Waitomo

We woke to share our last breakfast with our gracious Affordable Travel Club hosts, Gerry and Maria. They were kind enough to allow us to share their home for three nights and to share some stories of their life. Both are Dutch immigrants from many years ago, with quite the tales attached to that time and settling into a new country. Gave us a different perspective of yet another group of New Zealanders. They were an inspiration in how to age well, staying involved and current.

We left Tokoroa and headed for Waitomo. The roads were often narrow country roads offering great views of very hilly farms, with mostly cattle. We were surprised to see lots of corn growing as we hadn’t run across that before. Not sure if it was grown for human or cattle consumption. And as always there are the windrow hedges. We’ve been amazed at the height and length of many. But more puzzling was how in the world they keep them so tidily trimmed. We found out that it isn’t done by lots of men on tall ladders with hedge trimmers. But instead done by helicopter! Yes! A helo with some sort of cutting apparatus hanging from it. Of course we have wanted to see it for ourselves but no such luck.

I had been hankering for a cup of coffee but the route had not provided so much as a teeny cafe nor a town of any sort. Then voila! A bakery appeared! Heavenly days! We screeched to a stop, parked the car and almost ran inside. And heaven it was! Baked goods of every sort and….coffee! We each made a selection after careful inspection and took it outside to enjoy the beautiful day. We witnessed quite an astounding amount of traffic also coming to a quick stop, running into the bakery and coming out with full hands. Even the area workers pulled up in their trucks, dogs wagging tongues and tails in the back, with the men kicking off their muddy work boots and entering in stocking feet. Incredible. After eating our goodies and watching this we decided we ought to go back in for sandwiches for lunch and extra goodies for later. Yum!

Then it was on to Waitomo to view the caves with glow worms. We stopped at the first spot that looked like it might be the place we had our reservations. It wasn’t, but we had the opportunity to watch a few videos – one about the life of the glow worms and another about all the caving in New Zealand. We then went a short distance up the road to the first of two caves we were to see. We were early but they were most accommodating and let us go with an earlier tour group. This was quite fortuitous as we got Jim as our guide. A former school teacher and passionate about this cave, he was a spellbinding story teller as we went through the cave. We wended our way into the cave by an amazing circular path that wound round and round lit only by a few lights adding to the dizzying feeling. We came to the main cave where we were to let some of the water dripping down onto our hands to ward off the cave spirits. He then gave us the history and science of the place as well as amusing anecdotes. We saw mostly stalagtites and few staligmites. Beautiful formations all around. But it was the glow we worms that drew everyone here.

They are found only in New Zealand and Australia and are not actually worms. They show up in the dank caves or equally dark, dank forests. The larvae, the size of a matchstick, make a hammock like pouch then extrude a bunch of thin lines that hang down with sticky drops on them. They are luminescent to attract all the insects they need to catch on those sticky threads to feed on for about 9 months until they are fed enough to make a cocoon, then the adults mate, lay eggs and die within 3 days. What an existance! But during that 9 months the light shows is incredible! We saw some of the glow worms there, but it was the next cave that gave us the spectacular show. On the way out we once again were asked to get our hands wetted, this time so we did not bring any bad spirits out with us.

We drove back down the road to another cave where we went for a short walk through it to see some wonderful formations including an area called the cathedral. As we stood there in utter darkness our guide sang us a Maori song. It was lovely and resonated beautifully. But the big draw with this cave was when we all were put aboard a boat on the underground river, slowly making our way in total silence. As we looked up and all around there were thousands and thousands of glow worm lights, like stars in the sky, making glow worm constellations. It was mesmerizing! Unfortunately, one cannot take pictures as it would harm them. But it will be in my mind’s eye forever.

And then it was time to drive to our placed for the night, in Hamilton. After an hour’s drive we located the house and got settled in. We happily found our favourite supermarket just five minutes away, so that provided dinner. A relaxing evening ensued, with me enjoying wine from the Mission Winery visit.

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