Road trip weekends are usually some of my favorites. No airport, no liquid limits, no planes and usually a far more relaxed schedule. I just think they’re a bit easier. Of course that’s probably because I’m never the one driving on opposite sides of unfamiliar and windy foreign roads.
We left Friday afternoon for Waitomo. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far away and after a few hours drive into the New Zealand countryside (only 1 or so in the dark- thank goodness) we arrived around dinnertime.
Waitomo is a tiny little town (the owner of our B&B introduced himself and his wife and already we had met 5% of the population) and famous for their caves or more specifically the glow worms that inhabit them.
After a break-of-dawn wake-up call from the local birds who apparently had scheduled an all out fight club underneath our open window, we headed down for breakfast and then across the street to meet up with our cave guide.
Glow worms are actually not worms at all. They are in fact flies in their larva stage…yeah, maggots. But, as our tour guide pointed out, they probably couldn’t get 500k tourists a year to come see glowing maggots.
Call them what you will, these little creatures create an experience like no other. I was like we were on a boat ride underneath the milky way. It felt like a Disney ride it was so incredibly beautiful…
Pictures above are courtesy of our tour company, Spellbound, because these little buggers are practically impossible to capture in a cave so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. If you ever go here you MUST book with them. Seriously perfect tour company- passionate, professional and intimate.
We floated down the small stream that runs through the cave staring upward with mouths agape at the sheer volume and magical beauty of these tiny little lights. It was one of those experiences you have where you just can’t deny the awesomeness of our planet.
It was also very cool to see how much night vision we actually have. Our guide had asked us at a certain point to turn off our headlamps and asked if we could see our hand in front of our face. Nope. Then as we boarded the raft he asked if we could see him. Nope. After 30 or so minutes with nothing but the light of glowing maggot butts, we could see each other plainly. Also awesome- the human body.
After our glow worm cave we had some tea and biscuits (aka- cookies, aka- none for me, aka- longest Lent ever) before heading down to our next cave. No real glow worms to speak of since there wasn’t a stream so no food source. It was an interesting cave as far as caves go. I think I’ll recommend they switch the order though because the glow worms should definitely be the finale to this tour.
We had a quick lunch when we arrived back in Waitomo and then made our way to Rotorua.
Rotorua (Maori for “second lake” as this was the second lake found by the local chief of the area tribe) is a pretty popular destination on the North Island. It is home to the largest concentration of Maori people, the world’s newest geothermal landscape and about a million ways to make you want to pee your pants. Seriously, daredevils need look no further than NZ to get their thrills. From skydiving, to bungee, to being rolled down a mountain in a giant plastic ball- they know how to get the adrenalin pumping.
Seeing as we have a couple of mortgages and plan to have a family one day we skipped the dangerous attractions and took advantage of the other two.
We arrived on Saturday just in time for our evening cultural show. It was pretty much a nightmare. Rarely will the reviews on TripAdvisor send you far astray, but oh brother did they fail us here. Tourist trap from hell. Even through all the hokey crap and being herded around like cattle all night, my interest in the Maori culture is still very peaked. These people were some kind of badass.
The only good part of the evening was the show (which was way too short)…
Early the next morning we set off for our last tour of the weekend to the geothermal areas. Well, actually all of Rotorua is because the actual town is built inside the caldera of a volcano. File that under: things I could have lived without knowing.
We had a wonderful guide, who was also Maori so he gave us a scientific as well as cultural view of the area. It was a great morning tromping through the bush to see mud pools, toxic pools of boiling acid, the world’s largest hot springs and even a geyser…
Oh and even a Green Bay Packer…
Brandon Chillar (#54 linebacker) and his brother were on our tour. We were the only people under 72 and the only Americans so we were hanging and chatting all day with them. Through the course of one conversation Julie asked “Just what do you do for work in Wisconsin?” To which he modestly answered “I play football.” Um, you’re a freaking starter for the Packers, aka- current national champs (although he didn’t play the actual SB due to injury). He really was the nicest guy, very funny and might just be a reason for me to start watching pro ball.
All in all a pretty cool weekend in a beautiful country. Wish we had more time in New Zealand, but the bestie is on his way to Australia so we’ve got to head back!
Pics from the weekend…