New Zealand, also known as A0tearoa in the Maori language meaning ‘the land of the long white cloud.’ A place I have been dying to visit, one that not many get the opportunity to as it lies off the beaten path. With just shy of a month to go exploring, we decided to roadtrip around the north and south islands and fit in as much as we could. With near death experiences, stunning scenery, a town with a smell that makes it near unliveable, hobbits, castles, wineries, a prehistoric cave and more sheep than I can count, it was definitely a trip I will never forget.
We arrived into Auckland, picked up our car and headed back to the hotel in the centre of the city. We were staying just a short walk from the Skytower, a 1000 feet plus high monolith which dominates the skyline, with views for miles in every direction and a rotating restaurant, appropriately named Orbit (www.skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/orbit), to make the most of them. We headed to Orbit for dinner and sampled some of the local wine as we enjoyed the views of the sparkling Auckland lights at night.
The next day it was north on to Paihia, a fishing, sailing and tourist destination in the Bay of Islands. Despite being complete novices, we thought it would be a great idea to go kayaking all day to explore some of the deserted islands, go snorkeling and see Haruru Falls.
Big mistake. It was still early Spring, and mother nature turned on a cold, wet and windy day for us. Despite the weather we persevered and jumped in the two person kayaks (we found out later these are better known as ‘divorce boats’) and tried to keep up with the guides and an adventurous German family. Even the kids were leaving us for dead.
Despite being wet and exhausted, learning about the history of the area, passing the Waitangi treaty grounds, seeing the abundance of wildlife and exploring a deserted island was definitely worth it. We jumped in the car and headed back south, stopping to admire the views so much the trip took twice as long.
Our next stop was the Waitomo Caves (www.waitomo.co.nz), a cave system which has been formed over time from the erosion of limestone by water. The caves are home to a species of glow worms native only to New Zealand, and we had heard that the sparkling of the worms is quite spectacular and a must do. We arrived at the caves just in time for our tour – we had chosen the Lost World – a rappel down into a canyon from the surface, hike through the caves to one of the glow worm chambers and then back to the surface.
We suited up and drove, while our tour guide described the formation of the caves over time, through a number of sheep farms to get to the entrance. Once we got to the viewing platform my heart skipped a beat. The platform extended out over the centre of the canyon, 300 feet up, to give us access to our ropes – and we had to step out over thin air and sit on a beam to get hooked up (ok so we were connected to a safety harness while taking this step but that really wasn’t the foremost thing on my mind).
Once hooked up we started to descend into the canyon. Despite being terrified of heights, this was hands down the greatest travel experience I have had to date. Something about dangling from a rope, 300 feet up, and slowly descending into this cave which seems like it hasn’t changed since prehistoric times feels so Indiana Jones.
Once we reach the bottom we unhook and are free to hike up into the cave system, with incredible limestone and rock formations, huge caverns and stream running throughout.
Finally, the main event. We arrive at the glow worm cavern and turn out the lights, and watch as hundreds of tiny glowing lights appear on the roof of a cavern. We sit and enjoy the tranquillity of the cavern with the sound of running water in the background and the glow of the worms for a little while before moving on.
It isn’t until we are about to head out that our guide explains the source of the glow – the worms faeces is bioluminescent. We just spent a long day coming to admire some shiny shit. Check that off the bucket list.
We stopped off at HUHU café (www.huhucafe.co.nz) in Waitomo for lunch, an unexpected gem hidden in the countryside with amazing food and urban design, before heading onward to Rotorua.
Next stop: Roturua, Hobbiton, Mud baths and a Maori Ceremony
*Special thanks to Waitomo Caves Adventure Centre and our tour guide, Flynn, who provided photos used in this post