Glow Worms and Geysers

The second day following my arrival in New Zealand I ventured to Rotorua with my travel companions, which was a three-hour scenic drive from Auckland. Rotorua is home to several attractions that give the history of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. The town is also built on a geothermal valley, and the many geysers and mud pools in the area also make for great attractions.

Rotorua is not a very large town, but it boasts being the most visited tourist attraction on the North Island, so be sure to book your stay ahead of time as sleeping accommodations get filled quickly. Like most of New Zealand, the climate in Rotorua changes rapidly so bring layers and always carry a light jacket (even in the summer months).

We chose to stay in an AirBnB outside of town on a large lake that was very scenic, peaceful, and even offered a small café to dine in. Later that first day we hit the town center to get a feel for the area and decide what local tour we would like to do. We settled on the Te Puia tour, which included highlights of Maori culture, geysers, a look at the mud pools, and sights of the native Kiwi bird.

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Te Puia’s Pohutu sits in the center of the Whakarewarewa geothermal valley. The two large geysers sit side-by-side and go off almost every 45 minutes.

A ticket to the Te Puia center includes a guided tour, or you can do a self-guided tour around the easy to navigate park. We opted for the one-hour guided tour that was led by native Maori guide, Milly. The one-hour tour was a great way to get a look at the geothermal geysers and mud pools, especially if you have never seen them. The main geyser can be seen in action about every 45 minutes. The tour also included a brief overview of Maori culture and history.  A dark habitat room housed a nocturnal native Kiwi bird. Overall, the tour was a great way to learn about Maori culture and Rotorua’s geothermal landscape. I will say that I found the overview too brief and would have liked to learn more about the indigenous people and their culture.

After our tour of Te Puia we headed back to the AirBnB and relaxed poolside before dinner. Dinner for the evening was at the local café, where I had the cranberry chicken pizza with Brie – simple and delicious!

The following day we headed on a scenic drive to Waitomo to visit the glowworm caves. The drive to Waitomo ends up being around two hours of very curvy isolated roads so do not forget to fill up on gas before leaving Rotorua.

Although glowworms can be found all over New Zealand, in caves and throughout the bush, they are best seen in the Waitomo caves. The worms glow as a sign of hunger and create thin threads to catch insects to eat, similar to a spider. The caves are home to thousands of worms and the dark ceilings help you to see them easily, whereas if you were to do a bush night walk you may only find a few worms here and there. Unfortunately, you can only do the caves through guided tours (walking, tubing, or boating) and they are a major attraction, so also book this tour in advance. Make sure to research your options before booking as some tours focus more on the cave formations and may not have the best glowworm viewings. Also, while tubing seems like a neat option the tubes are about the size of a lifesaver and require a lot of climbing through small cave formations in the dark… So maybe give that a serious thought before booking.

Unfortunately I speak from experience, as we made the mistake of not booking the tour ahead of time so the options were limited. My travel companions and I had already driven out there and many of the available tours did not have openings for a few more hours. Luckily, right before giving up on the glowworms, we stumbled upon a CaveWorld tour and within ten minutes we were on the way to the Footwhistle cave. A local family operates the company after they discovered the Footwhistle cave had glowworms when doing a land survey.

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A look back at the entrance to the cave. A view of a small waterfall and two steep flights of steps lead into the entrance.

Our very knowledgeable and friendly guide, Ross, led us on our tour of the privately owned cave. Lucky for us, we received a private tour since we were the only visitors in the specific time slot. That was a nice plus since we were able to view the caves and worms at our own pace. Ross filled us in on the history of the cave, the local plants and animals, and also detailed information on the glowworms.

The CaveWorld tour was excellent and I would highly recommend this specific tour to anyone that visits the area. The cave had hundreds of glowworms hanging from the ceilings to view.  Ross gave us an excellent tour full of facts, humor, and even brewed us locally sourced tea at the end. While our tour ended up being private, this particular company limits the group numbers on all of its glowworm tours. Ross really added something special to the tour by presenting his knowledge of the area and also teaching us more about the Maori culture in Waitomo. Unlike most of the tours, this one also allows the use of cameras. Unfortunately, the caves are so dark and the worms’ glow is so faint to a camera that it is very difficult to capture photos of them.

And for those of you that may be wondering – no, the glowworms cannot not fall off of the ceiling onto you. For some reason, I was the only person on the tour that seemed worried about that happening.

