In Waitomo we stayed in a van park, our site next to a field of entertaining cows. It was a welcome break from driving straight away the next morning when we only had to go across the road to get to where we wanted to go. This was the Waitomo caves. In the area there are about 300 caves. We chose to go on a tour which takes you to see Glow worms and another cave near by. It was a great trip, our guide on the way to the cave explaining the geology of the scenery which was very green, very hilly with (as is the way in lots of New Zealand) sheep around us. The area had a lot of limestone which means that millions of years ago, it was under the sea (limestone being rock made up of tiny crushed shells).
We arrived at the cave and adorned attractive hard hats with lights on before entering. Inside we saw Glow worms up close. They aren't worms but are the larvae of the fungus gnat which have luminescent organs. They weave sticky threads which hang down and which insects, attracted by the light get caught in. The Glow worm reels in the thread and eats the insect. After watching a few insects perish we moved on to an inflatable raft. This was the highlight. We moved down the river inside the cave and it was like sailing through a grotto with lots of fairy lights around. These lights were of course the Glow worms and as our eyes adjusted to night vision we saw more and more and they became brighter. It was strange to think that all these beautiful lights were something quite horrible really. Larvae of a gnat. It was very relaxing and quite hypnotic floating through the cave looking above and around and seeing all these beautiful lights. A girl next to me said 'it would be great if the sky at night was like this'. I thought, 'she obviously does not look up at the sky enough then', as what was above us could have been mistaken as the night sky with lots of constellations. It was even more amazing when the guide made a loud noise and they all shone brighter. I believe this happens because the larvae work with vibrations so they interpreted the loud noise as an insect nearby and therefore shone brighter to attract them.
Outside of the glow worm cave, blinded by the sunlight, some of the group fed the eels. After the eels had their feed we had ours (well a biccie and cuppa) before heading to the next cave. This was a lovely cave with some nice decorations, but the highlight of this cave for me were the extinct Moa bird's bones. Caves always provoke my imagination into thoughts of ancient times so to have an (estimated) 20,000 year old extinct bird in the cave added to that feeling. David Attenborough filmed a documentary at the Glow-worms caves which apparently was shown in UK in October 05 or March 06.
Out of the caves again and the tour ended when we arrived back in Waitomo village. We carried on the site- seeing on our own and visited a couple of natural attractions up the road a few kilometeres. The first one was a the Mangapohue natural bridge, a massive natural limestone bridge with a large stream running under it. My description does not do it justice. It was beautiful and again I was in awe that it was essentially made out of tiny shells. We walked to the other side of it through a field with some curious and some not so curious sheep and more scattered limestone, some with fossilised giant oysters in.
The next natural attraction was beautiful Marakopa falls which usually is in three tiers, but because of rainfall it was running as one; the result being a large, impressive waterfall.
From one stunning waterfall to another the next day we stopped at Bridal veil falls. Tim laughed at a comment I made in a broad Suffolk accent that they make them good in this part of New Zealand. That they do though. Bridal falls was a stunning, tall single stream waterfall gushing into a pool at the bottom.
After the falls we headed to Raglan for our daily coffee. Heading for our chosen cafe we were aware of a van creeping along by us. We stopped so he could pass us which he didn't. Instead he beckoned us over. I thought he was going to tell us off for walking out in front of him or something. I felt reluctant to do as he said, a bit like the shepherd incident previously, but in the end I did as I was told. I was glad I did as he told us that there were whales coming into the harbour. We rushed over and indeed there were several orcas (AKA killer whales) swimming in. We felt incredibly lucky to be seeing them, especially when a girl told us that she had lived there for 5 years and this was only her second time seeing them. (Apparently they appear about twice a year. ) I couldn't believe our luck. There were some kayakers in the harbour who probably couldn't believe theirs either. They were too far away for a decent picture, but seeing them emerge and hearing the blowing noise as they exhaled from their blowholes was fantastic. We followed them down the harbour a bit before deciding to get that coffee, after which we had another look at a couple of orcas which appeared to be in the same place as we had left them. I love it when things like that happen when you don't expect it. I had been missing a bit of wildlife whilst in NZ. That made up for it. Just in time too as we only had two days left.
From whales to gardens in the City of Hamilton. We had lunch and wandered round the large pretty gardens and played the guess the vegetable game. We can have fun doing anything!