“Hey lady—your husband droov off!”. It was the start of day four of our Kiwiland adventure, and a lady in the petrol station was yelling after me. Incidentally, I wasn’t sure whether I found the ‘husband’ or ‘droov’ part funnier. She then flagged me down again, to give me a free little plastic toy—I must say, until I was the proud owner of a fake oil container the size of half of a thumb, I wasn’t sure how life-changing it would be (/end sarcasm).
Today would be the day we went to Waitomo to go and see some glow worms, but we had a few hours to kill beforehand, so decided to take on a mountain (as you do). We asked the Huntly i-Site lady for advice, and she in turn directed us to Pirongia. There we picked up a fairly hilarious map which is, and I quote, “not drawn to scale and is not intended for track navigation purposes,” and proceeded to use it for track navigation purposes.
Part way up my stomach muscles realised that they existed, and immediately started rebelling: apparently five weeks with no hiking (until the preceding day) and working in an office is not conducive to fitness. Who’d have thunk it? So while Guma looked bemused (me: “Guess which of us does exercise?” Guma: “I’d better not say, I might get in trouble.”), I pretty much tried not to cry every time we went up hill, and did all kinds of funny manoeuvres to try and stretch out my poor abused tum.
It was a pretty interesting track (link to brochure with infinitely better directions than those which we had). We followed the Tirohanga track and made Ruapane lookout in good time. I was feeling ambitious, so asked Guma how he felt about seeing how far toward the summit we could get before we had to turn around. He didn’t look overly impressed, but went along with it (as he does), and off we went.
After the lookout, the track got way more awesome: it had already involved a bit of hands as well as feet, but the next section of the trip had chains bolted into the rock and was more like abseiling than anything else. It was great! I was super careful because of my gimpy wrist (which spontaneously lets go, like that one time in Greece). Happily, no gimpage was incurred.
We didn’t make it the whole way to the summit, only getting as far as what I’m assuming was Tirohanga Bluff. It was super cool though (and nearly as high anyway). Then it was time for a quick few photos before smashing it back down the hill, encountering as we did so a flock of seven children (with three adults) who all looked exactly the same and sounded like dinosaurs crashing through the forest.
Back at the car park, I made some cultural reference along the lines “we’d better make like Henry and get Rollins” (Henry Rollins). All I know about him is that he’s kind of angry, some kind of music or spoken wordy person, and that he was at a festival I went to a few years back. And he has a name which is suitable for word play. Guma on the other hand had never heard of him at all.
“It’s so bizarre,” I said. “We’re both from the same country, we grew up in the same place, and yet we are from completely different cultures.” Guma doesn’t get any of my references, and as I’ve mentioned before, we have little in common. He did, however, agree with me on this, and went into a ‘his’ versus ‘my’ people in fairly hilarious detail. So here you go, Guma’s ‘his’ vs ‘Sydney’ people comparison table:
The line about coffee shops with baristas cracked me up—the way he said it still makes me smile. There was so much derision in his tone, as though it’s all the most pretentious bull shit he can think of. Love it.
It was time to head off to the caves, and so we hit the road once more. I couldn’t figure out why I could smell peanut butter, and it was driving me freaking crazy: it wasn’t until we reached Waitomo town-ship that I realised I’d dropped around a tablespoon of it down my top. One of these days I’ll learn how to put food in my mouth. One day.
Glow worms was a bit part of a reason this trip happened. I love glow worms. I had this really amazing experience when I was 17 and on a caving trip in Tasmania. Our adventure ed teacher, Mr Booth, ushered me into a tunnel leading into a cliff face, with everybody else following. We crawled along a ledge above a rushing river, until we were so deep into the ground that it was pitch black. All you could see was darkness, and the river was so loud in the close confines that it felt like you couldn’t hear at all. Then, slowly, our eyes adjusted, and rather than pitch black it was blackness adorned with tiny underground stars. As I was first one into the tunnel I got to be the last one out, and so I let everybody go a few minutes ahead so that I could experience it without distraction. It was deeply moving.
