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Published: December 31st 2013
Good moooooooooooooooooorning New Zealand! After a quick shower and breakfast breakfast, it was time to begin my one-woman New Zealand adventure! Ben and Michelle dropped me off at the Auckland buss top, where I quckly found my bus. The buses here are AWESOME, they have flexible passes you can buy that just deduct time from the hours you buy, and once you make a booking thed rivers expect you and you just need to tell them your name. It's a great way to get around the country.
My destination today was Otorohanga (oh-tro-HAN-ga, either hard or soft "r"), a small town south of Auckland. Once there I was due to see the Kiwi House and then make my way to a hostel in Waitomo (why-TOE-mo), a small village nearby that was the tourist hub for glowworms. The bus ride south of Auckland was BEAUTIFUL, green rolling farmland hills with lots of trees here and there and some higher hills in the distance. The time passed quickly enough, and I was soon disembarking in Otorohanga, to be immediately greeted by my shuttle driver Bill.
Let me tell you a little bit about Bill, the man who drives the Otorohanga shuttle. He is AMAZING. He's an elderly gentleman, slim with stooped shoulder and a Indiana Jones-style hat with a band reading "Otrohanga shuttle" and he knows everything about the history of Otorohanga and Waitomo. He was technically my shuttled river, but he served more as a tour guide.
My initial plan was to walk to the Kiwi House, which was close to the bus stop, then get shuttled to Waitomo. Bill immediately waylaid that plan, opting to drive me to the house and lock my pack in the van while he personally showed me the kiwi exhibit. He even got the keeper to wake up the kiwi when all she wanted to do was nap in a corner. Like I said, amazing.
Let me say this right off the bat: kiwis are freaking weird birds. They still manage to be cute, but they don't really move like any other bird or animal I know. The Brown Spotted Kiwi, one of the rarest kinds and only on display there in Otorohanga, is the size of a large chicken and has a bunch of thin brown feathers around it. It's feet were surprisingly large and scary - maybe 3/4 the size of my hand. It has no wings (obviously) and when it moves, it's balance is different than anything I've ever seen before. And it was quick! Much quicker than I expected. Once the keeper woke it up, it started rooting around the enclosure with its beak looking for worms and other tasty bugs.
After the kiwis, Bill took me to the outdoor aviary and walked me through it, pointing out different birds and a tuatara,a 130-year-old lizard they have in the enclosure. It was pretty cool. I then wandered the other exhibits for myself for awhile and then my way to a park across the street for Bill to come back and pick me up. He then drove me to a cafe to pick up a sandwich, then drove me to my accommodations in Waitomo while giving me a full run-down of the history of the area. We also made a stop at a fruit stand/orchard on the way and he showed me a kiwi fruit growing on a tree. Did you know at kiwi fruits come from China, their chinese name means "monkey peach", the trees need a frame to grow the upper branches on, or that it's called a kiwi fruit because if you stick two matches into it, it looks like a kiwi bird? Neither did I.
And finally Bill dropped me off at my very first backpackers (i.e., hostel) where I was to stay that night: Juno Hall in Waitomo. I checked in easily enough, plopped my pack on a top bunk in a dorm room (the other 5 bunks were all taken, 2 girls were actually sleeping in their beds when we walked in), then wandered the place for a bit. The hall seems to be a renovated farm house, there was a paddock on the up-sloping hill out back with two pigs, a red deer, a lamb, and assorted cows and horses. A pool was on one side of the house, there was a porch with benches and an outdoor sofa, and the inside boasted several showers, toilets, and a common room with a TV and lots of movies. I was seriously impressed, these were pretty fancy accommodations.
After taking a dip in the pool, I wandered my way up to Waitomo Village, which was about a kilometer away from the backpackers. There I visited the i-SITE, which is a tourist information center, and has a really cool information center about the cafe systems around Waitomo, then grabbed a fantastically healthy dinner of a slice of carrot cake from a cafe and a craft beer. Prices in Waitomo are RIDICULOUSLY expensive because it exists solely for tourists, so dinner from the cafe was out of the question and my beer was a huge splurge at 8.50 NZD (about $6).
After wandering back to the backpackers I hung out and chatted for awhile with Jackie and Julia, two German girls who were in my dorm room and were touring New Zealand for 5 months. We decided to try the Ruakuri bushwalk tomorrow morning before I have my glowworm cave expedition at noon, based on a suggestion from Bill the awesome shuttle driver. But, now it's time for bed!
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