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So then it was off to Waitomo. Which for me was the complete highlight of the trip. Wai means water, and Tomo means hole. Water – hole. Pretty appropriate. The whole area is limestone, not like the Burren which is open Karst area, this is much greener with fields and rivers above ground, and huge caves below ground.

On the way to Waitomo we went via some Thermally active areas. Firstly went for a dip in geothermically heated water, and also went for a wee walk around the park.

and mud-pools too (for those who want to know… steam containing Hydrogen Sulphide condenses into water and eats away at the ground above, eventually eating through and making the mud pools. Hydrogen Sulphide gives off the rotten egg smell.

Then it was on to The Craters of the Moon. Another, slightly different thermo-mad place. It usen’t to be the way it is, but in the 1950s they built a power station which took a lot of the water away (and therefore reduced the pressure). However, the leftover water just got heated even more, and so you can see what’s happened over the last 50 years.

And just a few more pics.

So yes, on to Waitomo, which besides the caves has glow worms. Which aren’t actually worms at all, tis the larval stage of the development of a fly.

So we tried to stay in a YHA hostel downtown but it was too expensive. Which turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us.

So off we went to the Hamilton Tomo Group Hut!. Which is a cavers hut. Well ‘hut’ is a pretty bad description really, it’s quite a nice – basic enough sleeping quarters – but more a hostel than a hut. And it totally rocks.

See, you can even practice your ascending techniques there. I was really surprised by the write up the different guide books gave it. Rough Guide wasn’t too hot on it, Lonely planet said it was a pretty good place, and my one – the Lets go, which I’d not checked until I got back was the only one that hit it on the head (in my opinion)


Run by a local spelunking club, this is undeniably the coolest place to stay in Waitomo…

Really got it right. The place is run by a guy who’s nickname is pigeon. Can you go wrong from there? I think not. He has an amazing talent for making different bird calls, and a horribly annoyingly accurate noise of a kettle coming to the boil. Not to me, but to other guests who stayed there a while ago – he convinced them the kettle had boiled, and for each of the three times he convinced them, they made a cold cup of tea :) hehehe, excellent.

So just got there that night, and just hung out drinking vino and enjoying the really great atmosphere that the place has. The hut is full of maps of the caves, books, national geographics, stereo, huge kitchen, loadsa climbing gear – well caving I guess, but yes – I would recommend the place to anyone, it was just brilliant.

Then off to the Blackwater company at 8:15 am for our tubing trip. Basically you have a big rubber ring and float down a river in it – well a river in a cave. So after getting kitted out with wetsuits etc. it was off to the cave (after practising jumping backwards off a 2m platform into our rubber rings!)

It was a fun, but pretty easy trip, the highlight of course was the glow worms. Thousands of them. Hard to describe, a low bluey-greeny light, just like thousands of stars, quite beautiful. Going through tunnels just lit up by the glow-worms. Perfect, wish I had pictures! but I don’t really.

At one – well a few points – one of the Guides smacked the water hard with the rubber ring, which makes vibrations. Which makes the glow worms think there’s prey on their stickly lines (which they hang down to catch water born larval insects!) and so they glow brighter. Stan (who will feature later) pointed out that when you go through the main touristy caves they tell you to be quiet as then the glow worms will glow brighter. When of course the opposite is true.. and neither of us though that this was particularly nice..

So yes, the tubing was great fun, easy, but great fun!

I went for a little walk in the afternoon, very pleasant walk down from the hut to the cave systems below.

As I was walking around I saw a couple of people climbing up to a small hole in one of the walls, and looking around (but not going in) and coming back down. So I waited until they left and headed in. Once you got inside there was a DOC notice (but you had to go right inside first, and it *wasn’t* on the beaten track – you’d never see it unless you saw someone else go in!) saying ‘exercise extreme caution, slippery sides to river below’ Which I thought was quite interesting. They’re not telling you not to go further, just to be careful. So I took them at their word, put on my head torch and headed further in, in search of glow worms!. I didn’t go very far, but did get to sit down about – oh – probably only 5m above the river and just sit in the darkness with a few glow-worms around and about. Which was pretty cool. I can see how you can get disorientated in a cave though! I hadn’t gone in far, but still, it can all look quite similar after a while.

