Friday, 11 September 2015

inside holes in the ground

Today was the Waitomo caves.  I booked the “triple cave combo”, and drove along to the first one, the Ruakuri Cave, to join the 9am tour party.  The rain was hammering down outside, but inside it was (mostly!) dry, cold, and quiet.  We had an excellent guide, who knew the history of the cave system, and also had been involved in digging out mud in order to open it up to tourists.

The tour lasted nearly 2 hours, with many wondrous sights.  To get in, we descended a deep shaft using a large spiral ramp.

I didn’t manage a good photo of the entry ramp, so I got a postcard
The sights started almost immediately, with wonderful stalactites (growing down) and stalagmites (growing up).  We learned the water deposits new material at about a cubic centimetre a century.

Stalactites, up close
amazing coral-like structure
sheets of rock

atmospheric lighting
so many stalactites
caves within caves
a large cavern (note the handrail at the bottom, for scale)
other people enjoying the caves in their own way
a giant funnel
After walking round in dazed wonder, we re-emerged blinking into daylight.  The rain had just about stopped, and it was a short drive up to the next site: the Aranui Cave.  This was a shorter tour, just under an hour, but no less spectacular.

small stalactites and stalagmites, some connected
A ceiling full of spikes.  Some are broken.  This cave has been open longer, and in the early days, before it was known how long the stalactites took to grow, tourists were allowed to break pieces off as souvenirs.
over 6 feet high: like a vast leg
a ceiling like ice cream
a vast cavern; see handrail at bottom for scale
a petrified waterfall
I’m running out of things to say other than “wow!”
so fragile to have survived so long in a geologically active region
more petrified falling water
the huge cavern on the way back: see heads at bottom for scale!

this is what makes the stone features -- slowly

When we left this cave, not only had the rain stopped completely, but the sun had come out, and it was a beautiful day.  I had no specific time on my ticket for the third cave trip, so I decided to do the short Ruakuri bush walk, which my host at last night’s B&B had told me was the “best bush walk in New Zealand”.  It goes along a river which itself goes through a natural tunnel (the path goes over the top though).

The sign suggested it was a 30 minute tramp.  I took an hour.  (That sounds better than “it took me an hour”.)

a natural tunnel
the path goes through a twisty tunnel of its own
beautiful mossy trees
a view from inside the river tunnel (view accessed down a dark unlit staircase...)
another tunnel along the path: at least with this one, I could see the other end!
a view down to the river
the other end of the natural tunnel
Although I have no sense of direction, I did get a bit confused along this path as the river seemed to switch direction.  Then I saw a map: the river performs a 180° turn in the tunnel.

On the walk I passed two other people, until I got close to the end, when I passed a noisy crowd of about 10 teenagers on a tramp.  Like with my Kauri forest visit, the solitude was part of the experience.  I don’t know if it is the best bush walk in New Zealand; however, it is an excellent bush walk.

Next, back down the road to the Waitomo glowworm cave.  We weren’t allowed to photograph in this one, as there were a lot of parties milling about, and it gets very dark.  There was a short walk through a big cavern with lots of stalactites: very impressive, then, once our eyes had adjusted, onto a boat to see the glowworms.  Um, wow!  There is a big cave system with a lake that the boat moves slowly and silently down, and a relatively low roof, utterly smothered in glowworms.  When the boat is still, it looks like an exceptionally starry night (except that the points of light are too evenly spaced for stars).  When the boat moves, the shape of the roof becomes apparent.  I’m running out of superlatives, but, amazing!

Official photo of the glowworm caves

Once I had done with Waitomo, I headed off to the Otorohanga Kiwi House, to see some more kiwis.  This site again had a night enclosure, with four kiwis in separate pens.  The largest kiwi, a mature female, was very active, strutting around her enclosure, probing the ground for food.  Then it was feeding time.  The keeper entered her pen with the food, and the kiwi went bonkers, running around, really fast, and kicking the keeper, really hard.  The keeper told us after that she had been hospitalised twice over the years, once from a deep peck, and once when a kick hit her knee (rather than her tough boots).  So much for fragile sweet little birds!

three stuffed kiwis on display; the live kiwis are in a much darker environment
There was a lot more to see, but I had had my fill for the day, and finished off with a short drive to Tamahere, where the friends I’m staying with over the weekend live.

from Waitomo, via caves, to Tamahere, ~ 90km

Thursday, 10 September 2015


I enjoyed the Waimangu volcanic valley so much yesterday that I wanted to continue the theme.  So instead of driving directly to Waitomo, as had been my original “plan”, I first went to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.  This was a good decision.

