Even though we’re only a few days in, our time in New Zealand continues to be as wonderful as the sites have been breathtaking. We’re quickly learning that this is a country of boundless natural beauty. Without hyperbole, this land is simply stunning. We had an opportunity to see a good portion of it first hand today. Our third full day here was made up of a trip to scenic falls, a windy drive, a guided tour through the spectacular and legendary Waitomo glow worm caves and an evening with the most hospitable and welcoming couple in New Zealand, if not the Southern Hemisphere.
We left Raglan bright and early after completing our recent routine of “Breakfast and Wi-fi” at a local cafe. The locals were celebrating The Chiefs big rugby win last night. We’re also picking up on the friendly rivalry between New Zealanders and their nearest neighbors in Australia who are just “across the ditch” (the span of ocean separating the two countries). Every Kiwi we’ve spoken with has beamed with pride when they remark that New Zealand is 14th overall in the 2012 Olympic medal count while those Aussies only have a single gold medal to their name. Funny.
One note on internet access: Every single business we’ve encountered so far is a bit peculiar about their Wi-Fi. No one has true “free” Wi-Fi. With any purchase, you receive a code that gets you online for a set amount of data (50 mb) or time (1 hour). This is a bit hard to get used to.
From Raglan, we drove a short distance to the scenic Bridal Veil Falls. After a short voyage down a windy road (oh, have we driven on some windy roads far) and an easy 10 minute hike, we were greeted with the amazing site of water streaming 150 feet to the small limestone pool below. Quite the way to start a day of travel and siteseeing. Amazing. Less amazing was the twisting, slow-going gravel road that we then had to drive on for about 45 minutes. Were we lost? Did we take the wrong road? No, that’s just the way the path goes. White knuckle, can’t-see-around-the-next-corner driving indeed. A challenging, but interesting drive. And as bonus, there were picturesque sheep and friendly cows alongside the road to greet us. And we had the enjoyably music coming from New Zealand radio. Worth mentioning that the “Pop Hits of Today” in New Zealand are pretty much the same as the “Pop Hits of Today” in the United States. Maroon 5, Gotye, Katy Perry, and Fun. have all graced the spaceship’s radio to say hello.Our spaceship wound its way up and down hills and around small mountains as part of an incredibly scenic drive. Around each corner was another bucolic, green and sensational view. I’ve really never seen anything like it.
The Waitomo caves, the highlight of our day, was another experience all together. We paid for a combo ticket to visit two caves- Rakauri and Glowworm Caves. The Rakauri cave was a long tour through a twisting, beautiful set of caverns full of stalagmites (coming from the ground that “mite” touch the ceiling), stalagtites, columns, curtains, and more. We had an exceptional tour guide who made the experience outstanding. The magnificent underground beauty was stunning and we learned about the Maori history, background on the caves and just some stunning insight. They even showcase a big chunk of limestone rock that had been carved like a sculpture by just seven years of water drips. But the best part were the glowworms. Native only to New Zealand, these caves are inhabited by glowworms – tiny creatures no longer than four centimeters long that cling to the ceiling and light up the pitch-dark caves like some type of underground constellation. Just…wow. The boat ride at the end of the Glowworm cave through an underground lake was simply amazing and made our day. I could gush for pages about these two caves and the remarkable site of the glowworms.
Our evening, spent in Hamilton, was a completely different experience. Against all odds, we managed to meet and befriend possibly the nicest, most generous couple in the country. We met Ken and Marinota during our layover in Guagzhou where they had invited us to their place for tea (dinner) one night. Man, are we glad we took them up on that invitation! What followed was an evening of conversation, meals and never-ending hospitality from this enthusiastic, sincerely friendly,well-traveled duo. They helped us outline some future stops in New Zealand (each place was more of a “can’t miss’ than the one before!), talked travel, gave us insight into New Zealand culture (Ken calls the remote “the zonker”) and we even chatted it up with the neighbors – Jason and Felicity – who stopped by. Jason and Felicity are planning a trip to Van Wert, Ohio in December. Where? I thought I knew all the towns in Ohio! I’ve come 7,500 miles just to learn about a town in my own backyard I’ve never heard of. We had an amazingly fun night that left us exhausted (but that might have been the many glasses of wine.) Ken and Marinota, being the wonderful people that they are, even opened up their home to us and invited us to spend the night in the guestroom. As we said, exceptionally generous and absurdly gracious. Hooray for making new friends in New Zealand.
Next, we had west to the town of Rotorua and onward!