Fun though.

That evening there was a really beautiful sunset. Which I hope these pics do a little tribute to.

Oh, also that evening pigeon took us all – well anyone who wanted to go – on a 2 min walk down to a little grotto beside the hut, it was again packed with glow-worms. I guess once you’ve lived here a while you might get blaseabout it, but to me they are still quite magical. I tried taking a few pics but my battery died, so this is all you get.

I stayed after everyone else had left. And just sat with the water running and the wee lights around. It was kinda cool.

So the next day it was off on our caving trip. Stan – our trip leader if you like – X-Liverpool been living here for – oh 20 years or something, picked out the cave Luckie Strike for us to do.

Named after Herman? (I think) Luckie who discovered it. And it was the absolute highlight of the trip. After getting kitted out in wetsuits and wellies (or gummies – or even putties if you want to be particularly kiwi!) we were off to the cave. Found it on the second attempt, which is pretty good going after not visiting the place for 4 years.

We couldn’t go in the tricky entrance as it was too muddy and slippery over a 2m drop into the (very uneven) river below. So went in the entrance we were originally supposed to exit by – the stream entrance.

I can’t really describe it, I will try ;) but I’ll not make a very good job of it I’m sure. Imagine the set of the aliens spaceship, and one of the most spectacular show-caves complete with gazillions of stalactites – only minus all the people, with a river running through it, and you’ll have an idea of it.

We had to scoot down waterfalls (and yes, we’ll get to the interesting bit, which is going back up :) and lots of bridging and crawling and kinda climbing / soloing. Fully amazing. Saw all sorts of formations, I think my favourite were the flowstone formations. Which is where – well take a blank piece of rock, and have a drop run down it, and again, and again, in the same place. What you get is a ridge building up, maybe only 1/2 a cm wide, and you get rows of these things. Lully things altogether ;)

Headed up into the upper level (kinda but not quite the blue lined part on the map above). Millions of stalactites, columns, straws (hollow), cauliflower formations – it really was just amazing. Just amazing. I only wish I could have taken pictures to put up, well – Simon, one of the people in the party took a picture, and if it comes out I’ll put it up.

The funniest part was when Stan stooped down in the water (we were all behind him), and said ‘ I think there’s an eel in here’ And fished around beneath the water. And then, suddenly, with a huge amount of splashing started frantically waving this huge thick brown eel around. The girls behind him (Judith and Maeve) shrieked, and moved backwards.

Hehehheehe, turned out it was just a log (which Stan of course knew all along) It was incredibly funny though – well – from a distance, I was quite happy not to be behind him!)

Eventually we turned back, there was a huge waterfall in front of us, from a river above, we could have gone through it and on (indeed Simon did) but everyone was pretty tired by then, so it was a good point to turn back.

And back we went, then to the waterfalls. And, well, I think I helped out a bit being there. Between Stan Simon Harry (Harry who makes productions run for the likes of BMW, – the multimedia stuff from what I gather for the launches of their new Series’ – pretty awesome job I’d say, and quite stressful too I’d guess!) but between us we helped everyone up, the water was quite powerful so it tended to push you back. Everyone needed help getting up them. But I tell ya! the high ropes course I did with the scouts way back in kilaloe ages ago helped out! Definitely had the way of letting people stand on your shoulders / thighs down well. So yeah, it was defiantly physical getting up and out of the cave, but lots and lots of fun.

So here are the stars of the trip.

Stan, Harry and Judith. Stan in the middle. Our excellent guide.

And Simon and Sue too.

There was also a German called Jorg there, – but left before going on the trip.

He’s been travelling around the world – well Oz and NZ anyway, on his bike, which he’s modified a lot, and knows backwards – shipped it from Germany. Very sound guy.

then it was the drive home sadly, good time though – just over 5 hours. And the next day back to Christchurch. Where we went out for the new years eve. And I totally lost my voice from all the ‘singing’ we did!! :) good fun though.

