Waitomo > Rotorua > Auckland
Waitomo is a place I have fond memories of from my families last visit. So packing only our essentials, we waved goodbye and headed off for a few days away south of Auckland. A 2hr45min drive led us through countryside not unlike Wales, beautiful rolling valleys and plenty of sheep.
We arrived at our first destination Waitomo Kiwi Cave Rafting, where we would spend the next 4hrs navigating Waitmomo’s famous cave system. First things first was to get kitted up in some rather fetching wetsuits, multicoloured trousers and whites wellies. We looked an absolute picture, Edina and Patsy would have been proud. Once we’d suited and booted and with all our safety gear on we were ready to make our way to the entrance of the cave. One by one we were lowered or should I say abseiled down into a small riven where we met the river and opening of the cave. Now all down we made our way into the mouth of the cave, our guide leading from the front. We were in for a treat once inside the cave, switching our headlamps off we were plunged into total darkness.
**BOOOM**, off went the first explosion and suddenly the ceiling of the cave started to twinkle like a Christmas tree. After several bangs and with our hearts in our mouths and eyes bulging, the entire ceiling glowed with the efflorescence of many glow worms. I should explain that the guides let these small controlled and safe explosions off. The reason being is that it causes the glowworms to glow due to the vibrations and increases our adrenaline causing our eyes to dilate.
Our head torches now back on and eyes adjusted we headed on further into the cave, this time each collecting a rubber ring. Once safely in position we simultaneously moved our rings behind us and fell back into the water with a bounce. Now the fun began, swirling and swaying from side to side as we glided down the river rapid, childlike giggles coming from each and everyone of us, as we bumped into each other and the cave walls. After a 100 metre or so stretch we came to a slowed pace and climbed out of our rubber rings and onto the side of cave. From here our test of small spaces began. Leading us though the cave our guide Sam, grinned wickedly as she led us through some of the tightest caps in the cave. I began to laugh, as I watched the two rather tall men in our group, one being my husband, negotiated the confined space us girls had quite easily slipped through. Needless to say we all managed unscathed.
Walking back to the starting point, it was time to make our way back up the same way we’d came down. Looking down at our wellies, we all wondered how on earth we were going to climb up the rock face. However, Sam who climbed up with ease like a mountain goat, put our minds at rest. So one by way we traversed up the wet rock face, stopping only to pose for our finally prized photo.
A short drive to the starting hut we all jumped into individual hot showers, mostly to wash the stench of water and wetsuits off our skin. Now all cosied up in our warm stuff we headed back to view ours photos and slurp on warm tomato soup.
We booked through www.bookme.co.nz/ saving us approx. 20%
3hrs East of Waitomo we arrived in Rotorua for the evening. The stench of egg ringing in our nostrils was a clear sign we were in the volcanic district of North Island. After a well needed sleep we headed to The Fat Dog Cafe & Bar for a full on breakfast. To be honest this place is a total tourist trap, selling extremely large portions of very unhealthy food. However, it was a place I’d visited 16 years earlier and was one to tick off our list. Feeling slightly sick and with full bellies we head out for a day of exploring the natural phenomenon of Rotorua’s landscape. Waimangu Volcanic Valley was the second stop on our list. My recommendation, wear comfortable clothing not all your warmest gear. Parts of the park are heated by the residual heat coming from the geothermal lakes and you’ll started to overheat. A good pair of walking shoes is also needed.
Wondering along the 4km hiking path of Waimangu with around 25 stops, you’re transported into a scene not unlike Jurassic Park. Named as ‘The world’s youngest geothermal system,’ in 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption created the geo-thermal area known as Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley. On every twist and turn of the path you’re greeted to boiling lakes, craters, mountains and panoramic views, the most impressive being the steaming Cathedral Rocks, Emerald Pool and the steaming hot Frying Pan Lake. The park is also famous for its wide range of Fauna and Flora adapted to their extreme thermal conditions. If you listen carefully above the sounds of bubbling geysers and fumaroles, the tranquil sounds of birdsong from Fantails, Tui’s, and Finches can be detected, which I particularly loved.
Next on our road trip, which we learnt about through one of our group from the Waitomo Caving, was Kerosene Creek. Both of us had been keen to bathe in the natural waters of a hot spring and this, unlike others, was in a serene and remote location out in the wilderness. Once in our bathers we headed down a small path set amongst the lush native bush. Negotiating the narrow walkway, we followed the stream and came out to a small bathing pool complete with a 2m high waterfall. Excitedly we lowered ourselves into the warm murky waters and lay back against the rocks forming the pool. A clue in the name and something we hadn’t considered, until we were complimented on our fast forming tans, was that Kerosene can turn your skin orangey red and anything else white that is exposed to it. After several soaks for both me and my brand new bikini, the colour eventually disappeared.
There is real mix of reviews when reading about Kerosene creek. As its in an open space, it goes without saying that your valuable belongings need to be locked away somewhere safe in your car and not left at the side with your towel whilst you bathe. We were lucky that we went in low season, so although a few people it wasn’t overrun. I think its worth remembering that you’re in a highly popular tourist location and so the chances of places being busy are fairly high. Its more about enjoying the natural scenery and experience than going with a romantic expectation that you will be alone. The upside is that you do not pay, were as in others you do and in much busier locations around Rotorua.
Auckland or Tāmaki or Tāmaki-makau-rau as named by the Maori’s, meaning “Tāmaki with a hundred lovers,”* is the most populated urban area in New Zealand. I neither love nor hate Auckland, I kinda feel none plussed about it. It certainly feels overrun. The city is going through a big transformation whilst it builds a new underground system. Once it’s built I think the city will feel very different, less crowded and run a lot more smoothly. For me though, New Zealand isn’t somewhere you go for the city, its to enjoy all the rich natural beauty of the changing landscapes, wildlife, water and the way of life.
* “in reference to the desirability of its fertile land at the hub of waterways in all directions.”
Something you should see whilst in Auckland, is it’s iconic landmark the SkyTower, which sits 328 metres (1,076 ft) tall, making it the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere and the 23rd tallest tower in the world. It’s definitely worth going up when its good weather, as it has great 360 degree views across Auckland and out to the surrounding islands. We unfortunately went on a slightly overcast day and having spent the majority or our trip in Waiheke, we were a little underwhelmed.
If you’re a thrill seeker then there a two activities you’ll want to do on your visit to the Skytower. One; SkyWalk around the outer perimeter of the Skydeck observation platform and lean off the side if you can stomach it. Two, and one that made my heart leap out of my chest watching, is to SkyJump from the Skydeck straight down to the soft matts on the ground. I had no desire to try this but it was fun to count down and see those brave enough plunge to the floor below.
A little bit of shopping and we were keen to head back to our paradise island of Waiheke. We jumped on the next available ferry and headed back to watch another amazing sunset.
On my next blog check out our adventures around South Island, New Zealand by camper van, not to be missed…
Until next time, take it easy and most importantly smile 🙂