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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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