening that we would vacate in the morning, adjusted our stay in New Plymouth and park it and move on.

As LJ says 'it is what it is' !!!!!!

We took the guided tour through two caves.

Firstly, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves brings the visitor through three different levels and begins at the top level of the cave and the Catacombs. The levels are linked by the Tomo, which is a 16 m vertical shaft made of limestone.

The second level is called the Banquet Chamber. This level is where early visitors stopped to eat and there is evidence of this in the smoke on the ceiling of the chamber. From here it may be possible to link back to the upper level to see the largest formation called the Pipe Organ but on busy days this area is closed to the public because the build-up of carbon monoxide may be hazardous.

The third and final level goes down into the Cathedral, demonstration platform, and the jetty. The Cathedral is an enclosed area with rough surfaces, now paved, and is about 18 m high, giving it good acoustics. A number of famous singers and choirs have performed here including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Joss Stone. They also have a carol service at Christmas.

The tour concludes with a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto. The boat takes the visitor onto the underground Waitomo River where the only light comes from the tiny glowworms creating a sky of living lights.

You are asked not to talk and with the silence it produces an ethereal atmosphere.

Secondly we visited the Ruakuri Cave, 3 kilometres away, the longest underground cave in the Waitomo area of New Zealand. It was first discovered by local Māori between 400 and 500 years ago. The name Ruakuri, or “den of dogs” was created when wild dogs were discovered making their home in the cave entrance some 300 years later.

The cave entrance was used by the Maori as an urupa or burial site.

It is this sacred area that has now been protected with the construction of the impressive spiral drum entrance some distance away.
Ruakuri is the only wheelchair-accessible cave in the Southern Hemisphere. It is well known for its spiritual links to Māori and its unusual limestone formations and caverns.

Major features of the Ruakuri Cave include Holdens Cavern (named after James Holden who first opened the cave to the public), The Drum Passage, The Pretties and The Ghost Passage.

The cave was open to the public from 1904 until 1988, when it was closed due to a legal and financial dispute.

It was reopened in 2005.

Inside there is a dynamic natural environment, with glowworms, limestone formations, underground rivers, and hidden waterfalls.

The guided tour through the Ruakuri Cave starts down a long spiral ramp to the bottom of the cave. This leads to a room full of stalactites, and rare limestone formations that have been created over millions of years. Some of which are covered with a kind of coral (known locally as “popcorn”). There are also underground rivers and waterfalls. The waterfall is only around one and a half metres deep, but it sounds much louder underground.

Also in the cave are fossils, a remnant from the time when the area was beneath the sea. There are still living creatures in the cave such as: the glowworms for which the Waitomo Caves are famous. The walls of the glowworm caves were covered with pinpricks of light, giving the effect of a starry night.
The glowworms are the larvae of fungus gnats, but they spend most of their lives in the larval state. Amazingly they manage to find food – insects that fly into the cave, or occasionally they just eat one another!

Surrounded by life and light, in a place that should be dark and dead, is the reason the Maori thought that there was something special about this place.

The Caves are well worth doing, the Glowworm Cave is done with a group of up to 50, there were say 30 on the tour so quite an easygoing experience.

The second tour through the majestic Ruakuri was even better, 8 adults and two kids, the kids were very entertaining with their questions!!!

A great visit to the attraction, a nightmare for the accommodation!!!

By the way the cave system was first discovered by an Englishman and a Maori chief and the Caves at present are owned by the Holden family!!

How cool is that!!!!

Onwards to New Plymouth.

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