New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 382 (192)

Te Kuiti

Friday 25th March (2005)

We’ve stayed at a very wide range of accommodations over the course of the year or so that we’ve so far travelled and we’ve seen the whole gamut of both good and bad hostels alike. After due consideration, we’ve both unanimously concluded that the place we just spent the past couple of nights at in Wellington is one that most definitely falls into the worst category. Cramped conditions, difficult to park, perched on a steep hill, dodgy security on the windows, damp, slow and expensive Internet, filthy conditions in the kitchen, uncomfortable chairs in the dining room, only one phone for dozens of people to use and very unfriendly and unhelpful staff are just some of the things that have conspired against us. To top it all off, we’ve now both got a load more sand fly bites between us. This is probably due to the fact that we’ve had to keep the window open to try to get rid of the smell of damp and musky air in the room. Yes, I think it fair to say that we were happy to say goodbye to Rowena’s Lodge in Wellington this morning.

Although our accommodation for tonight was already arranged, we both ran out of phone credit with which to continue our search for a place to stay for Friday and through the weekend. Accordingly, the first thing we did after pulling away this morning was to stop in at a nearby convenience store to buy another NZ$20 (€11,60) of phone credit for my phone. I would have continued to call around the hostels last night using my phone card but there was already a line of people at the one and only pay phone in the building, so I had to pick up this morning where I left off last night. The problem is that it is Easter and we have to contend with the local population in addition to the backpacking crowd all competing for a finite number of beds. We’ve had difficulty getting a place to stay before but there has always been one place willing to take us in. Not so this time, it seemed. Every last place I called was completely booked solid. Many even chuckled when we asked if they had a room available this weekend. Rapidly running out of options, we turned reluctantly to the mid-range accommodation places listed in our guidebook but even those were all fully booked too. Oh dear! What on earth are we going to do now? We desperately want to see Rotorua but with no place to stay, we are completely stumped. There weren’t even any doom rooms available anywhere in town. In an act of near desperation, we called the information office in Rotorua itself to see if they might be able to help. We gave them our details and budget range and they kindly set to work trying to find us something. An agonising hour went by before they called us back. The good news was that they had found us a place to stay in town. The bad news was that it was a bed and breakfast at a whopping NZ$130 (€75,40) per night – nearly three times what we would typically pay. We had hoped to stay in Rotorua for three nights but at that rate, we decided to stay there for just two instead. Even if we do find something else cheaper, we’re stuck with this one now since it was on the condition that we make immediate payment for the two nights over the phone with our credit card that they made the reservation for us. Still, at least we now have a place to stay. I keep telling myself that it could have been worse.

We spent the better part of five hours of uneventful driving up to Waitomo today; rivalling the time it took us to drive through the desert to Wave Rock from Perth in Australia. For the most part, however, the surrounding scenery was a lot more interesting than the Western Australia desert and it kept changing. As we navigated our way around the Tongariro National Park, we toyed with the idea of getting much closer to the volcano there that was featured in the Lord of the Rings. Time was still ticking, however, and to do so may very well have meant missing out on visiting the glow-worm caves today so we pushed on ahead instead. We also failed to locate the information office in Ohakune to get directions and advice on how to get to the rim of the volcano. It will simply have to remain a casualty of our lack of time. New Zealand’s physical features and landscapes have featured very heavily in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. During the latter part of our journey, it felt very much like we were driving through The Shire. There’s a good chunk of tourism here in New Zealand that is hitching a ride off the fact that the movie trilogy was filmed on location entirely here.

By the time we got to Taumarunui, we were once again in need of a leg stretch break. We stopped in at the information office there and spoke to a couple of very friendly older women behind the counter about our lack of time dilemma and they did their level best to help us string together a plan for how to spend the next week. After talking things over with them, we now have a much better idea of what we are going to be doing and where we are going to be going. We also had them book us into the Maori dinner and cultural performance tomorrow evening in Rotorua. I wasn’t too phased by the NZ$80 (€46,40) per person price tag for that, given that we would be fed a banquet as well as a heap of Maori culture for the evening.

With one, last, final push, we made it finally all the way up to Waitomo and duly put our discount tickets to good use in buying two tickets to see the caves and their resident glow-worms. After the 15% discounts were applied, I ended up having to pay NZ$47 (€27,26) for the pair of us. Tour groups depart every thirty-minutes or so and we tagged onto one of the last tours of the day that was just departing. We’ve had the chance to see glow-worms previously here in New Zealand but we’ve always been reluctant to pay the hefty price tags given that there is strictly no photography permitted, although I do understand the reasons behind this, as the glow-worms are disturbed by both light and noise. This time, however, we decided to go ahead anyway – after all, we didn’t just drive five hours to get here for nothing. The thing is that glow-worms are only found in New Zealand and some parts of Southern Australia so it really is a one in a lifetime experience to get to see them. Although quintessentially touristy, the guided tour of the caves was very informative. We were taken through part of the cave system itself first to see the stalagmites and stalactites but we’ve seen much better cave formations in other countries and this one was not particularly special or interesting. We were both bowled over, on the other hand, when we were finally introduced to the sections of the cave where the glow-worms reside. They are curious creatures indeed. Small, mosquito larvae type animals that hang on the ceiling of the cave above a river of quietly flowing fresh water. They live there in colonies and each individual glow-worm dangles a spider’s web-like thread beneath it. These threads vary from anything up to half a metre in length and are coated with small globules of a sticky substance that traps other insects. Once the glow-worm has detected a captured insect, it reels in its thread and sucks all the juice from its prey – essentially eating it alive. What makes the glow-worm so impressive, however, is the little beam of glowing light that it emits from its abdomen, from whence it gets its name. It’s this light that attracts the insects on which it preys to begin with. The light is generated by a chemical reaction with bacteria that live inside the glow-worm. The hungrier the glow-worm, the brighter the light it emits. With thousands upon thousands of the little beast all crammed into the roof spaces of the cave, it looks like a fantastic chandelier suspended from the ceiling. There really is nothing else quite like it in the natural world and I’m glad we got to see it in the end.

Having basked in the glow of the glow-worms, we made our way to our hostel via the local supermarket in Te Kuiti to pick up some food for a roast dinner tonight. The hostel is a few Kilometres out of town and sits up on a hill that overlooks it. It’s a very picturesque setting and at just NZ$45 (€26,10) per night, I wish we could stay here longer. The cabins are self-contained and very modern and well appointed. We have a comfortable double bed in a cabin that looks out down the hill to the town. Rumour has it that the weather tomorrow is going to be very rainy so we are enjoying the view whilst it lasts.

Despite all the Israelis here in the hostel, we enjoyed a lovely roast pork dinner and spent some time socialising and watching a movie with some of the other travellers. The extremely friendly and helpful owners and proprietors have told us there is no need to worry about checking out by a specific time tomorrow morning but we will get up relatively on time anyway so that we can call Dad in England to wish him a happy birthday. It will still be the evening of the twenty-forth then so we won’t have missed the boat. We did the same for Mum on her birthday a few days ago.