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Published: January 3rd 2014
Another busy day here in New Zealand, full of awesome bushwalks and glowworms! Jackie, Julia, and I left the backpackers around 8:40am for our bushwalk. The bartender that I bought my beer from last night said it would take about 2.5 hours to do the bushwalk, and we first stopped by the i-SITE so Jackie and Julia could buy a glowworm cave expedition. Thus I was a little short on time, since I needed to be back around 11:40am to get to my tour on time. But I figured I would do what I could and see what I could.
Let me tell you this: the Ruakuri bushwalk is wonderful! For a lot of it you are actually walking through rolling farmland that is punctuated by these limestone rock pieces with cool layering in them. At one point you walk through kind of a jungle, and the bird calls are freaking incredible. One bird's call is mostly whistles and clucks. It's super cool. The bushwalk leads to the Ruakuri tunnel, which I didn't have time to explore so I turned around and went back. I did, however, quickly climb up the Waitomo lookout hill to get a lovely view of the area. Very nice. If I had the whole thing to do over again, I would have made the bushwalk into a day hike and brought a picnic lunch, because there are some really great places for sitting and eating on rocks while looking at pretty rock-studded farmland.
After speedwalking back, I grabbed my suit and towel and went across the street to the Blackwater Rafting center. There we changed into wet suits, helmets, climbing harnesses and clunky water boots. After that, we were ready to go! So we loaded into the van and drove out to the cave entrance. The rafting company had set up 4 ropes on the hill there so that we could practice using the abseiling gear. After that, one-by-one we abseiled down 40 meters into the cave opening.
Abseiling, in case you didn't know, is basically rappelling, though possibly with different gear. This cave entrance had a sort of neck, so it narrows a low and then spreads out once you were through the slim part. Abseiling was pretty easy to do, but extremely difficult to do in a way that made you look not-stupid. I kept spinning around and could not get smooth downward motion for the life of me! Grrrrr. But, it was still pretty fun and over way too quickly.
Once everyone was safely in the bottom of the cave, we got a brief overview of the geology of the area (lots of limestone, so stalactites, stalagmites, and fossils) then walked a short distance through a tunnel to the top of the flying fox (zipline). The tunnel was relatively small, and it had several glowworms, so you were to able to see them up close!
Glowworms aren't actually worms at all, they're insect larvae that just look like worms. They eat bugs that fly into the cave or whose eggs are flushed in with the river and then hatch there. To catch these bugs, the glowworms lower strands of silk down from the ceiling, then emit light from their digestive system to attract the bugs, make them think it's daylight. The bugs fly into the strands and, voila! Bug for dinner. :D The glowworms hang out on the top of the cave ceiling and are colored kind of a bright teal-blue, so at some patches you'd look up and see blue speckles all over the ceiling. It was pretty darn cool.
The flying fox was short but fun, as they turn off the lights and you shoot into a new cavern under some glowworm patches. This cavern was the entrance to the underground river, and we paused and were fed hot cocoa and cave cookies while dangling our feet over the edge of a small cliff over the river. It was AWESOME.
Then it was time to tube the river. But first you had to get in. And what better way to get in than by shoving an inner tube on your butt and jumping off a 10 foot platform? I was surprised that the water was pretty cold, but luckily the wet suits warm you up enough. The only downside of this portion was that, with the Blackwater Rafting Company, "tubing the river" was more like "pulling along a flat section of the river", there wasn't really any tubing at all. My sources tell me that the Kiwi Rafting Experience (or something like that) actually has their clients ride the river, so you should look into that company if you're thinking about hitting up Waitomo. :D
We floated up one way, back the same way, and deposited our tubes where we got them, then did some underground river caving. Now THAT was fun. Stumbling around rocks, swimming in a few sections, and looking at patches of the glowworms on the ceiling. I really, really liked that part. Especially towards the end -- we climbed UP two waterfalls. And it actually took some rock climbing skills. So much fun! That part was a blast. At some point during the caving we stopped and had a second snack -- this time a bit of chocolate bar and cider.
After that, we spelunked our way back to the surface where the creek flowed into the cave system, then headed back for some tomato soup and a bagel. The sign asked guests to only eat one bagel, but I saw someone had toasted a bagel and left in on a windowsill (perhaps it was too black for them or they dropped it, I'm not sure. You could tell it had been there awhile.) so I ate that one, too. Haven't gotten sick yet, so I declare that it was an excellent free bagel.
By then it was around 4 or 5, so I hung around and stole their free internet for awhile then headed back to the backpackers for a chill evening before heading out to Motuoapa the next day.
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