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Going subterranean in Waitomo

Community Highlights Oceania Going subterranean in Waitomo

The next stop was highly anticipated - going underground to see the glowworms of the Waitomo caves.

The drive there from New Plymouth was gorgeous... passing coastal scenery, villages with little more than beach shacks looking out to sea, rolling hills and lush green pastures.

Mokau en route...

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In Waitomo, of the half a dozen or so tour options available (it's on everyone's itinerary), we opted for a small group tour with 'Spellbound'. Hoardes of tourists arrive by the bus load and we really didn't fancy being part of a huge impersonal tour. Aside from having small groups, it's a family-run business with local knowledgeable guides, no 1 on Trip Advisor and they claim to have the largest colony of glowworms of all the caves (each tour company basically runs out of different cave systems so they don't get in each other's way.) Another USP for ours was their cave was used by the BBC when filming the glowworms for Sir David Attenborough's Planet Earth and Life in the Underground. Well, if it's good enough for them...

It was just us and another couple on the tour, and the glowworm cave was up first. Oh my... it was so beautiful and other-worldly. We had twenty minutes or so for our eyes to adjust to night vision and the ceiling of the cave sparkled with 1000s of tiny lights - so many, that their white light reflected on the water like moonlight as we floated through. It was as if LED lights had been embedded - a truly wow moment.

Glowworms are actually the larvae of a species of gnat. They hang sticky silk threads, shine a light out of their rear end and bingo - attract and ensnare their crunchy prey. They can hang as many as 70 threads around their nest, to which are attached droplets of mucus. The clever thing is that a hungry larva glows brighter than one which has recently eaten.

I wish I could take credit for the photos but as it was too dark, the tour company emails them to everyone afterwards with no copyright stipulations.

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Just magical

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The walk to cave two - reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales

The second cave - Cave of the Spirit - was to see usual cave formations and included some grizzly extras...

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Cave wetas - a type of ghastly grasshopper horror

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Skeleton of a moa - a huge flightless bird now extinct

I can put it off no longer, we are in New Zealand afterall. I need to talk about sheep!

There is a link here... Te Kuiti, our base when visiting the caves, is the self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of the world. There's a ruddy great statue in the small town to shout about it.

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So here goes...

- there are 48.1 million sheep in NZ, but this figure peaked in 1982 when there were 70.3 million!
- the most common breed is Romney
- NZ sheep on average produce about 5kg of greasy wool per year
- NZ is the world's largest producer of strong wool which is mainly used in textiles such as carpets, rugs, upholstery, blankets etc
- NZ's wool production currently runs at 213,000 tonnes per year and represents 25% of the world's production
- NZ has just shy of 8,000 sheep farms utilising a total area of 8.3 million hectares
- there are 14 sheep to every New Zealander

Baaaaaaaaaaaaa.

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A kingfisher spotted as we were leaving town

We had a great AirBnB homestay in Te Kuiti, and a first for us as it was staying in a Maori home. The house, which was a beautiful 100+ year old building set on a hill overlooking the quaint town, was being lovingly restored by its owners. They don't live there but her father does - an extremely talented individual who's one of life's high achievers. The sort of person who makes you question what you've done with your own life!

He's pretty big in the Maori music scene as a talented musician and singer - he's done stuff at Abbey Road, owns a TV production company with his son in Auckland, made several documentaries, is a Social Anthropologist who did his PhD in South America, was a university lecturer and still gets invited to lecture in South America about their ancient civilisations... and is a super nice bloke too. Scared the bejesus out of us about South America with some of his stories mind...

From lovely Te Kuiti we had a couple of very quick stop-offs in Raglan and Hamilton.

Raglan is a lazy beach bum sort of place, a bit hippie and attracts tonnes of surfers due to having some of the best left hand breakers in the world. I don't even know what that means. But anyway, it was a cute place and we enjoyed a wander.

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Beautiful Bridal Veil Falls near to Raglan

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Life's a beach

Hamilton is one of NZ's major cities, and more than one Kiwi had said to us not to bother with it. We were passing anyway so had the chance to pick out two things of interest. The first was a statue of Richard O'Brien's character, Riff Raff. Richard was born here and spent the late 50's and 60's working as a hairdresser, presumably daydreaming about all kinds of whack sci-fi fantasy stuff which would, a decade later, lead him to conceive the masterpiece that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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Riff Raff

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Hamilton Gardens were also worth the visit. Numerous entrances within a central courtyard lead you off to individual expertly-executed themed gardens from around the world. Being early Autumn it wasn't the best time to catch most of the blooms, but it was still really worth a walk around.

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Japanese

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English

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Chinese

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Indian

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Italian Renaissance

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Tropical

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Anthony Cook - he talks to the animals. Bwok, bwok, bwok, bwokahhhhh!

This featured blog entry was written by Galavantie from the blog GlobalGalavantie.
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By Galavantie

Posted Wed, Apr 09, 2014 | New Zealand | Comments