Anyhoo, seeing glow worms again was definitely on the agenda—hence, New Zealand. A friend had recommended me somewhere free to go, but I’m a muppet and forgot, so turned to google. I chose the company Spellbound, who only run three tours a day and only have a maximum of twelve people per tour (as opposed to the main ‘Waitomo Caves’, who have 2-3000 people going through them a day. Nope.).
It ended up being a group of myself, Guma, and three Americans, with a big Maori tour guide by the name of Hop. He drove us up some winding roads which were surrounded by little lambs. They were freaking adorable: it reminded me of the lambs in The Little Prince, which only multiplied the aww-factor.
We went for a walk through a dry cave first, seeing a couple of glow worms but that was about it. Other than a moa skeleton. Moas, like kiwis and emus, were flightless birds. And they were fricking huge. Imagine like a gigantor ostrich. The skeleton we saw was that of a moa who must have fallen down into the cave and had broken its leg. It made me sad, the idea of this poor moa lying at the bottom of the cave by itself in pain until it died. Poor lonely moa.
Next we had a brief stop before the glow worm cave. I went and hung out with some cows (Guma told me I looked like a cow whisperer), and had a little chat to the other guests. It turned out that two of the guys were engineers, and my respect for them instantly went up. Not sure if that makes me bias against American travellers or bias toward engineers, really. Haha I assume it’s the latter, given that at one point in my life most of my friends were engineers (it goes with the sailing). Plus, I’ve met a lot of doctors and lawyers who were complete idiots, but I’ve never met an engineer who was. Socially awkward, yes. Misogynistic, yes. Arrogant, yes. But aggressively stupid? No.
After a pause while Hop pulled a huge eel out of the river, we trotted on into the Spellbound glow worm cave. It was pretty magical: we got into a little boat and drifted along the water, the ceiling just above and the walls around us covered with night sky. It was all very romantic (not that I feel that way about Guma, obvi): just poignant, still and beautiful.
It had been an epic day and I was pretty destroyed by this point. The guys hiked up a little hill, but I (and/or my body) decided ‘screw that’ and went up with Hop in the car. Then and it was pizza and bedtime. Except that no, not yet, we could still fit more adventures in our day!!!
We drove up to a car park Hop had mentioned, and waited for it to get dark. Slowly night started to fall, and we meandered up a walking track which was filled with, what would you know, steps. A short while later we made it to this massive cave. Except that the phrase ‘massive cave’ just does not do it justice. You walk down into the rock face, and suddenly you come out on this little wooden platform sited at the top of a space which is so huge it’s almost like a physical sensation. Below you is a deep pool fed into by a short waterfall, and the waters slink off into darkness too deep for the eye to penetrate. You can easily see where legends of rivers taking people to the underworld came from: it was easy to imagine slipping away along this river and finding yourself in a strange, dark new world.
I actually have no idea how long we were on the platform for. I spent quite a long time trying to get a decent long exposure of the waterfall, and even longer checking out the little patches of glow worms overhead. Eventually though we realised it wasn’t going to get any darker, and we decided to head back.
“Waaagh!” I complained, as Guma turned on his head torch facing me. He then followed as I led us back out of the cave and toward the car park. I told him the story of following Jairo into the night-time Amazonian jungle (“the only circumstances in which I’ll follow a half-naked man with a machete into the wilderness”). “Well, we can do that if you like,” replied Guma, immediately shutting off his lamp.
Best. Decision. Ever. After a couple of minutes while our vision adjusted, suddenly we were in this wonderland where not only where there stars in the sky and glow-worms under overhangs, but there were even glow worms all through the trees and flowers around us as we walked. There was one alarming (hilarious?) moment when I startled a possum and it jumped over my arm, but other than that it was just an incredible experience with which to finish off an epic day.
(Written 27/10/14 and backdated.)