Raglan, Waitomo Caves and Hamilton, New Zealand

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.

No room for Phil in the cave

Planning future trips with FelicityOur 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!

-Phil

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Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Driving, Exploring, Friends, New Zealand, Oympics, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Raglan, Waitomo Caves and Hamilton, New Zealand

  1. Murph

    really cool you met some awesome locals. Have fun, kids!

    • Yeah, Murph, we’ve found that the locals down here are insanely welcoming and generous. Most people seem to have a sincere interest in where you’re from and what you plan on seeing next in New Zealand. Kind of an extraordinary group of people- adventurous and gracious. But speaking of our post, you’re from Cleveland way. Have YOU ever heard of Van Wert, Ohio?

  2. dreweastmead

    Loving the pictures… wow.

    • Thanks Drew! We’re going to try to throw up a post of just photos here and there. And also plan to get our Flickr account going when we have time. so many great images that just won’t fit into a day’s blog posts!

      • Hey, if you guys need a place to stay on 18 December in C-bus still you are more than welcome to crash with us and enjoy haidloy cheer (i.e. Mike dressed up like Buddy the Elf.) Also, if you want, Mike can check with his parents in Cincinnati if you need a place to stay there. Good luck!-Jenny and Mike E.

  3. Kevin Mendelsohn

    I have been to the Waitomo caves twice; nineteen years ago and five years ago. Each time I declined the boat trip, but donned a wet suit and did a two hour adventure through an underground river that feeds the main cave. We wore inner tubes and headlights. My twelve year old daughter demanded to do it too, along with me and her brother. Ask Joel how determined Emily is.
    I will be on the China Southern 380 in October going to Canton. Travelling alone, I prefer to tke a window seat. How good is the aisle access from those window seats?
    Kevin in Atlanta

    • Hey Kevin,

      Yeah, Waitomo is a wonderful place, isn’t it? Next time we go back, we’re springing for the adventure package – Inner tubes and all!

      So, our China Southern Flights have been on the Boeing 777 (I think) and A330 (I also think). No luck landing that amazing A380 yet! Sorry we can’t be more help…

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