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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 1

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

Sue books us onto the 9am cave tour and asks us about our plans for the coming weeks. She tells us that the inter-island ferry is getting booked up – we should book now. She checks our new dates (12th Feb) and books us on at a cost of $330 including car. She books our whale-watch trip in Kaikoura for the 15th Feb and also checks the Tranz-Alpine train from Christchurch and books that 17th Feb. Finally we get to accommodation and we pick out the Palm Court Motel, which Sue books for one night.

===================================== Note: Roast potatoes, sweet potato wedges, glazed carrots, cauliflower cheese, alfalfa, shredded carrot and broccoli.

Having got installed into our motel, we head off to Waitomo to gauge distance and time since we have an early start in the morning, with little room for error.

Glowing in the success of all our advance bookings, we dine out tonight. Otorohanga is not much of a town – it’s grown on the back of the near-by caves, but still only has a main street with very little behind it except the railway line. There are a couple of restaurants, and we pick out the Giant Wega – I’m a little worried because a wega is a large NZ bug! Anyway, Chris orders the lamb and roast vegetables (“And very nice it was too”), and I had fish, chips and salad.

Before our meals arrive, three ladies sit down close by and start chatting to us. They are sisters, all about our age; two live in NZ, and one has moved to Australia. They are a lively bunch and end up joining us at our table. We swap all the usual stories about travels so far in NZ, and the sisters tell us that they are on a genealogical discovery trip – their mother lived in Otorohanga as a girl, and had gone to school (on horse-back) in the town. She had married in 1939 and her husband had gone off to war – they had her diaries for 1939/40 and 1942/44. They hoped to find people that knew her so that they could start tracing back to their grandparents, and so on. Apparently, they had already traced their father’s line back to the 1600s.

We discover that they are staying at ‘our’ motel, so (after the obligatory group photograph) we all walk back together and they invite us in for coffee and biscuits. A long evening ensues, with discussion swing from Liverpool, to The Beatles, to the Maori, to British TV programmes, rugby and cricket, and Posh and Becks. But, by far the longest time was spent on Coronation Street – they are all avid fans, and we discover that NZ TV is about 9 months behind the current story line in England. So, we are incessantly pumped for information about what’s coming up next, what happens to Fred? … does Charlie get his comeuppance? …. how does Mike Baldwin die? …. and so on, and on, and on. We break up at about 11-30 since we have the cave trip booked for 9am the next day.

Day 9: Glow-worms and Travel to Taupo

After a breakfast of coffee and date scones with jam, we pack up and head off to the meet point for the Waitomo Cave trip. Wai is Maori for ‘water’; tomo is ‘hole’, so Waitomo is a hole created by water.

Our party for the caves numbers 8 – we two, a couple our age from Bury St Edmonds, and two young couples, one from Kent who now work in Boston, and one from Eire. Our guide is German and about 25 years old. We all get in the mini-bus and head off.

Chris and I are surprised to hear that we have a 20-min journey to ‘our’ cave - when we’d surveyed the area the previous day we’d seen a sign, “Cave Entrance”, just two minutes away from the meet point. Our German guide, who is a caver herself and who has a very good sense of humour, explains that we have made an excellent decision to select her tour company for our cave experience … As we pass the “Cave Entrance” sign, she explains that that cave is for day-trippers and large tour parties from Rotorua and Taupo – “the tour is only 20 min long, then you’re back on the bus” she tells us. “Your cave experience involves two caves, glow-worms in both and you get tea and biscuits”, she says.

The road soon deteriorates into a gravel track and becomes increasingly steep and narrow. But, our guide is a good driver and we soon arrive at the entrance to the first cave. Having gotten into our hard hats, we head into the cave, “lights on”. Once we reach the walkway inside the cave, it’s “lights off”, and we’re in the dark. The guide asks us to look up …. nothing. We get into a boat and the guide pulls us along on a rope that’s strung along the side and roof of the cave. As we look about, the glow worms come into sight – 100s of them, strung from the ceiling, their little glowing bums attracting flying insects into their nets strung from the ceiling.

Just as we are about to leave the cave, the guide says, “Look up”, again. It’s the same place as before, except that this time we see that the ceiling is covered in glow-worms! Of course, the first time around, our eyes had not adjusted to the dark so we couldn’t see them - a good lesson for budding astronomers.

The second cave has a few glow-worms, but this one is mostly about stalactites and stalagmites, and the bones of animals and birds that had fallen into the cave from holes above.

Tours done, we all enjoy a nice cup of tea and biscuits as promised, and its back into the mini-bus for the hairy drive back.

It’s just after 1pm and we’re on the road for the short drive to Taupo - we ‘get in’ at about 4pm, and immediately take a drive along the lake’s side to find the i-Site and get our accommodation sorted out. Taupo is a lake resort and fairly busy most of the year – lots of places are already full, so we have to settle for a family room at the Tui Oaks Motor Inn – it’s normally $165/night, but we get it for $135. Our room is large and comfortable, and we have views of the lake from a side window.

Day 10: Taupo

We have a busy day planned so we’re up at 8 and out before 9 after a breakfast of coffee with date scones and boysenberry jam.

Our plan is to do a lake cruise, so we get that booked first – we select the yacht Barbary, which starts an evening cruise at 5pm. Our main activity for the day is a walk so, cruise booking done, we head off to the end of Huka Falls walkway, which starts a couple if miles outside the town.

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