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New Zealand – Waitomo

The icing on the New Zealand cake (or Pavlova if you believe they invented it first)

semi-overcast 23 °C

Waitomo sits in a limestone area of the North Island which is riddled with more holes than a block of swiss cheese. The soft limestone has been eroded away by millions of years of rain seeping into some incredibly vast underground rivers allowing us to take to the tunnels armed with a head torch and tyre tube under our arm.

Leaving Christchurch, we headed up to Picton via a lunch stop in Cheviot. We also quickly stopped in to Kaikoura. We helped out the backpacking community on our way out of Kaikoura by picking up two French blokes who were looking for a ride up to Picton. New Zealand seems like it is a pretty good place to hitch hike as we saw lots of people on our way round trying to thumb a ride. They were nice blokes and we had a good chat with them on the couple of hours drive up to Picton.

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After dropping the guys off at their hostel we pulled into our campsite in the town, got some dinner on the go and relaxed. The following day the weather wasn’t the greatest so we ended up doing a bunch of research into what we needed to do for our visa´s in Asia.

The return ferry journey to Wellington wasn’t so great. The nice calm waters of the inlets were hiding the rather large swell in the Tasman, and when we got into open water, I lasted about 15 minutes before making a visit to the bathroom. I spent the rest of the journey out on the back deck feeling under the weather. If you have read any of the other blogs you will notice that travel sickness is a pretty common thing for me, but even Tanya wasn’t feeling well on this journey, so I felt a little better thanks to that. We were given a slight reprieve when we were stood at the side railing and spotted a group of dolphins coming towards the ferry in the distance. We ended up seeing about 4 or 5 different pods all come over and play around in the wake of the ferry over the journey.

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Back on the north island we put in some solid hours driving past ‘Mount Doom’ before getting into Waitomo. We booked in for our cave tubing for a 9am start the following morning.

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Out at ‘The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company’ we got suited up in our attractive wetsuits, posed for a photo or two and then drove out to the caves entrance. Being the first group of the day we were lucky to be stepping into dry wetsuits, but that didn’t help much when we did our practice jumps into the river and the freezing cold water trickled down our back.

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We descended into the earth via an innocuous gash in the ground, had some more photos and then started on our caving adventure. The water running through the labyrinth of caves has not seen the warming rays of daylight at this point so was nice and cold as we waded through it.

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Armed with our head torches, the two guides sent us through a maze of tight tunnels to try and find our way back to them before we hopped into our rings and started floating down the river. We floated under a very low hanging bit of rock by doing some tube limbo, jumped off of a waterfall and waded through some more of the caves.

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The main drawcard of the Waitomo Caves area is not actually river tubing but the glow worms that make the caves their home. We got to a long open section of the caves and floated down with our head torches switched off and the roof of the cave was amazing. It was like looking up into the night sky full of stars. In fact this is the tactic that the worms use to catch their food.

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The guides actually gave us the lowdown on the worms while we were sat admiring them. They are the larvae of a fly which lay their eggs on the roof of the caves. Over the first few hours of their existence they cannibalise other eggs and smaller larvae to get big enough to suspend a sticky thread below themselves and wait for a mosquito to come into the caves and think that the glowing lights above them are the night sky. The worms use bioluminescence to make the light from the food that they eat. Instead of expelling the waste from their food, they burn it off instead as the visible light. So actually they could be called ‘Cannibalistic Maggots with Glowing Shit’ but somehow the marketing people didn’t think that would sell quite so well as Glow Worms.

More jumping, climbing, floating and gazing followed as we wound our way through the tunnels 60m below the forest floor above. After about 90minutes underground we popped out of the caves into daylight again. A warm shower back at the headquarters followed but hot tomato soup and bagels were just as good as the trip itself.

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After warming back up we went back out to the location of the caves, as there was a nice little walk around the forest where we could look into a few more of the caves where the roof had collapsed over time. It was a nice little walk and I especially liked playing around on the Tarzan vines.

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We hit the road again and spent our final New Zealand night in another good camper park on the outskirts of Auckland ready to drop the camper van off first thing in the morning. It was with a touch of sadness that we gave back the keys to our home for the last 3 weeks. She wasn’t flash, but the old girl had served us well (clocking up a mere 3400km) and made New Zealand even more enjoyable to see.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The caving was well worth the entrance fee, it was a really awesome experience floating down the river in complete darkness when we turned the headlights off. It was like looking up at the night sky. New Zealand as a whole has been amazing, will certainly be back in a few years to get to some of the places that we couldn’t fit in over the last 3 weeks.

Tanya – The caving was a fun way to end our tour of New Zealand. We covered alot of ground but managed to take in so much scenery with plenty of activities. There are too many highlights to remember, we have had such a great time.

Posted by dbgomes 18:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand round_the_world

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