Thursday, January 5, 2012


We arrived at the Waitomo Caves at lunch time, and the information centre (“the only place in town offering unbiased advice”) was quite busy, so we ate our sandwiches on a park bench first. We booked tickets for a couple of tours, deciding in favour of shorter experiences, and paid $2 extra for a very informative walk through and twenty minute movie in the discovery centre right there - very worthwhile.

Glowworms are not actually worms but rather the larval stage of a fly, and they are hungry, carnivorous beasts! About an inch long, they drop several silk threads down from their nest along which they spread sticky globules. Other insects flying up from the water below are tricked by the glowing lights into thinking that the glowworms are actually stars, and they fly upwards - and get caught on the sticky threads! And yes, they even happily eat other glowworm flies.

We then checked in to our accommodation, Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge B&B. Our hosts there (Colin, Janet and Gypsy the dog) were very friendly and quite happy to give us some useful, biased advice about food and activity options around town. Janet also gave us a tour of their lovely garden the next morning. Highly recommended!

We did the Aranui Cave tour at 3:30pm and then the (“world-famous”!) Waitomo Glowworm Caves at 5:00pm.

The Aranui Cave is huge and beautiful, filled with spectacular limestone features. It’s quite well lit and easily accessible, and our guide was friendly and well-informed. We saw the Pacific Rim “Ring of Fire” fault line from below and above (a little scary!) with some very long stalactites hanging down (the longest apparently four tonnes of stone!).

The Waitomo Glowworms were amazing. I was not expecting it to be particularly exciting (having seen them before as a child) but the boat ride in the dark and quiet, the cave ceiling all lit up with glowing points of light, the reflections off the water, .. I was blown away.

Each tour was about 45 minutes long, and both are definitely highly recommended!

For dinner we checked out a number of options. The newish restaurant across from our B&B, the Huhu Café, was reputed to be very good and able to cater for special needs, however the chef was very busy when we dropped in during the afternoon to ask and said he wouldn’t have time to prepare anything special for us. Several other places couldn’t serve us what we needed. But eventually we found the Morepork Pizzeria up the hill behind Curly’s Bar, where I had a “vegetable stack” (really more of a skewer than a stack) and Laetitia had fish, chips and salad. It was delicious.

At dusk (i.e. around 9:30pm), at the recommendation of our hosts, we grabbed torches and went a short way along the Ruakuri bushwalk - and saw glowworms on the cliff walls and under trees around the river. The moon was close to full, so the real stars were not very bright - it was easy to see how insects might get confused about where the stars and sky were.

The next morning we returned to the Ruakuri walk to complete the full circuit in daylight. The natural tunnel through which the river flows was quite spectacular, and the path goes through some smaller natural tunnels as well. There were many steps on the walk, though, along with some steep inclines, and we were quite tired out by the end.

Our hosts recommended State Highway 30 “all the way” to get to Rotorua, which turned out to be a delightful scenic drive indeed. We stopped for lunch in Whakamaru, where we enjoyed a delicious pizza along with great friendly service and conversation at Fred’s Pizzeria. Very highly recommended!

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