Saturday, 4 February 2012

New Zealand Day Eight – Waitomo and National Park

“We’re leaving early in the morning as I have booked a nine o’clock tour of the caves,” my sister said..
  “Sure no problem, what time?”
“uh, ok,” I gulped forcing a smile, while thinking it was too early even for me.   Still I was up at five and even had time for breakfast before we left.  

We reached Waitomo just after eight; before the ticket office and café were open.  It was raining much of the way down and the drizzle continued all day.  We had booked to visit two caves; the first was Ruakari, which has only been open for the last six years.  Because the only dry entrance was a Maori burial site that was considered sacred, a new entrance had to be dug out and connected to the old cave. It was done very well via a spiral walkway leading underground.  I had never been to a cave before and was awed by the immensity and beauty of the white stalagtites and stalagmites that had grown over millennia. There were so many different shapes and patterns and it was wonderful the way they became faces, people or whatever the imagination decided.. 

It was also fascinating to see how the force of water had eroded the limestone to form the chambers of the caves.  Incredible to think that they are still constantly changing and evolving and have done so for thousands and thousands of years.  

The power of nature is overwhelming yet so fragile that human contact could easily destroy everything in a very short space of time – seconds if one thinks of the earth’s existence as a clock.  It is good that attention has been given to trying to preserve the live of the caves.  We were asked not to touch anything as it could contaminate the stalagtites and mites and all the walkways were suspended so if they were removed only a few holes would remain in the rock.  We were allowed to photograph inside the cave but when we reached the glow worms were we were asked not to as the light disturbs them.

We walked in darkness, hands on the person in front’s shoulders and it was well worth the slight scariness of the dark to see the bright lights of the glow worms, like hundreds of stars in the night sky.  We saw their fibre-thin feeding threads and learned how their light attracts insects such as mosquitoes and flies.
After Ruakari, we went into another cave that had a cathedral-like chamber where concerts are held especially at Christmas.  There is no echo as sound is absorbed by the limestone.  After this we were taken on boats, in total darkness to see the glow worms that lit up the vaulted ceiling of the cave.

From there we drove to National Park and though cloud covered much of the mountain, we drove to the top of Ruapehu.  Looking around, the area felt very apocalyptic,  It also brought to mind the phrase “dark satanic rocks” as the mountain is volcanic and I could easily imagine lava or lala (volcanic water) spewing from the volcano and then cooling to shape this hostile landscape.  A little lower down much of the area was covered in heather and hardy plants.  We took a rather soggy two hour walk in the rain to the Taranaki Falls.  

This waterfall was very different from the others we’d seen.  Water gushed through a deep fissure in the steep rocks down to a pool below and it looked as if someone had turned a tap on.

Wet and weary (who said my waterproof was actually waterproof?) we had dinner in the nearby Chateau – a very tasty, home-made potato soup followed by a glass of wine in the bar.

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