MONDAY, 5th Sept.
That day was a great escape from the noise of the city and discovering a quiet rural side of New Zealand.
I was at the InterCity coach station at 7 a.m. (it’s behind the SkyTower), because I had read a brochure about their FlexiTrips and decided to buy a 20-Trip Pass for $369 (about $18 per trip wherever I go with them, while a single ticket from Auckland to Waitomo cost me $46). I was a little confused about Magic Bus’s and other similar companies’ passes and I wanted to be more flexible and independent in my travels AND InterCity can take you practically almost everywhere in New Zealand, so I thought it was a good deal. It’s valid 12 months starting from the day of the first booking and I’ll definitely do some rounds around the country during my 3-month stay.
I didn’t feel I was in New Zealand until I got on a bus and a bus driver introduced himself. His name was John and then for the whole trip, which lasted about 2hrs 40min, he talked about what we see on the left and right, adding some comments and stories seasoned with Kiwi humour. Later I found out that John was from Hamilton and how much tax his wife and him had to pay for their cars. I felt I was in FOTC’s Bus Driver’s Song.
I recorded about 11 min of his story about Auckland.
When we left Auckland, going south we drove into the land of Waikato River and many lakes and swamps and we had to go through thick mist for a good couple kilometres. It was hard to see even the sun!
When we finally left the grey land behind, I could see Waikato and The King Country. It looked like Shire from LOTR. Everywhere you looked were green hills dotted with cows and horses, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. John continued the stories about Waikato War between British and Maori and how some Maori tribes got together and elected a king, Potatau Te Wherowhero in 1850s, just like the Brits had their Queen, to represent them in defending their land. If you want to read more, google “Kingitanga”. Maori central tribes still have their king, he’s a descendant of Potatau, lives in Hamilton and is a truck driver.
The bus dropped me off at the village centre. It was actually a few buildings along the main road where you could book a cave tour, there was an information centre and Waitomo General Store. I took this photo later that afternoon.
A local was sitting outside Cave World drinking coffee. I asked him which way was to Junohall (YHA hostel) and he said that about 20 min walk back down the road. When he saw my back he asked if I had kitchen ‘n’ sink there. It’s not that big! Well… a bit bigger than a regular backpacker’s, but I’m away from home for at least four months and the weather has been so different between Australia and New Zealand so far.
I went to an iSite centre (every village, town and city in New Zealand has its iSite website and a Visitor Information centre) and they called the hostel to ask if they could pick me up, but no one was available, so I had to go there by myself. The first 10 min weren’t that hard, because there was a lane for pedestrians, but then it ended and I had to convert my bag into a rucksack, which weight 20 kg. When I was out of my breath, I finally saw the hostel. It was on a hill.
The hostel was nothing like a big 7-level Nomads monster in Auckland. It was a nice, wooden house or rather hall. One part of it was a spacious common room, dining room and kitchen (no free coffee and tea, though 😦 ) and the other part were rooms, toilets and showers. I could hear nothing but birds and horses outside. I sunk into my bed and had some rest.
After about half an hour, I was ready to start planning. I booked a ticket from Otorohanga to Hamilton for the next day, and then a shuttle from Waitomo to Otorohanga, because there aren’t any coaches running from Waitomo to Hamilton. Then I had to decide which company should take me to the caves. There was no problem with booking on the phone, they’ve got freephone numbers 0800 and they were ready to take me on the same day. You’re not going to read any exciting stories about blackwater rafting, because I wear glasses and this is an economy trip, so I just wanted to see some glow worms. I had at least three options: CaveWorld ($45 for 1 ¼ hr tour, probably visiting just one cave), Spellbound ($67.50 for 3 ¼ hr including a shuttle to and from two caves, and tea, coffee and biscuits) and Discover Waitomo ($65 for Twin Cave Combo: Glowworm Caves and Aranui Cave). Although the coffee and biscuits sounded tempting, I decided to go with Discover Waitomo. I booked a tour at 3 p.m. and had enough time to eat something and have a stress free walk back to the village.
This time I saw things I didn’t notice while pulling and carrying my bag. The area was so pretty!
I stopped by at the General Store and ordered flat white. I also saw that they sell ice cream and had my first hokey pokey ice cream from Rush Munro’s. The flavour is creamy vanilla with honeycombs, which they call hokey pokey. While eating an ice cream, I had a visitor.
I gave him so much wafer that he had enough and flew away.
Then I head off to the caves. Discover Waitomo were right behind the village and you can’t miss them.
At about 3 o’clock a guide came by car and picked me up to Aranui Cave. There were already a few people waiting at a car park near the cave. The deeper we were going into the cave, the prettier it was and this was the last part of that cave.
In the meantime I got to know another traveller. She was from California, also a teacher going through a hard time and having two weeks off. After about ten minutes we found so many things in common and understood each other’s problems that when we got to another cave with glow worms, we couldn’t stop talking! Oh, and the glow worms were just beautiful! We got on a boat, our guide turned the light off, we looked up and there were big turquoise stars above us, which were of course glow worms. Everyone was quiet and you could hear only water drops in the cave. The guide quietly led us out of the cave and at the end we could take pictures, but it was rather impossible to do it. It was too dark for my camera and if you used flash, you just took a picture of the ceiling of the cave and some ugly worms similar to mosquitoes.
My American friend went back to Rotorua and me to my hostel. I ate dinner watching the news and I think that was the time when it was getting to me that I’m in New Zealand. I usually watched NZ news on YouTube and now I had them on TV.
At about 7 p.m. it got dark and I went for 1 hour walk. The sky was so clear and I could see the stars like the glow worms I had seen earlier that day. When I got back to the hostel, people had just started watching “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” on video. I was grinning when I saw the scene with Bret McKenzie. What a great finale of a great day!