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So on Boxing day we headed off to Tongariro National Park. Mt Tongariro was, I believe, Mount Doom in the Lord of the rings.. though I could be wrong about that.

Gave a hitch hiker a lift. He was a Boner!. And his name was Kierry. Any guesses as to what a Boner does :) ? It’s easy…. yes he de-bones animals – I think lambs and calves were the animals he usually dealt with, but I could be wrong about that!

Next day it was off on a six ish hour hike up to two lakes. Maeve and I were thinking about doing the Tongariro Crossing, which is supposed to be one of the best one-day hikes in the country. Unfortunately the weather was too mank so didn’t get to do it, Matt had done it last year with Helene, and they’d had a great time, though did get some mist in the middle.

So off to the lakes. Crossing Lava flows and other volcanic ‘stuff’

My Teva’s gave me a bitta trouble, got a few blisters, tried adjusting them but no joy, guess will get a few calluses! :) So yeah, a good hike, I went on to the top of the ridge and Maeve headed back, but caught up by the end, was a good run :)

Also saw a wee waterfall on the way down too.

Maeve and I were staying in the Skotel. Yes, the Ski-Hotel. So indulged in Saunas and Hot-Spas for free. Which was nice.

And whiskeys, which weren’t (free) but were nice too.

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So next day headed off at 10ish in the second car that Mary has. It’s a 10 year old Volvo… or is it 20? It’s been around a bit anyway – did like to steer into the left if left to it’s own devices.

Though in my opinion you could market this as a ‘Built in protection against falling asleep at the wheel, the car will automatically steer you to the edge…’ Hehehe, so yeah, that was fun, I think Maeve misses her new Punto from time to time.. still, it’s free so that’s all to the good, and over the next 10 days the car was to do over 1400 kilometres without any worries at all.

So yes, off to Taranaki. It’s a volcano, dormant at the moment. Has claimed more lives than any other mountain in NZ. Even than Mount Cook. The reason – well one of the reasons anyway is that the weather can change unbelievably quickly. It’s a total micro-climate – very close to the coast, but a very high, lone, mountain. Winds can get to be over 200 km/h up there. That’s enough to make you take off! quite literally.

This was a pretty accurate account really of the weather in the area. It hardly stopped raining at all while we were there. It was especially heavy the first day.

In fact, there’s a little poem that some anonymous traveller posted. Here it is.





Rain

It rained and it rained and

rained

The average fall was well maintained

And when the tracks were simply bogs

It started raining cats and dogs

After a drought of half an hour

We had a most refreshing shower

And then the most curious thing of all

A gentle rain began to fall

Next day was also fairly dry

Save for the deluge from the sky

Which wetted the party to the skin

And after that the rain set in.

Anonymous Tramper

1984


So yeah, that pretty well summed up Taranaki. However, well used to rain as we are, this wasn’t going to stop us looking around and getting a feel for the place. We stayed in a DOC (Department of Conservation) ‘hut’. More of a pretty comfortable hostel really, but quite cheap. It had lots of posters up about the place, telling you about the weird flora and fauna that you get, and why. It also tells you that it’s better to walk around in the rain as the colours are more vivid. Though sometimes you have to wonder if they’re not just saying that because it does rain all the time.

In fact, this year they’d already had 11 meters of rain. That’s *a lot* of rain.

The area we went walking through, is called a Goblin Forest because of all the mosses and the stunted growth of the trees. (One of the few remaining reserves of the Kiwi birds) It’s like that because the rain washes all the nutrients out of the soil, and is what mosses thrive in.

So you can see the amount of moss and general weirdness that’s around.

Just went for a 40 min hike down to the Dawson Falls (named after bloke wot found them)

Then it was back to the hut, and seeing as we’d not brought stuff for dinner we just *had* to go for a really delicious three course dinner up at the mountain lodge which was also there. Very nice, all wooden and olde looke!

Also met Basil. The local man – 70+ I’d say, who was full of stories, like 300km/h winds (seemed a little fast to me), and how a friend of his goes up to the summit every year. With a triple bypass. At the age of 82 or something equally savage.

