Waitomo Caves: Galaxies of Glowworms

Our first weekend in New Zealand out of Auckland simply blew me away.  All I can keep thinking is, “that is what I came to New Zealand to see.”

On Friday, we left on a bus for Waitomo early in the morning.  We had front row seats and we got to the village nice and quickly.  The village of Waitomo, population: 40, is comprised of the information center, two cafes, a bar, and a few hotels.  We popped into the information center to get a map and head over to our hostel.  Luckily, one of the workers at the hostel was able to pick us up!   It was just two minutes down the road (an easy walk) and the hostel itself was really nice: it reminded me of summer camp!

There was even a small farm on the property with a goat, pigs, and newborn piglets!

The mommy big and daddy pig were snorting like maniacs whenever we got near to take a picture.

Cut the cord, already, we only want a look!

Luckily I was disorganized and didn’t book our room ahead of time, so the only room available was one all to ourselves!

It was only $6 more than the standard single bed, so we made arrangements to stay there the second night, too.  It was both of our first times in a hostel, so we were glad to have our own private room while we got the hang of things.

After fueling up in the hostel’s kitchen

(leftover dinner from the night before + a banana) we took a tramp into town.  The landscape is so beautiful here.  It is so hilly and green, with details of bush and trees.  Plus, a bunch of farm animals all over the place!  Cows, turkey, horses, all that cute stuff.  If the population of Waitomo is 40, the cow population must be at least 4,000!

When we got into town, we made our way over to the museum (located in the visitor’s center) to learn about caves a bit.  We were pleased to get free admission since we were going on a cave tour! Score!  The museum was really interesting and I learned all sorts of new stuff about rocks, cave formations, glowworms, and early caving explorers.

We even got to watch a movie explaining exactly what glowworms are!  It’s really pretty interesting.  The glowworm larva makes a sticky trap with its mucus to catch prey: innocent bugs that get carried into caves with the streams.  The bugs are attracted to the glowworms because they make bluish-green dots of light all across the cave ceiling, and the unsuspecting bugs get trapped into what they think is the night sky!

After the museum, we headed over to the Waitomo General store for a pick-me-up.

There we got some amazing rice and sweet potato salad for just $5!

Plus a latte

and free internet, we ended up staying there for almost 5 hours doing work!  It was a great atmosphere to work in: light, airy, and homey.

We felt welcome to stay because the friendly staff just let us be.  I was uber productive and got a lot of work done, almost five papers!  They all need some serious revisions, but that’s not bad for a working vacation!  In the middle of working, I decided that I wanted a brownie break, so I got a big one.

It was way undercooked (I prefer a chewy brownie to a gooey brownie) but hell, chocolate’s chocolate.

Hannah got some ice cream that I was pretty jealous of, but I skipped out since I had cow’s milk in my latte and pizza was on the menu for dinner!

Speaking of which, we headed to a pizza place once we just couldn’t work any longer.  We ordered a medium pizza: half “Caveman” and half vegetarian.

It wasn’t too cheesy and the crust was crispy and wonderful!  We enjoyed it on the porch, outside in the chilly mountain air, while watching some impressive lambs scale a very steep hill.

Then, we headed back to the hostel, infected by the giggles while reading all the graffiti on the boards of our bunk bed.

I made my mark, too 😉

Several rounds of rummy later and one quick star-gazing session (breath-taking! I’d never seen the milky way before!), we hit the bunks.

On Saturday morning, we got ready to head do some tramping!  On the way into town, a van driver for the Black Water Rafting Company offered us a ride!  His van was anything but “unmarked” so we decided he was legit.  In fact, he dropped us off right at the beginning of Waitomo Walk!

The walk was pretty amazing (watch a video of the beginning of it here).  It first took us through hilly farmland where we had several close encounters with cows!

Then, we hiked through jungle-like forest

along a river.

We think that people come to the river to swim because there were a couple of ladders and stray inner tubes!

The Waitomo Walk took us to Ruakuri Bush: the home to many caves!  We followed signs to a cave entrance, but it was bolted shut.

All along the walk, we could peer into some cave entrances, but they were pretty dark and scary!

