Friday, August 27, 2010

New Zealand Trip: Auckland - Waitomo - Rotorua

Friday 27th August

After an early night I was up early again for an early start again. I had to be out the front of the hotel for a 7am pick up by Intercity bus lines. That means I rose at 6 AM which is 4 AM Melbourne time. Such an early pick up meant that I missed the hotel breakfast which I had pre paid for. So I ate the banana and yoghurt I had bought the evening before, and then headed downstairs.

After waiting for a few minutes one of the staff at reception approached me and said that the bus company had organised a taxi for me. Soon enough a taxi arrived and I was on the short drive to the Sky City bus terminal. As it turns out I could have walked it quite easily in the time I spent waiting. On arrival the taxi driver insisted I pay, but I told him the bus company said they would pay, so we went to the office and the great staff there arranged payment with the taxi driver.

Before leaving Australia I went online and bought a bus pass from the intercity travel pass website. The idea is you buy the pass, which is valid for a year, and then call the company to arrange the travel closer to when you travel. All in all it is a pretty good deal. The pass I bought was the "Geyser Glow worm Getaway" which entitled me to return coach from Auckland to Rotorua, with either of the legs going via the Waitomo Caves . So the previous night I called and arranged the travel. Travelling down the next day, Friday the 27th via the Waitomo and returning direct to Auckland on Monday the 30th.

The only problem was that the person I spoke to on the phone forgot to book the Waitomo Caves tour which is included in the pass. However the friendly and helpful Intercity Coach ladies soon sorted me out. The bus driver even approached me and offered to take my bag to the coach, and I obliged and went to get some drinks from the cafe before boarding the coach.


Generic New Zealand Scenery on the way from
Auckland to Waitomo. It is just so Green.

Soon enough all 5 of us, yes 5 were aboard and were making our way out of Auckland. I sat in the second row, in the first row were two girls from Houston and on the other side were a French speaking mother and son. The others were all on a one day tour from Auckland to Rotorua and back, I was the only one stopping in Rotorua. The bus driver seemed to have an intimate knowledge of each tree and bush on the Motorway South. Actually like all good tour guides, he seemed to know his stuff and I'm sure we all learnt quite a bit about New Zealand along the way.

After about 2 and a half hours driving we arrived at Waitomo at roughly 10 AM and immediately started the cave tour. For a cave it was pretty well appointed with stairs and low power lighting. The guide, a nice Maori girl explained a bit about the history and formations in the cave, as well as the life and times of the Glow worm. I correctly answered the question about what sort of rock the cave was formed out of, Limestone. No photography is allowed, due to camera flashes having the ability to kill glow worms so I can't show you what it looked like.


The Entrance to the Waitomo Caves

The story goes that the old entrance burnt down
a few years ago and this was recently opened.
Quite different, the roof is made of clear plastic.

As the guide explained, glow worms are the larval stage of a fly like insect. The larva cling to the walls and ceiling of the cave and drop a silk thread to catch any insects that happen to fly past (often the adult glow worm) using their glow as a lure. They spend most of their life, up to a couple of years, in this state before turning into the the adult, mating and dying in a matter of days.

After going through a few caverns, we made our way into the part of the cave that had a river running through it and boarded a boat. For this part of the tour we were made to stay silent as we glided along the water under the canopy of stars/glow worms. It was quite surreal. Occasionally we would crash into a rock, and at one point had duck to avoid hitting our heads on some stalactites. Above us I could make out the cables strung up in the cave that the tour guide used to guide the boat. When we emerged from the cave and got out onto the landing the tour guide dissapeared back into the cave with the boat and she was never heard from again.

The boat disappearing back into the cave

The river after it leaves the cave

The scenery at Waitomo, more green...

For the final leg onward to Rotorua, around another hour and half, we picked up an English girl who had come to Waitomo on the bus travelling in the other direction from Rotorua to Auckland. On reaching the outskirts of Rotorua we stopped to let of the day trippers at the "Agrodome", which is an agricultural display centre, where visitors can see things such as shearing, sheep dogs etc. We continued with the driver into town.

Passing through the small town of Cambridge.
Hometo some large animals and other
things made of corrugated iron.

A sheep

Cows!

As it turns out the English girls was staying at the same backpackers as I was and she gave me a few tips of what to do in town. Kindly the bus driver dropped us off right outside the hostel. One thing I noticed while driving into town were the random steam plumes around the place, the smell while slightly annoying wasn't too bad.

The hostel was called Astray. On the booking website (Hostel World) it seemed to have the best location, right in the middle of town, and a pretty good rating on the website. From the outside it appeared to be an old motel. The biggest downside as I found out the next morning was the construction site next door. Other wise my single room was tiny, barely enough room for the bed, but more than adequate. I was on the top floor and I hared a hallway with 4 other rooms. We all shared two toilets and two showers. The kitchen was also on the top floor which was handy. Wireless internet was available but quite expensive.

