The Birthday Road Trip, Pt. 1

This post is a month late. Well, a month as of tomorrow. I’m a pretty good procrastinator. It’s going to be big, so this is only part 1. Part 2 to follow shortly!

So nearly a month ago, Emma, Brittany, and I, piled into a rental car and headed down to the middle of the North Island. Destination: Hamilton, Waitomo, and Matamata (otherwise known as Hobbiton). We were going to be gone over my birthday weekend, and although we didn’t plan it to be that way, it happened that way, so I thought of it as a birthday road trip :).

Firstly, the scenery as we were driving was amazing! It was really nice to get out of the city (again– I had been out the previous weekend as well). Secondly, it was nice to actually have some control over the planning. As someone who is used to tours where they shuttle you around and tell you what to do, this was a nice change of pace. We arrived in Waitomo around lunch time, checked in for our cave tours, and ate some lunch. We were planning on doing the standard tours through three caves– Ruakuri, Aranui, and the main glowworm cave which may not have had an actual name (or I’ve just forgotten it). I also noted that they did more adventurous tours which looked really cool, but I had no intention of getting wet in these caves– they’re freezing!

Firstly, we went through the Ruakuri cave. This is a large cave, and first you have to go down a really long spiral pathway which feels like you’re going right to the centre of the earth. At first, it’s pitch-black, because your eyes haven’t adjusted to the darkness, so you spend a fair amount of time feeling your way along the wall. Here’s a really bad picture of the pathway (it was dark and I foolishly didn’t have my low-light lens on):

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Our tour guide was really great– full of knowledge and energy. It was clear that she loved her job :). There were lots of cool rock formations in this cave in addition to the standard stalagtites and stalagmites– and there were even glowworms. Here’s what all of this looked like:

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It was almost sad to leave– but it was pretty cold! We were happy to get back into the sun afterwards. It was a short drive from Ruakuri to our next cave, Aranui. We met our guide (not quite as enthusiastic as the previous one though) and took a short nature walk to the entrance. This cave was smaller, but more compact, with slightly different formations. In the ‘cathedral’ (the highest point of the cave), the group stopped, and the guide asked if there were any birthdays in the group. It happened to be mine, so I said so– and the entire group ended up singing me Happy Birthday, just to test out the acoustics. Very cool :).

A quick look at the inside of Aranui (no glowworms in this one though):

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Note that the differing colours in the pictures is more representative of the lighting, not the actual colours of the rock formations. Most of the formations were the same shade of beige in reality.

We then drove up to the main glowworm cave, and had a quick snack before starting the tour. This tour was mostly done via boat, and as such, I didn’t have a chance to take too many pictures– the main cave looked pretty much identical to Ruakuri, and you couldn’t take photos once in the boats. But the glowworms! It was absolutely gorgeous. It was pretty much pitch black in the boat (the dude at the helm was steering it via rope), so you could see the glowworms really clearly (they also said that excess noise made the glowworms stop glowing, so everyone had to be silent. I’m not sure how much truth there is to this, but it was a good way to keep the group quiet :P).

Getting out of the boat was also really scenic though:

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After browsing through the gift shop, we headed into town (Hamilton) to try and find the YHA we were staying at. It turned out to be obscurely named Microtel (doesn’t this sound like a telecommunications company?), but we made it inside with a minimum of fuss. I ended up with a room of my own thanks to our original room for 3 being full, so Brittany and Emma shared a room and I was next door. They had a jacuzzi in their room! It was a little worn (I tried not to think about it), but I made use of it that night while I contemplated life, the universe, and everything (because what else do you do in a jacuzzi, on your birthday, right?)

Before I started my contemplations though, we drove into the “downtown” of Hamilton and found a cool Thai place to eat supper. It was a good birthday dinner :). We then went across the street to the closest open Irish bar for a round of birthday drinks. It turned out that (a) the bar was practically empty and (b) there was a heavy metal band getting ready to play a set 30 minutes afterwards. We left right as they started playing :P.

And then I contemplated life, the universe, and everything in the jacuzzi and slept in my own room (which is more than I could say for the previous two months), so all in all, quite a good day!

Part 2 coming… soon! (hint: Hobbitses!)

Cheers,

Tamara

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