You could hear rushing water inside. Its so fascinating to think of a whole other world below our feet!  Some of the caves are near the surface though, like this natural tunnel

and this little fort we found!

We were brave enough to walk to an “underground lookout”

which we were almost too scared to enter, but thank goodness we did because the sight was breathtaking.

A huge cave

with a river running through it!

We eventually made our way back to town (half of the return journey was spent running away from bees).

We decided to hit up Huhu Cafe to do some more work, but unfortunately, it was more of a restaurant than a cafe.  But, we were paying customers, so we spent a few hours there enjoying a soy latte,

roast kumara and cumin soup with seeds (and rewana bread)

and some veggie lunch dishes.

On the left is pumpkin, rosemary, and Romano arancini with toasted seeds and romesco sauce.  On the right is roasted pumpkin with hummus, chili, and coriander.  The food was fantastic, and we were able to get a good amount of work done!

Soon enough, we felt as though we had overstayed our welcome several times over, so we went back to our beloved general store…for some ice cream.  I had had a virtually dairy-free day so far, and after several hours of hiking, I decided that I earned it.

Hokey Pokey ice cream and Feijoa ice cream rocked my world! Feijoa is a native fruit here that is in season, and made a deliciously fruity ice cream!  Like strawberry only less boring.  Of course, Hokey Pokey is the native New Zealand ice cream flavor with balls of toffee and maple syrup.  It also happened to be served on the most perfect waffle cone you could ever dream of.  Light and tasty, yet strong and not too big!

After killing some time on the playground (see-saw, slide, and swings to be exact) it was time for the event we had been waiting for: Glow Worm Abseiling!

(Disclaimer: I am going to try and describe the wonder of what I saw last night, and you will think that you understand how incredible it must have been.  But you won’t understand.  No one could ever really understand the magnificence of the glowworms unless you see them for yourself.  It is simply magic.)

At dusk, we drove to the site and got all harnessed-up.  I had no idea what to expect but I was blown away.

Twice we repelled down a rocky, bushy, 50-meter crevice in the Earth and climbed steep ladders back to the top.

But it was so much more incredible than that.  When we felt brave enough, we shut off our headlamps and were faced with the most spectacular sight I will ever see.  The limestone walls of the skinny crevice are covered with galaxies of bluish-green dots of light. So many dots of light you couldn’t dream of counting them.  All over the walls, all around you.

After our tour came to a close, we hit up the local bar for a Speights and a snack to bring us back down to Earth.  The bar is called Curly’s, so naturally we got curly fries. 😉 But we waited 45 minutes for them!  There was only one girl working the kitchen, and she prepared one order at a time.

The Speights was only $6, so we were pleased about that.  While we were waiting, we reflected on the wonderment of the glowworms under the strongest space heater ever invented.  Woah, people, it’s not that cold out.  Finally, we received and scarfed our curly fries.

Then after the darkest, scariest walk home of my life (where we did see some more glowworms in a bush!), we settled in for our last night in Waitomo.

On Sunday morning, we started our day back at the General Store for some Muesli and a pot of tea.

After a quick walk to check out the historic Waitomo Hotel,

it was back on the bus and back “home” to Auckland for us.  I was so sad to leave Waitomo. I loved how quiet, peaceful, and spread out the town was.  I also loved how Mother Nature packed so many of her beautiful, natural wonders in one area.  I am so lucky to be able to say this: I plan on going back soon 🙂

What’s the most amazing natural sight you’ve ever seen?




Filed under Food, Life, New Zealand

9 responses to “Waitomo Caves: Galaxies of Glowworms

  1. Laura

    If you’re ever able to manage a weekend in the South Island, Central Otago is unmissable, in my totally biased opinion. 🙂

  2. Miranda

    I knew you would love Waitomo!! You should try to make it to Taupo if you can (it’s maybe 3.5 hr drive from Auckland? I always go from Hamilton so I’m not sure), Huka Falls is simply outstanding. I am going to the Coromandel at Easter and I’m so excited, you make me excited to rediscover my own country!! Now I just have to sit through the seven hour flight from Perth..

  3. Pingback: a pile of spinach for dinner? | Namaste Everyday

  4. Dominique

    Victoria Falls at sunset, hands down.

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