Monday, 11 August 2014

Waitomo and the Spellbound Gloworm Caves

It only took just over two hours to drive from Auckland to Waitomo. We were concerned that having ditched the GPS (see earlier post) we thought we may have had some issues. But the directions were easy enough to follow and we saw some cracking scenery and rainbows along the way.



We arrived in Waitomo and soon located the Abseil Breakfast Inn, the first thing you notice is the driveway, it is very ling and very steep, I reckon about 40 degrees in places. The next thing you notice is that the place is beautiful and the climb up that vertiginous drive means that the views are superb.





We were shown to our room by Nicky and given the run down on the place. Just like the external view, inside it is wonderful, our room - the Swamp Room - was excellent. Nicky also advised us that the Huhu Cafe just down the road did an excellent dinner.

We decided to walk down to the Huhu, figuring that if we were going to tackle that driveway
on the way back then we could have a desert.

The Huhu is also wonderful, we shared a started of freshly baked bread with olive oil, balsamic reduction and dauka. Victoria then had the pumpkin and cheddar risotto balls with tomato sauce and salad, I had the pasta in mushroom and garlic sauce. They were all excellent. We shared a desert of chocolate and chilli mouse in a brandysnap basket with a raspberry coulis. This was again superb. Washed down with a pint of cider and a glass of the house red the bill only came to 64NZD (about £32.00). If you are ever in Waitomo go here, it is most excellent.



We tackled the driveway up to the Abseil and were soon chilling out in the guest lounge with a couple of glasses of red for Victoria and a couple of beers for myself. Pretty tired still, we bathed and were tucked up in bed by 10:00

We woke the next morning and went back to the guest room where our hosts Helen and John had prepared our breakfasts, a really tasty starter of fruit salad followed by delicious cheese and tomato omlette. John then bought in some lovely wheaten toast and an enormous selection of yummy local honeys. The breakfast was delicious and we had a great old time chatting with Helen and John, so much indeed that we realised that we only had 15 minutes to check out and get a few hundreed meters down the road to the Spellbound Gloworm Cave tour.

Waitomo is famous for its Glowork Caves and it seems that the majority of the visitors elect for the most local tour, which is fine if you want a 45 minute tour with a group of fifty people. With the Spellbound tour you are ins small groups of up to 12 people and it takes about three hours and is only a few dollars more - well worth it we think.

Our guide, Hohepa, met us at the reception, there were eight in our group and we boarded the minibus for the 12km drive out to the first cave. Hohepa gave us the option of walking the last few hundred meters and dropped us at the top of the path and suggested we follow it to the bottom.



After about a five minute walk through a lovely river valley we met Hohepa at the bottom and were first kitted out in helmets and then shown the massive eels that live in that part of the river, must be six foot long and six inches in diameter!



Then it was in to the first cave. Our first underground encounter was with a giant spider at the entrance, the thing had a 2" body! It was then into the cave proper and following the path that ran alongside the river.

We switched off our helmet lights and allowed our eyes to acclimatise to the gloom and then you started to see them! At first they are faint specs of light, but soon the whole ceiling is illuminated in a fantastic constellation!

We turned on our lights again and Hohepa explained the lifecycle while showing us the detail. The gloworm is the lavae stage that hatches from its egg and first builds a hammock suspended from the ceiling. From the hammock it dangles several threads that it covers with a sticky mucus, the glowworm then sits in it's lair and awaits its dinner.. When the caddis fly and other  lavae hatch in the underground stream they are attracted to the light and fly towards it, becoming entangled in the strands the glowworm reels them in and gobbles them up. The glowworm sepnds nine or ten months doing this until it is about the size of a matchstick. The gloworms themselves are an unattractive snot green colour, the glow in their tail comes from a ombination of enzymes and protein.

After nine or ten months of getting up to size the gloworm pupates and then emerges in its adult form which only lives about five days as it now has sexula organs but no feeding apparatus. After mating the female lays about 120 eggs in clutches of fifteen. After about 10 days the first egg in the clutch hatches and gobbles up the other eggs for a protein kickstarter.

That is enough nature talk for now, on with the tour. Hohepa takes us deeper into the cave system and we climb into a boat, lights are turned off and are take along the underground stream for about 50 meters to a weir, then back about 100 meters, all the time there is a fantastic consteallation of gloworms above us. We do about three laps of this Hohepa positioning the boat so you get a different view each time.

Our photographs were terrible, fortunately Spellbound will email you some great ones. Here are a few







With lights back on we leave the boat and negotiate our way out of the first  system and rejoin the minibus where we get to enjoy hot drinks and bisciuts and the antics of the fantails.

It is about a five minute walk to the next cave system, this one is 'dry' and contains some great geological features as well of the bones of many animals that fell in through sink holes and the like. About 20 years ago the skeleton of a Moa was discovered and unearthed in the caves and we got to take a look at the remains of this extinct giant bird. Wonderful, but less exciting were the bones of possum, goats and cattle! There are also a few glowworms in this cave and you also get to meet the native Cave Weta which is a giant insect that is rather like a land shrimp.



This tour is excellent, you are in a small group and get to spend about an hour in each of two very different cave systems. The guide is excellent and you get tea and biscuits, well worth those extra few dollars.





After we were dropped back into Waitomo we visited the Waitomo Experience where they have a reconstructed Moa skeleton and some great exhibits about the ecology and geology of the local area. We picked up a few bits and bobs in the gift shop and then went over the road to the Huhu cafe where we both had the very tasty tomato and chilli soup with goats cheese and balsamic with freshly baked bread.

We hopped in the car and drove two hours on to our next destination, the Hilton Hotel at Lake Taupo. A fantastic venue with views over the lake. We had told them that we were celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary and were very excited to find we had been upgraded to a suite and a bottle of Prosecco (Victorias favourite) was waiting for us.