FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A three cave day

Posted in New Zealand, Waitomo by folkestonejack on April 3, 2019

Our overnight stay in Waitomo allowed us to make an early start on three of the cave experiences available in the neighbourhood.

The caves have been receiving visitors since 1889, when the main glowworm cave was opened to tourists by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau. The sight is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand with coaches arriving through the day from Auckland and Rotorua. Most tourists only see the one cave on their tightly scheduled coach itineraries, which is a shame as the Ruakuri and Aranui caves are even more spectacular in my opinion.

First on our list was the Ruakuri cave, discovered some 400-500 years ago after a Maori hunter was attacked by two wild dogs (kuri) just outside the cave. The cave was discovered to be the den (rua) of the wild dogs. Once the wild dogs were dispatched the area around the caves became home to the local Maori population and the cave entrance was used as a burial ground.

Inside the Ruakuri cave system

The Ruakuri caves were opened to visitors by the Holden family in 1904. The NZ government claimed ownership and operated the caves until 1988 when the Holden family were able to re-claim ownership. However, with the dry access point through the burial ground out of bounds a new entrance had to be constructed. Many millions were spent digging a new and spectacular spiral entry point and the caves re-opened to the public in 2005.

The caves are now entered through a temperature controlled air-lock that makes it feel as though you are about to enter the lare of a Bond villain. Instead, what awaits is a wonderful walk through the caves on a series of walkways and bridges. The sights were a delight but as much as anything, it was the ability gto get up close to the glowworms that was realkly fascinating. We could see the glowworms moving about the rockface and all the threads they had dropped to catch insects.

Next up on our itinerary was the glowworm cave, which is the one most tourists see. It is a spectacular, if short, experience as you take a short boat trip in absolute silence looking up through the darkness to the thousand of glowworm tails that light up the ceiling. It was the most touristy of the three caves we entered but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment.

I was particularly impressed to learn that since the cave was returned to the ownership of the descendants of Chief Tane in 1989 the majority of the staff working on the site are descendants of the chief and his wife Huti.

Inside the Aranui cave system

Finally, we visited the Aranui cave which was approached through a short walk through the forest accompanied by a couple of friendly fantails who hopped about and showed off us as we walked. Our wonderful tour guide Missy explained some of the useful plants we were passing and the Maori way of being guided by nature, eating the leaves that the insects have nibbled.

Once inside, we were once again treated to some incredible formations and a highly decorated ceiling, though I didn’t like the large wetas at the cave entrance or the information from our guide that they can leap a metre and cling on tightly! We all agreed that this was our favourite of the day. Across all the caves we were invited to spot the various shapes formed by the stalactites and stalagmites, which had included bungie jumping kiwis, a statue of the madonna and an elephant. The Aranui added an entrance guarding dragon to the list!

The three caves are very different and each has a special magic that makes it worth seeing. In short, it is well worth doing the triple cave combination.

The road to Marokopa

Posted in New Zealand, Waitomo by folkestonejack on April 2, 2019

Our trip to the central plateau began with the relatively uninspiring drive south on the motorway, escaping the humidity of the Auckland basin. At first the sights were pleasant but unspectacular, though I had to admire the people of Huntly for creating a lookout with a view of a power station. As someone with a love of industrial scenery that is something that really speaks to me!

Industrial scenery in Huntly

It was fascinating to see the snapshots of NZ life along the way, as well as more unusual activities such as tree felling (all road traffic was stopped in both directions for five minutes while a couple of trees in the adjacent forest were brought down) and a field of crosses being prepared in Ngaruawahia for Anzac day. We got more of a taste for local life in café stops along the way, sampling the baked treats and pies on offer.

The most surprising sight would have to be Hamilton’s oldest surviving church, St Paul’s Methodist church (1906), sitting in a green field site at Te Kowhai. The church was moved in January 2019 by Uplifting Homes in a remarkable 10 hour effort from Hamilton to its new location 15km to the south, ready to begin a new life as a cafe.

In the early afternoon we reached our accommodation for the night, the Top 10 Holiday Park in Waitomo, where we have a lovely two bedroom cabin with a fully fitted kitchen and shower. Once our tightly packed car boot was emptied (a masterpiece of jigsaw like arrangement) we headed back on the road with a lighter load to see the sights on the road from Waitomo to Marokopa.

The main attraction in Waitomo are the glowworm caves but the road to Marokopa offers some other treats that get overlooked by the majority of visitors – the Marokopa Falls, the Mangapohue Natural Bridge and the black sands of the beach at Marokopa itself.

First on the road is the Mangapohue Natural Bridge. An easy twenty minute loop takes you on a boardwalk through a limestone gorge and underneath a 17 metre high natural arch which is all that is left of an ancient cave system.

Marokopa Falls with a rainbow

Next up were the 35 metre tall Marokopa Falls, looking especially spectacular after a full day of rain yesterday with a heavy torrent of water tumbling over the undercut greywacke basement rock to a pool below. It’s not hard to see why these are described as the most beautiful in the country and to top it off the conditions had generated a rainbow over the river this flows into. This was an easy sight to see too, with a 10 minute walk from the road down to the viewing platform.

Last, but not least were the near deserted black sands of Marokopa beach. Starting from the small car park by the albatross anchor (a relic from a ship that foundered here in 1916 and remained on the beach for many years) we headed on to the sands for a walk into the wind.

The black sands of Marokopa

The views of the west coast from Marokopa are simply stunning and we pretty much had this to ourselves, barring a couple wandering arm in arm. It was hard to know where to look as there were wonders in every direction – the views along the beach and out to sea were beautiful, but the closer you got to the sandstone cliffs you could see the remarkable geology of the area and the rich fossil legacy. So much to absorb. Personally, I loved the striking mix of colours – black sand, white driftwood and orange cliffs. It was the unexpected highlight of the day.

Our day ended back at Waitomo, where we settled in to the cabin for the evening for a tasty meal accompanied by the first of many bottles from a box of Gibbston Valley Wines that we had brought with us!