Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday: Napier -> Waitomo

Up early and had a very light breakfast at the hotel before heading out around 8am. Picked up a croissant when I stopped for gas, and had that at a rest stop partway through the morning.

On the way to Waitomo

Had a nice drive to Waitomo, arriving a little after noon, and booked a 3pm cave tour. Tried to check in to my motel but no-one was there, so I found a cafe for lunch, and then checked out the small cave museum at the visitor centre.

To get to the cave tour the guide drove us about 20 minutes in a van up into the hills, along a narrow, winding track. There were a lot of sheep grazing beside the road, many of them with new lambs, some just born.

There were just 7 of us on the cave tour, which visited two caves. The first one we walked through, and it had a lot of neat formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, pillars, curtains, and others. The guide turned off the lights so we could see a few glowworms on the ceiling. The glow worms are actually the larval stage of a gnat fly, and they create strands of silk-like mucus to catch their prey, using their glowing tails to lure them in. So technically they are maggots, but convincing people to come to caves to see maggots dripping mucus trails was a hard sell, so they call them glowworms with silken threads, and that's working well.

In front of the entrance to the first cave

Formations inside the first cave

Looking out of the second cave towards the entrance

We took a snack break after the first cave, and then donned hardhats with headlamps for the second one. We walked in a bit, and then got into an inflatable raft to explore the second cave. The guide pulled on lines set up above the raft to navigate the cave with all the lights out, and after our eyes adjusted we could see endless thousands of glowworms on the ceiling and walls. For me it was so bright, it created the illusion that we were drifting under a sparse trellis covered with vines, with moonlight and starlight coming through. We spent about 45 minutes in the dark, though it was a bit distracting when people tried taking photos, which added the light of their camera displays. I doubt their photos came out well, and the tour company will be emailing us professional photos as part of the tour, which hopefully will be better than what I could have gotten on my iPhone.

After the caves, I went back to my motel and checked in, and then went to a local pub for dinner. The pub's resident cat (originally feral) found me, and settled down on my backpack for a good scratch of the head. I had a good chat with a couple of the locals and enjoyed a yummy steak with a nice pint of the local IPA.

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