In which the shearing capital of the world is bypassed and pride goes before a fall.
Te Kuiti didn’t get much of a look-in today. We filled up there, petrol tank as well as stomachs, and moved on.
The day was all about the Waitomo Caves. They are world famous. Apparently in the late 1800s they were considered the eighth wonder of the world – that’s what our guide said. We visited two caves. First up was the Aranui cave, named for the local man who discovered it in 1910. Aranui doesn’t have glow worms but it does have impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
Our guide was friendly, the group small – there were ten of us. John and I were the only Kiwis. The tour took about forty-five minutes. It’s dank and damp down there. I was glad of the guide and the lighting! Photos are permitted. So once again I got to practice my phonography!
The main cave, Waitomo (Wai = water, Tomo = shaft or hole) is much bigger than Aranui, at least from what we were able to see. We were told that as caves go in the area, it’s relatively small. Access is easy and it’s this that has contributed to Waitomo becoming a major attraction. Our tour group was larger, too. There were about twenty people from all over the world: France, Japan, Malaysia, and India. Photos are not permitted with or without a flash. The local iwi (tribe) who own the caves are serious about conservation and management of the resource for generations to come.
The highlight was the boat ride along the subterranean Waitomo River. It’s quite a thing getting on to a boat in the dark! I managed quite well. A girl, probably about twelve years old, was separated from her parents as she clambered on board. The guide sat her next to us. She was nervous. She wasn’t the only one. it did take a lot of trust in the guide – who did an excellent job. He conveyed information in a reassuring, authoritative manner. I doubt that the young girl had ever been on a boat before much less underground. The guide gave the safety instructions, and turned off his torch. “I’m afraid of the dark,” our young companion confessed. “Will you hold my hand?” she asked John. What a challenge for her, this dark was darker than anything I’ve ever experienced. Except for the glow worms (Titiwai in Maori).
“Look at the glow worms,” I said, as she clung to John’s elbow. When I was about her age, on a school trip, I totally freaked in a cave. I’ve never forgotten it and my classmates probably haven’t either. So today I was feeling frightfully grown-up and proud of myself as I talked the girl through her fear.
“Have you ever see the Milky Way?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, in very precise English. “Of course, two or three times I have seen a star-studded sky.”
Our combined efforts worked. The guide pushed off from the wharf and like the rest of us she didn’t take her eyes from the sight above our heads. The glow worms glowed, everyone on the boat hushed, the water lapped. Despite language barriers, cultural differences and fears we were united in the awe of the moment. Until I had a coughing fit. So forget being remembered as the kind Kiwi woman who, along with her husband, helped out the frightened girl. They’ll all remember me as the lady at the back of the boat whose lungs weren’t quite up to the damp!
Worse was to come. When I got back to the land of reception, there on my Facebook profile was a recommended post for a rest home. That’s a coincidence, right? Facebook doesn’t know anything I don’t know, right?
Categories: Off The Beaten Track in Aotearoa