On our second day in Auckland we had an all-day tour that took us on a three-hour drive into the countryside. We crossed the Bombay Valley, travelled along the Waikato River Valley through farmland to the coal-mining town of Huntly. Passing Taupiri Mountain, sacred to the Maori people, we drove through the rural township of Pirongia to our destination of Waitomo. Are these not great place names? Waitomo is home to the Glowworm Caves and even though the town is a tiny hamlet of about 45 people the caves are very famous and have been a tourist destination for 100 years. The caves are limestone and calcite that have formed stalagtites and stalagmites of immense size. A very nice ‘living’ wall was along the pathway to enter the cave.
The path through the cave goes ever downward and eventually we came to a blackwater (underground river). In total darkness you ride a boat manouvered by the guide using ropes that have been attached to the cave walls and silently, slowly pass underneath a rooftop aglow with blue-green iridescent dots created by thousands of tiny glow-worm larvae. They hang suspended in the larva stage for 9 of the 12 months of their lives and it is the back end that glows to attract food. Each worm drops about 12 sicky strands to catch mosquitos and spiders and then reels them in for lunch. After the 9 month larva stage they wrap up in a cocoon and emerge 3 months later as a large mosquito-like bug with no mouth. Over the next 4-5 days they constantly mate with the opposite sex until they die of starvation and exhaustion. Not sure it is a life-style I would choose. No photos are allowed and there was to be no talking or noise as the worms wil blink out their lights if disturbed. I photographed a couple of the post cards I purchased. It was another of those surreal moments. We had seen a segment on the Waitomo glowworms on an episode of Planet Earth and until then I had never heard of them. To witness them light up the roof a cave was a very unique experience.From the cave we were driven to Crosshills in Kio Kio. The owners of the property open their house and gorgeous English garden to visitors. We were able to wander at will before and after a delicious home-cooked lunch. There were so many different plants and textures and nooks and crannies and gates and even a slim tower folly. For a person like me, who loves to take photographs, it was a great place to spend a few hours. On the drive back to the ship we stopped at Otorohanga Kiwi House. Kiwis are nocturnal and very shy. It is almost impossible to see one in the wild. There was a wide variety of birds at the Kiwi House and we did see live Kiwis but since they are nocturnal the night lighting prevented photos. The only photo I got was a stuffed family in the window display. Sunset that night was glorious. It was a long day, a great day and an early-to-bed night because there was another 9-hour tour in Tauranga the next day – a trip to the Agrodome to learn all about New Zealand sheep and then a visit to a geo-thermal reserve and Maori culture center.