After checking in and dumping my stuff in my room I decided to find the tourist information centre which was just a short walk around the corner. Right outside the hostel I found the main bus stop for the local town buses which was handy to know. At the information centre I decided that I wanted to see the TePuia Maori Cultural Centre and Geyser park. This was also where the tour I was on that morning was continuing to. I worked out that I could catch a local bus there.

I walked back to the bus stop and waited for a number 1 bus which runs every half hour. After only a few minutes it arrived. I followed a middle age couple who were obviously tourists on to the bus. I decided that if I was unsure I would get off when they did. The bus drove through some back streets and eventually to TePuia on the outskirts of town. Yes they got off there too. I decided to do both the Maori Cultural show and tour, it was quite expensive, but when I figured why not. I had half an hour before the show started so I had time for a wander around.

The entrance to TePuia

I found the Kiwi house but couldn't see any kiwis in the dark enclosore. I followed the path further and looked at a mud pool which was overlooked by a large hotel. As time was getting on I decided it was time to head back to the main area for the cultural performance. On the way in to the show after a traditional welcome I bumped into the two American girl's off the bus from that morning.

Steamy landscape

A pool of boiling mud

The hotel overlooking the above pool of mud.
I am pretty sure this sign once said "Royal Geyser Land Hotel",
I'm not too sure exactly what it is trying
to say now.
I guess it's seen better days...


The start of the cultural show was quite an experience, we were given the full welcome, including the haka. Our chief, an older man picked out of the crowd had the honour of performing an official greeting. I'm glad it was him, I probably would have done it wrong and started a war.

Entrance to Meeting House

Gateway to the entrance

Our welcoming party

Our "Chief" making contact.
If you break eye contact the deal is off.

The performance took place in the meeting house and consisted of a series of traditional dances and songs. It was quite good, although shorter than I thought it would be.

Dancing

I forget what these are called but they are throwing
sticks, which I believe is a type of game.

A closer up view of the meeting house

A store house
Valuables, weapons and food were kept in these


A canoe

After the performance was the tour. The guide took us to the Kiwi house and mud pools I'd already seen, before we went down the valley to the Geysers. There was a lot of steam, but no Geyser. Unfortunately those who were going back to Auckland had to leave before it went off. The park was actually closed by the time it went off, but a security guard was kind enough to let those who were there stay to watch.

Alien looking landscape

The geyser pre going off

Steam everywhere

Is that it?

Thar she blows!
Now that's more like it.

On my way back to the exit it began to rain. Of course they make you walk through the gift shop to get out so after having a bit of a look around but not buying I went out to the bus stop. The next bus was due in about 20 minutes. Soon the tourist couple that I followed out here on the bus came and sat down next to me at the stop. The man promptly pulled out a pocket microscope and began looking at some seeds or something like that he had colleted. He also had an Oxbridge something or other backpack, so I guess he was an academic/botanist of some kind.

The rain got heavier, and it became quite miserable and cold in that tiny shelter. Eventually the bus arrived and we were on our way. This particular bus route goes in a loop, so we continued further out of town through a residential area and past the "polytech" (I'm guessing it's the equivalent of a TAFE) where many Indian students got on board. From there we went back into town more or less direct.

Remembering I needed to go shopping I got off near some supermarkets. Looking like a drowned rat I drew a few looks entering the "Pak'n Save", which as the bus driver had informed us that morning, is New Zealand's cheapest supermarket. It was certainly busy on this Friday night. It reminded me somewhat of a Bunnings more than a Woolworths or Coles.

The one thing I had forgotten to pack was a towel (I'm not a hoopy frood who listens to what the HHGTTG says), essential if I wanted a shower at a backpacker hostel. So my first task was to find some towels. Having secured a very reasonably cheap, yet quite soft, pale blue towel I set about getting some food. Bananas, some soft drink and water, some nibbles, and some pasta and sauce for dinner at some stage.

After finding the express lane and then packing everything into my backpack I set out into the rain. The glow from the adjacent golden arches was too much and I surrendered to temptation (the pasta could wait until the next day). Exactly the same as everywhere, but it was warm and dry, better than the walk through the cold wet streets. Surprise surprise, more netballers. I also made use of the wireless internet although it wasn't free, but still quite cheap. I had at least two people come up and ask if my Asus eeePC netbook was a real computer. I'm not sure if this reflects the population of Rotorua or the nature of McDonald's customers, possibly both?

Thank goodness for shop canopies, I made it back to the Hostel without getting too wet. I locked myself in my room and watched a movie on my computer before calling it an early night after two very big days.

2 comments:

Ferry Freight said...

Nice post! i like it , so interesting...Thank you for sharing it.

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