Caves and Coves

Trip Start Nov 10, 2013
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Trip End Apr 02, 2014


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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, November 17, 2013

Having spent just enough time in Auckland to recover from jet-lag and get my bearings straight, it was time to begin venturing south.  The first stop was Waitomo Caves, where my brothers and I consulted information in the i-Site (local visitor center) and decided the best option to see these caves was to book a three-cave combo.

 These limestone caves were first discovered some 125 years ago, and contain some incredibly high-roofed chambers, some narrow passageways, more stalagmites and stalactites than a mathematician could count, and these tiny little bio-luminescent organisms aptly called glowworms.  In case you are like me and can't seem to remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, try this: stalagmites are on the ground, whereas stalactites hang on tight to the ceiling.

 Anyways, our series of tours saw us explore the Aranui Cave, which offered incredible calcium carbonate formations (like those stalactites and stalagmites, as well as "curtains" and "cave corals") and a short walk through the rain forest.  Next up was the Ruakuri Cave.  This was the longest tour of the day and saw our tour group descend some couple hundred feet below the surface to again view impressive geological formations, underground water passages and waterfalls, and a few glowworms.  The last cave was the Waitomo Glowworm Cave itself.  This third tour was led by the best tour guide of the day (each tour had a different guide, you see), and not only did she divulge information about the glowworms themselves, but she also provided information about local history and Maori culture.  The tour concluded with a brief boat ride along an underground river passage that allowed us to gaze up at the cave ceiling and see thousands of brightly glowing worms.    

 The glowworms themselves are the larvae stage of a mosquito-like insect.  At only a few millimeters in length, the glowworms produce a blue-ish light that is used to attract their food - other insects.  What the glowworms do is attach themselves to the damp ceiling of the caves and then produce a number of thin spider-web-like sticky strands beneath themselves.  As they get hungry, the larvae produce the blue glow which serves to attract other insects, thereby trapping them in the feeding lines.  Upon catching something to eat, the larvae reel in that particular line and feast on whatever it is that they've managed to catch. 

 After the caves, it was time to move on to the coast... the west coast of the North Island - the Taranaki region; specifically, New Plymouth.  Having managed to find a nice, well-kept, affordable campground right along the black-sand Fitzroy Beach, it was time to explore the city itself.  

 I began by picking up the Coastal Walkway.  This is a beautiful 8 km 1-way boardwalk following the coastline from Fitzroy Beach to Port Taranaki.  Not only is this one of the longer continuous water-front developments I've come across in a coastal community, it is also very well designed and aesthetically pleasing.  While there is plenty to see and do and eat along the entire stretch of the route, I walked straight to the far end, to a large volcanic hill called Paritutu.  This steep, craggy hill juts straight up 154 m and definitely manages to give you a workout.  However, the view from the top is phenomenal.  

 After catching my breath and letting the wind dry my sweat-drenched brow, I returned to the boardwalk and began the return trip. 

 In Port Taranaki there are a number of seaside cafes, and restaurants, all of which offer tasty-sounding food and nice outside seating overlooking the port.  After a couple of local pints to quench my thirst, I made my way to the midway point of the Coastal Walkway.  Here I stopped in at the local i-Site and took some time to brows the incredible Puke Ariki museum devoted to the natural and cultural history of the Taranaki region. 

 But with tired feet, a decent sunburn, and a brain addled by too much information and just enough beer, it was time to make my way back to camp, watch the sunset behind Paritutu Rock in the distance and call it a day... 
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