Next day did another walk up and around the mountainside (couldn’t even see the summit – though it still has a lot of ice on it so you’d need crampons to get up it)

Saw this

Well there were lots of them, but it’s a fuchsia tree, it sheds it’s bark regularly so that the mosses and lichen cannot get established on it. Clever eh ;)

Also had to cross this wee bridge.

Which Maeve loved! she’d been on ricketier ones in Thailand. I – well – I was happy enough to get to the other side.. big old drop into a valley bellow.

Then back to Palmerston North.

Christmas day itself – well spent doing the usual family stuff. Mum and Dad were given their EMPAAKOs or special Tooro names which are essential before you can belong in society over there. Dads new name is AKIIKI, which can be translated as leader or pioneer and mum’s is ADYERI, which may mean strong !?

Matt and Chris (my two brothers) have decided to give me Kite Surfing lessons here in ChCh for my Christmas (and birthday!) present.. which is going to be great fun, and probably quite scary too. Personally I reckon they’re trying to kill me off seeing as they failed when I was young…

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So, arrived into Palmerston North and was immediately a little shocked!. Not by the puddles which were on the ground, they were almost a novelty after the month without rain in Christchurch. No, the shock came from my Aunt Mary! It was very strange – I’d never really thought there was a huge family resemblance between mum and her.. but wow – they look incredibly similar. So that shook me for a sec! – just a sec mind ;) it was almost like ‘Wow, wasn’t expecting to see you here for Christmas mum, thought you were still in Uganda’

So yeah, that was strange. Then finally off to see the house which so many of my family have visited. Stupidly forgot to take a picture of it, but the entire house (and it’s quite large) is just on piles. So you can quite literally pick the house up and move it, if you’re so inclined.

Which my Aunt (Mary) recently did – well about 6 years ago they built two houses on a portion of their property, and firstly they just picked up their house and moved it off to one side.

As you do! :)

They’ve just sold them both, but the handover isn’t until 10th Jan. The upshot being that Maeve and I got the house to ourselves, which was nice.

Spent the day seeing cousins, drinking, eating, making plans to head to Taranaki National Park the next day.

Oh, did play scrabble, and getting Yin on the triple word helped, so thanks Domhnall for posting about seeing “The Big Yin” in march. Billy Connolly.. just seeing as I haven’t mentioned I’m going to see Billy Connolly for a while.

I am, in March. :)

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Well not much to say really, off at 5:25am to Palmerstown North tomorrow morning. Really looking forward to it now. Maeve and I are going to have a Volvo for our use, which is going to be great. Pretty much have an idea of the things we want to get done. May get to a volcano that was supposed to be Mount Doom (so Maeve says anyway!). So that should be good.

Had a good look around the Rough Guide website, which was and is going to be a very good thing to keep up with. There’s a section for travellers – with tips and stuff, one of them I will definitely be doing as it’s a site which sorts you out for accommodation and jobs during the ski-season NZ ski so will definitely apply for that one.

Also checked out – just for initial ideas – flights for travelling on. There’s a company called Pacific Blue – the Ryanair of down here, that has flights for $100 (NZ dollars) Each way to Australia. That’s 100 Euro return…. not too bad really :) Mind you that offer is only valid if you book before Christmas day, but then it only goes up to $150, so it’s not toooo bad. Am thinking of heading to Oz in October for a month, then back here, and fly to Singapore, ‘do Asia’, and then head to Africa and maybe head through Kruger and on up to Uganda. But I really haven’t a clue. So if anyone wants to meet up along the way … ;) Climbing in Thailand… could be good…

And then today, after a lazy start headed up to Castle Hill to do a couple of easy routes. Maeve got her first lead in New Zealand.

And me, well I was doing this awesome 7c+ move when the damn hold broke.

What can you do?

Well, there’ll be naught from me for a while, but hopefully will take loads of pics to make ya’ll want to come out here as soon as is humanly possible.

Have a very Happy Christmas, I shall dream of a white one, but I can’t see it happening!

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