It took us a little over an hour to drive from Raglan to the Waitomo Caves area. One of the options a lot of the adventure operators offer at the caves is something called "Blackwater Rafting" which means you're flowing down rapids in the dark. It's a cool (but expensive) trip and when we got there, the next rafting trip was at a point longer then we wanted to stay. So instead of Blackwater rafting, I took a tour of one of the glow worm caves called "The Raikuri Caves" (In Maori, Rua = 2, Kuri = dogs, it was the cave of 2 dogs because when the maori who originally found the cave began to explore it, 2 dogs came running out of the cave).
I went with a small group of 7 into the cave (Josh and Kevin didn't join me), so we had an opportunity to go at a leisurely pace. The cave itself was awesome – just to look in awe of what millions of years of running water can do. It was really cool (as in cold) underground which keeps the stalagmites going – and our guide said there are still parts of the cave that haven't been fully explored yet. So you may be wondering "What do glowworms look like?" If you've ever seen glow in the dark stickers on a ceiling, glow worms look exactly like that only smaller. And what are glow worms? They're not actually worms at all – it is the poo from flies that live for about 2 days in the cave. When not in a dark room, the glow worms look like long pieces of snot coming down from the ceiling. For such a beautiful site, it's not a pretty story. The other parts of the cave trip reminded me of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky – amazing what a little water can do. The tour took about 2 hours to do and was well worth it – I even got to see the route the Blackwater trip goes on.
Once we were done with Waitomo, it was off to the center of New Zealand to visit the Tongariro National Park. It took us about 2 hours to make the drive there and as we drew closer. I saw my first snow capped mountain in NZ. In fact, I couldn't believe it so I had to shake my head to make sure it was real. It was quite impressive to see this snow capped mountain (Mount Ruapehu – 2797m) grow larger as we got closer. But then I looked to my left and was transported to Middle Earth. I finally ran into a piece of scenery from Lord of the Rings and how appropriate is it that I encounter the real Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe – 2287m) first. Seeing both these mountains together was breathtaking. When we finally arrived at the National Park and got a room, our window looked out onto the two mountain ranges.
We got some food for the night at the local gas/grocery store and then went for a scenic drive to see the rest of the National park. We stopped at the Tawhai Falls for a little photo op and then continued up the ski area which is close to the top of Mt. Ruapehu (in the winter, the place is covered with snow and is a major ski resort).
After our scenic drive (of about an hour – it w as a lot of driving in a small area; mainly uphill though – we could see mountain ranges miles away) we headed back to the hostel for dinner. So what's on tap for tomorrow? The best 1 day hike in NZ: The Tongariro Crossing! (7-8 hours, wish me luck!)
- Waitomo means (Wai = water) / (tomo = hole/shaft)
- The Waitomo caves are actually located on private property, so the nearby adventure companies lease from the owner.
- There are three mountain ranges in Tongariro National Park: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu
- The National Park is a Dual World Heritage site because of its cultural importance to the maori people and it's natural importance.