With it being our last day in New Zealand, we booked a tour, which was scheduled to last the full day in Rotorua.
First stop: Waitomo caves. Our humorous guide showed us through his ancestors’ ancient dwelling place, discerning the difference between stalactites (“holding tight to the ceiling) and stalagmites (“one day might reach the ceiling). He even sang for us a traditional Māori welcome song in the holiest depths of the caves, which were highly conducive to such an exercise. Naturally, it was also a place of prayer.
After a brief tour, it was now time for the long awaited stars of the caves.
Unfortunately, due to the sacredness of the caves and the staff’s desire to sell tourists on horrible green-screened souvenirs (hey, they have to make money somehow), no photography was allowed. Surprisingly, this was greatly appreciated for the relentless barrage of amateur flash accidentals would have completely ruined the experience.
Slowly floating through the pitch black caves, which our guide stealthily maneuvered using a series of suspended ropes, we cranked our necks straight up at the ceiling to gaze upon the infamous glow worms. It was as if we were witness to another solar system, except much closer, sans ambient light and greater dimensionality. The ceiling was not flat, but rather contained many crevices and pockets for these glow worms to hide. While drifting by, they would sometimes be hidden from view then suddenly reappear similar to stars in an overcast night sky. However, in complete darkness, the effect was so intense, it was easy to see how it was considered sacred.
Lunch on the bus was a tasty curry chicken with rice (thank you Greyline tours!). This gave us roughly an hour to digest before our second stop.
This part of the excursion we literally customized and chose our own adventure. Some of the other passengers on the bus opted for luging (been there, done that!) and black water rafting (we’re biased towards rafting in waters without a designated color, thank you). We, on the other hand, ZORBed! “What in the haka is a ZORB?”, you may be wondering. We donned our bathing suits and hitched a ride in a pickup truck to the top of a hill with three delightful eight year old girls celebrating one of their birthdays. All of them were so extremely cheerful, it was hard to sustain any level of anxiety (thanks for the picture, by the way!). Until of course, we reached the top, nothing but impending vertigo in sight. The girls looked down the hill and fear set in as one of them inquired about the collective emotional state of the group:
“Yes”, We (wish we) whispered to ourselves.
Fear is rarely accompanied with warmth and it didn’t help that the sun was no where in sight. With the saddest motivational speech we could muster (“If those girls can do it…”), we jumped into the warm water filled ball through a hole no more than eighteen inches wide and rolled down the hill – pure hilarity. Probably one of the silliest stunts we’ve ever done. Amidst the confusion, it was difficult to keep our underwater camera aimed at us, but here it is in all it’s glory:
Thankfully, we chose the “wet” option, down the “straight” course. If we went down the dry, zig-zag path (which you can only do alone and after going down the straight course first), the ball surely would have been filled with
puke, pee, something else that is warm.
One ride was enough for us, though we stuck around to watch the brave young girls tackle the hill three times in a row. Just over an hour later, we walked to the Agrodome, which was only a short distance up the road. Barely missing the sheep show, we at least we’re able to snap a few shots with the main attractions (including the highly acclaimed merino wool sheep), as they sat chained waiting for their next performance. Resisting the temptation to swap out our smart wool socks in the gift shop for some “baaaa–gains”, we boarded the bus for our last destination.
Finally, we visited Te Puia, New Zealand’s Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where we witnessed a pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony), the traditional haka (war cry) and a beautiful “poi”-formance (puffy balls on string swung rhythmically). Te Whakarewarewa (the geothermal valley) famous for the Pohutu geyser and mud pools was like accidentally walking into a luxurious martian steam bath (…with sewage, thanks to the smell of sulfur). On site, they also housed a couple of the nocturnal kiwi birds.
Here is an exchange we overheard while leaving the kiwis en route to the wood shop:
Tourist to guide: “Do they have any relation to kiwi, the fruit?”
Guide: “Only that they are small and furry”.
Many of the pieces on display were by students, who gained acceptance into the ultra limited two-year apprenticeship at the school. Lucky!
Those last two images were taken during the grass skirt making demo.
For dinner we feasted on NZ’s famed mussels and some of the best steak since Argentina. Tony’s Lord Nelson was recommended by our bus host and as was expected, there were many other tourists there (on some similar recommendation). The best part of the meal, however, was the music, which would have been enough reason to return alone.