After a week in Auckland, we knew that New Zealand was a gem, but had really only seen the biggest city. Our next destination is Wellington where we’re staying a month. There are lots of ways to travel through New Zealand: short airplane ride, ferry, train, bus. We wanted to be able to see more of New Zealand. So, we figured out some destinations, rented a car and made our way south.
Fun fact: Will had to work while I picked up the car in Auckland. The guy at the rental shop proceeded to tell me he was giving us a brand new Fiat, just off the boat with only 23 KM on it. *Gulp* Good thing we opted for the insurance. The fifteen minute drive turned into 40 where I decided Google Maps voice was not my friend as I learned to drive on the left side of the road while navigating traffic circles, city driving, and give way signs instead of stop signs. I picked up Will and we were off for our big adventure!
New Zealand uses the metric system, unlike the U.S. It took a little adjusting to seeing the posted speed limit which is normally posted outside the city at 100. The 2 1/2 hour drive to our first stop, Waitomo passed quickly as we stared at the beautiful landscape on the first bright, sunny day we’d really experienced in New Zealand.
Waitomo – Glow worms, Natural Bridges, and Caves, oh my
After arriving in the small town of Waitomo, the owner of the hotel we stayed at (the Glow Worm Motel) gave us a few tips on places to go. He gave us a map, lent us a torch (flashlight), and we were on our way. We drove about 45 min on a windy, narrow road through the hills enjoying having a car instead of walking. Our first stop was the natural bridge. Originally a cave, the ceiling collapsed over a thousand years ago, leaving only a portion of the original ceiling in place, creating a natural bridge.
We wanted to take advantage of the sunny day. We found what looked like the beginning of a trail behind the natural bridge and set off on this grassy meadow. While there were some trail signs, we couldn’t figure out where the trail was leading and decided to turn back to find the other places the motel spoke to us about. The walk through the field definitely made us feel like we were in New Zealand. The pics don’t do it justice.
The next stop was the waterfall. A little further down the road is a waterfall approximately 43 meters high. It was a quick walk in (everything’s either downhill or uphill).
We started heading back down the road with a quick stop at the cave. When I say cave, I mean, it’s literally a cave. Complete darkness. We were glad the motel owner lent us the torch so we could see where we were going. Stairs led us down into the cave where we looked at different stalactites and stalagmites. It was really neat and a little freaky. A good way to prepare us for Black Water Rafting the next day.
We drove back down to town and had a lovely dinner where we asked the bartender about the river trail with glow worms. He asked if we were Americans or Canadians before directing us by saying it was about 2 miles away. At some point, we gave him our story, explained we were from Colorado and traveling in NZ for a while before heading to Australia. He explained the difference in cultures like this. “Canadians are like kiwis, they’re like us. Aussies are like Americans. You guys, you’re from Colorado, ehh….I guess you’re alright.”
A lot of people ask if there are free places to see glow worms. Down the road from Waitomo, there’s a trail that leads around the river. At night, the whole thing is covered in glow worms. We parked the car, crossed our fingers we were in the right place, grabbed the torch and walked around the river. I wish we had pictures. We tried, but nothing showed up on our cameras. All I can say is that it looked like the walls, rocks, trees, were lined with stars. There weren’t always a lot of glow worms in the same place. Every once in a while, we’d reach a spot where there were a cluster, turn off the flashlight, and stare and the glows coming from the rocks. Apparently, the natural bridge is full of them at night too. Go. Look at them. They’re beautiful. Someone on the trail said it looked like something out of the movie “Avatar.” It did. We were glad we ventured back out.
The next morning, we got up and went black water rafting. Black water rafting is inner tubing in a cave. How can that not be fun?! We got wet suits, joined our fun group made up of Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Germans, and Dutch and had a 3 hour inner-tube journey. Our favorite part: the human eel. Everyone in the group ended up in a line, feet hooked onto the inner tube in front of you. We all turned out headlamps off and we drifted through the cave in complete darkness, the water guiding us (and of course our guides). Looking up, the ceiling was filled with glowworms. It looked like the night sky on the inside of the cave. The guides told us the Maori name for glow worm means light of the water or watery star. Something like that. They also reminded us that the glow worms are actually bio-luminescent maggots. Less magical, but still interesting.
Following black water rafting, we took a glow worm cave tour. They didn’t allow pictures, but this is one provided by their website.
Pic provided by Waitomo Glowworm Cave
I’m not kidding when I say it actually looks like this. We sat on a boat filled with people and drift through the water. It’s completely silent (even the kids were quiet), there were no lights as we drifted through the cave and looked at the surrounding glowworms. Amazing.
After the glow worm tour, we made our way back on the road (and a quick reminder to stay in the left lane) to Taupo. The 2 1/2 hour drive was more like 3 hours, but once again, the landscape is beautiful. Unfortunately, the blue skies went away as the drizzle began. We wanted to use Taupo as a stop-over on our way to Wellington, but we definitely want to go back. Lake Taupo is about the size of Singapore and is the largest lake in New Zeealand, created from a volcanic explosion. It is also the home of Huka falls. The Waikato River narrows to form the Huka waterfall. Waikato River helps produce 15% of all New Zealand’s power. All of that water is rushing out at Huka falls. It’s supposed to be one of New Zealand’s most photographed sites. We could see why. We couldn’t stop looking at the bright blue color.
Before we left, the sun came out and we knew we needed to walk around the lake. There, we saw black swans! We were fascinated and did our best Billy Maddison impersonation, “Hello swaaaaan!” The lake is beautiful with its clear, blue water.
There are also pockets of hot springs along the lake. Will carefully dipped his toe into one of them. We saw some people trying to find them the night before when it was much colder. The hot spots are really hot, but the ones we saw weren’t large enough to sit in entirely. More like large puddles.
A slightly larger hot spot. Steam was coming off of it.
After a night in Taupo, we moved on and set off for Wellington. The 5 hour drive was beautiful involving the geothermal highway and state highway down to the Southern tip of the Northern Island. The geography changes dramatically over the course of the drive. We went from grassy fields and rolling hills to forests and lakes to desert and mountains. When we got to Wellington, our hotel room wasn’t quite ready, so they upgraded us to a one bedroom suite! Thank you Distinction Wellington Century Hotel. It was a nice welcome to Wellington. Now, we’re in our new home for the next month and are excited to have a home base for a bit. Updates about Windy Wellington soon to come.