Everyone besides us was suffering from jet lag and woke up sometime between 4 and 5 am. Lynn and I just slept poorly with no excuse. Perhaps we aren’t used to the comfy mattresses of a real hotel. We had an alarm set for 7.30 and finally got up around then to shower and start our day. We met everyone down in the lobby and walked a couple blocks over to The White Rabbit, a breakfast and coffee place near the Britomart (which is surprisingly a train station, not a store as its name would imply). We had a wonderful breakfast discussing the days activities and learned from our waiter that after only being open a year, the restaurant would soon be shutting its doors. Everyone didn’t really understand why, the food was good and they seemed popular. Lynn and I both think it’s because they charge $8 for a tiny glass of orange juice. Phil and Sue think it might be that, after three consecutive days of eating there, we are leaving today and they would no longer have our patronage.
After breakfast, Lynn, mom, and I walked a few blocks to the rental car store to pick up our 8 passenger van that we would be driving around this week. The van felt gigantic after the tiny cars we had been driving by ourselves and we were so high up, lording over traffic, it felt like we might tip over on any corner. Lynn expertly guided it through downtown Auckland and back to the hotel where we picked up the rest of the crew and our luggage.
Fully loaded, we headed south to Taupo where we would be spending the next few nights, by way of Waitomo to see some glow worms in their natural habitat. Cheered on by the passengers nervous at being on the wrong side of the road, Lynn guided us through hills of sheep farms and forests while the discussion tended to be around how similar to America it all looked. At one point we came to an intersection with a Subway, Toyota dealership, KFC, and Stihl chainsaw dealer and it could have just been any town in America (with Dr. Seuss trees).
Two and a half hours later, we cruised into Waitomo, a tiny town near the western coast. We headed straight for the visitor center where mom and Lynn discussed the wide variety of glow worm viewing options available to us. Our priority was seeing the best glow worms and not spending three hours doing so, so we elected for the 45 minute glow worm tour. We chose to forgo the other caves they were pushing because, let’s be honest, most caves look exactly the same.
Not wanting to subsist on a quick lunch of ice cream to get us through the day again, we made sure there was ample time for lunch before our tour began and headed next door to the Waitomo General Store for “hamburgers,” chicken sandwiches, quiche, and cheese and onion toasties. I use quotes because it was made up of slices of beef and beets which as far as I know does not meet what I consider the single qualification for a hamburger, that is has a patty of ground beef. All of it was pretty good though.
Bellies very full, we headed 500 m up the road to the cave entrance and watched half of a very terrible documentary about the Waitomo area featuring a man who discussed his encounter with woodland fair people. It seems Waitomo was built where several “energy lines” intersect and lots of unexplained things happen around here. Uh huh, sure. We did not stay for the whole movie.
Luckily our tour began shortly after we walked out and we joined 44 other tourists for our trek into the caves. It started out as just a generic cave tour with the standard things. “This is a stalactite and stalagmite and here’s a goofy way to remember which is which. Here are some rocks that kind of looks like stuff if you squint and tilt your head and jump up and down.” The whole time, a family with some rather rambunctious children and very talkative Asian family were a bit distracting. Finally we got an overview of the glow worms we were about to see and then headed into a section of the cave to see their mucous filaments dangling from the ceiling. This was quite neat and not even loud talkers could take that away. Thousands of strands dangled from the ceiling, blowing gently in the breeze moving through the cave.
We came back out and headed towards the highlight of the tour, the boat ride through the pitch black, glow worm studded part of the cave. Our group was broken in half and we boarded small boats with a guide who navigated us through the cave by pulling us along with ropes attached to the cave walls. As we pulled off into the darkness we were suddenly surrounded by tens of thousands tiny glowing dots on the ceiling. As you looked to the ones farther away they got a bit blurry, as you were looking through the mucous strings of all the others. It was like a painting of how the sky looks in the middle of the desert, or the ceiling of an Emirates flight. We were instructed to be silent, which the Asian family either didn’t understand the request, or did not care for. Some good Samaritan shushed them half way through and the whole experience became very serene, gently being pulled through the water surrounded by these thousands of glowing points. Eventually our tour had to come to an end and we re-emerged in the light.
We headed back out to the car and drove the remaining two hours to Taupo, with Lynn successfully navigating a brief rainstorm. We arrived at the Airbnb just after 6:00 and met Rain (yes that’s a person’s name) who gave us our keys and walked us through the house. Perhaps castle would be a more fitting word. Poorly laid out, gigantic wooden castle. It’s like a mountain cabin made for hosting twenty people but only has room for eight to sleep. There are extra living spaces everywhere and each of the three floors alone would be enough to host the six of us. That being said, it is very nice and we definitely all have our own space with stunning views of Lake Taupo and the mountains beyond. It was very chilly though, one of the downsides of being massive I suppose.
After unloading the van, Lynn and I sat down in front of the fire to plan our meals for the week while everyone else decided what rooms they would sleep in. Shopping list in hand, all six of us headed into the grocery store in town and spent the next hour gathering supplies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week, plus some bonus supplies that were contributed here and there (including award winning fudge making supplies for Phil).
Home again, Lynn and I set upon making Pasta e Fagioli for dinner with a spinach salad. We struggled through a lack of the properly sized cookware by making it in stages and plating it to bring it all together in the bowls right before serving. It was quite good, though I think there was too much red onion in the salad (my own fault). After dinner we discussed tomorrow’s plans and what time we need to be up.
Daily Walking Miles : 4 miles
Fun Facts :
- Glow worms are the larvae stage of a cave fly. They live for 9 months as a worm, using their glowing to attract bugs that wander into the cave and then catch them with a mucous string that they dangle. After their 9 months are up they reel in their “tongues” and use them as a cocoon while they transform into flies with no mouth or stomach. At this point they have three days to mate and reproduce before they die. We wondered if these flies ever get caught in the strands of other glow worms.
- “Fluffy” has been listed on the menu at a lot of coffee places and we were very curious what it was so I asked at the General Store. It is apparently hot, frothed milk with sprinkles on it “for the kiddos.” Lynn immediately wanted one.