Here’s Google Earth’s view of the area:

Google Earth’s view of Wai-O-Tapu.  North is to the left
And here is the brochure’s similar view, showing the various paths, and numbered features along the way:

brochure image, showing red, orange and yellow walks
I arrived about 9am.  One feature is the nearby Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts at 10:15 each day.  So I had about an hour to kill, and killed it by doing the “red” walk.

the Weather Pool

a panoramic view of Rainbow Crater; feature (2) on the map

the ground is steaming everywhere!
Thunder Crater (3)
the Devil’s Ink Pots (4)
the vegetation seems affected by the heat
a panorama of the Artist’s Palette (5)
While crossing the Boardwalk (7) and looking over the Champagne Pool (21), the mist in the wind fluctuated in density.  At some times, the view was clear.  At others, only a second later, the mist was so dense I could see nothing at all.  And the denser the mist, the stronger the smell, and the stronger the feeling of choking, so watch out if you are claustrophobic!

Since I was doing only the red walk, in order to see the Lady Knox geyser erruption, once across the boardwalk I started back along the return route.

minerals being deposited along the edge of the Champagne Pool (21)
Inferno Crater (22)
a Sulphur Cave (24)
Devil’s Bath (25): see the plan view map above to get a feel of the sheer scale of this large lake
Now back at the beginning of the walk, and closer to the time of the geyser eruption, I popped in the car and drove a kilometer up the road to next car park.  There a small terraced theatre had been constructed to view the geyser, and about 100 people gathered to watch.  (Where they then all went I’m not sure, as I saw very few people on the main walk.)  I had been wondering how the geyser could be timed.  I had decided it couldn’t be natural – I could think of no mechanism that would give the exact 24 hour period – so I was wondering how it was triggered.

The answer, we all discovered, is: soap.  The interior of the geyser has hot water trapped below cold water: dropping soap down it changes the surface tension, allowing the hot water to escape.  The presenter dropped a bag of surfactant down the hole, and retreated.  It took a couple of minutes, and then there was a bubbling, an overflow, then a gush.

Yes, I know it’s in dreaded portrait mode, but frankly, there’s nothing to see on either side!

It was still going strong 25 minutes after it first blew, when I left to return to the main site, to do the full walk.

Having already done the red walk earlier didn’t matter to me (apart from to my feet): it was well worth seeing again.  But when I got to the Champagne Pool (21) again, this time I turned off to new sights along the orange and yellow tracks.

up at the Panoramic View point (11) looking down over Frying Pan Flat
now down on that bridge previously visible from above; a panorama of Flying Pan Flat (15)
the Oyster Pool (16), a natural sulphurous pool
another Sulphur Cave (17)
view over Lake Ngakoro (18)
Sulphur Mounds (20)
At this point, it started raining in earnest (sufficient to make me put on my waterproof), so I walked somewhat briskly back to the starting point, stopping a few times to admire the the Primrose Terrace (8) as I walked along its edge.  Fortunately, since I had already done the red walk, I didn’t miss too much by only stopping to stare a few times.

I had lunch in the Visitor Centre, and dried off.  Then I drove to the last sight of the Thermal Wonderland: the hot Mud Pools.

Since the rain looked like it would stay for a while, I decided this was now the right time to drive on to Waitomo, ready for the caves tomorrow.  However, since it was only 2pm, I decided to take an indirect route, so drove round Lake Taupo on the way.  Some of the bends there were marked 25, and they meant it!

from Rotorua, via Wai-O-Tapu, to Waitomo, the long way round, ~ 290km