Tag Archives: waitomo caves

Aotearoa Wrap-Up

Home now. 12 hours from Auckland to LA, a surprisingly efficient pass through customs, a jog to another terminal, a few more hours to Seattle, and a crumpled note from the TSA in my luggage, and I’m back in winter.

What would I do differently?

  • Travel lighter. I could have brought fewer clothes, and I’m not sure if it’s worth it to bring a DSLR when you have P&S skills. And I brought five guide books. That’s at least four too many.
  • Less time in Christchurch and Napier, more time in Waitomo Caves and the Bay of Islands.
  • Don’t reserve or pay for things in advance.
  • I sat in the Invercargill airport for three hours. Why didn’t I take a taxi into town and go to the tuatarium? Didn’t think of it until much later.

Random Notes

  • Neil Finn wasn’t kidding. There really are four seasons in one day.
  • People really do say “Good on ya” and “Sweet as.”
  • What’s with all the tattoos? Definitely more than in the US. Is that a Māori influence? What’s called “tribal” in the US does look like it’s based on Māori designs.
  • Judging by accents, there were more German tourists than any other group, with the possible exception of Australians, who I can’t readily identify. After that would probably be British, American, and Chinese, with a smattering of Japanese, French, Russian, Spanish, and Mexican.
  • I looked in several places from Christchurch up to Auckland, but I couldn’t find any huhu grubs. I even ate at a place called the Huhu Cafe in Waitomo Caves Village, but they didn’t serve huhu grubs. So I had the lamb.
  • I never really figured out the New Zealand accent. They seem to add in extra vowel sounds, so that they often slide through several of them on the way to the next consonant. Whenever I talked to one who seemed easier to understand, they turned out to be Australian.
  • Gas was about NZ$2.12 per liter, which is NZ$8.02 per gallon, or about US$6.82 with the exchange rate I was getting. Roughly double what it is in the US.

I could easily spend another three weeks in New Zealand doing different things.

For anyone who cares, the entire flickr photo set is available. It includes many photos that weren’t good enough for the blog.

North to Russell

Before leaving Waitomo Caves I did a one-hour walk through a spectacular eroded cave structure called the Rukiura Bush Walk. The path goes through natural tunnels, along cliffs, and through thick ferny foliage.

On the way out of town I stopped at the Otorohanga Kiwi House to see the kiwis they have in captivity, including a rare Great Spotted Kiwi. The kiwi has no visible wings and a very unbirdlike lumbering gait, giving it a cartoonish quality. It’s a very weird bird.

All of which means that I didn’t really get going until 11:00. I made it as far as Russell, at the Bay of Islands, where I filled up at the oldest operating gas station in New Zealand (built in 1930) and had dinner by the bay. Russell has a Caribbean quality. It’s slow-paced, semi-tropical, and has British colonial architecture from the 19th century.

No time to stay, though. I need to be in Auckland tonight and I’m starting out by going in the opposite direction.

Ringle Falls Cave

The final cave I went in for the day was with a different tour. This one was more sporty and involved abseiling down 20m (66 feet) to get in, abseiling over a couple of waterfalls, then wading, crawling, and walking down to a depth of about 75m (248 feet). Then we climbed, crawled, and waded back out.


Along the way were spectacular cave formations, fossils, and more glowworms.

It was excellent! If I were staying longer, I’d do another one.

This whole area is riddled with caves. I originally thought there were only three, but those are just the three famous ones that have been running tours for many years.

The land is all privately owned, mostly by farmers, and they also own any caves below their land. They then lease the tour rights to companies that develop different types of tours and build the infrastructure to support them. Each company typically has several different tours available for different preferences and fitness levels, as well as for the specifics of each cave.

And because Waitomo Caves Village is a very small town, they pretty much all know each other. I got all the necessary info from Colin, the proprietor of the guest house I stayed in.