To view images or gather more information on the glowworms found in New Zealand visit: http://www.backpackerguide.nz/6-places-see-glowworms-new-zealand/

 

 

 

 

 

48 Hours in Auckland

After 20 hours and three flights (brutal, but so worth it) I found myself at the start of a two week journey through New Zealand and Australia.

The trip started and will end in Auckland, which is located in the North Island. I was told not to expect much more than the typical bustling working city. I was delighted and surprised to really enjoy it, even on the rainy days.

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Auckland and the surrounding islands combine some of the best elements of many places that I have visited. The buildings are close and compact and sit on hills edging the water that is home to hundreds of sail boats and ferries, much like Seattle, Washington. It even has the Sky Tower, similar to the Space Needle. The clean streets are intertwined with green parks, much like Portland, Oregon. The surrounding islands are outlined in crashing cliffs like those in Ireland, and covered in tropical green trees like those found in Hawaii. Like Ireland, Portland, and Seattle, the overcast days covered the city in a blanket of mist.

The restaurants are tucked away in city corners and along the Princes Wharf, and the nightlife at local bars seems to be lively with young professionals on any given night.

My first day in the city had no agenda, so I walked along the water looking for a place to grab something to eat. I made my way to a trendy area further into the city, the Britomart. The Britomart had a West-Coast vibe with unique  local restaurants and high end shops. Professionals took their lunch break at the various healthy artisan restaurants, ladies walked past with shopping bags, and friends gathered on bean bags in a nearby park.

The Store is based mainly on local Kiwi food, a delicious cuisine consisting of locally sourced food created into healthy dishes. Fresh pressed juices, coffee with buffalo or macadamia milk (unfortunately I did not see the milk options until after ordering), and fresh dishes filled the menu. I ordered the ricotta hot cakes with green tea and lemon curd. Adorned with delicate flowers and artistically designed, the plate was almost too pretty to eat… almost.

Run, don’t walk off of the plane straight to The Store. It is that good.

My only negative comment is that they close in the afternoon! Good news, their sister restaurant, Ortolana, next door is open for dinner. Also, if you cannot stay for a full meal be sure to grab a snack at their to-go counter.

After grabbing brunch I walked around to get a feel for the city. I made sure to stop by the Nespresso shop where you can sample free espresso (yes – free espresso!!) I opted for the chocolate and berry blend espressos, which were equally delicious.

Auckland does not have a wide variety of tourist attractions, but the restaurants and city life are great to explore and immerse yourself in for a couple of days. I really enjoyed the “City of Sails.”

For dinner I tried DeBrett’s Kitchen, another gem I found while researching the trip. The restaurant is tucked down a side street in the DeBrett Hotel, near the University of Auckland. Although it is very hard to find, it is worth the effort. Again with local Kiwi cuisine, the food is fresh and delicious. I had spinach ricotta ravioli topped with crusty parmesan cheese. Well worth the walk from Princes Wharf!

After the long flights and rainy weather I called it a night.

The following day I took the ferry for a 30 minute ride over to Waiheke Island. It was hard to believe that an island so close to the city could be so drastically different. Waiheke boasts a tropical village vibe. It is best known for the many vineyards that rest on the hills of the island.

Before my trip I booked a small group food and wine tour of Waiheke, which was led by David, a Waiheke local for over 20 years. The tour began with a visit to a local farm that produced olive oil. We tasted various award winning oils and local Manuka honey, which were light and flavorful.

Next, we visited our first winery, Thomas’s Bach, and tasted a few wines paired with local raw oysters. The wine was decent, but the view and local food was the real treat. The dining room opened to beautiful green rolling hills lined with grape vines.

We later made our way to the second winery, Peacock Sky, which incorporated small pairings with each wine. This was the least favorite of the three wineries we visited, but still good. Finally, we stopped at Stoney Ridge for more wine and lunch. This was by far the best winery stop and we were given lunch, which was a delectable assortment of locally sourced dips, cheeses, and charcuterie items.

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Freshly harvested oysters accompanied our wine tastings at Thomas’s Bach.

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The view from the Thomas’s Bach restaurant and tasting area. The winery sits atop one of the highest points on the island allowing you to see the beautiful beaches and vineyards.

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For lunch we were served a delicious assortment of fresh cheese and charcuterie tastings which ended up being the best part of the tour.

I would highly recommend the food and wine tour. If you cannot schedule time for that, given it is a good half day at the least, I would absolutely take the ferry to Waiheke to see the tropical village town. The tour was great, but our local guide David really made it special offering a great history and insight to the island’s culture. We ended the day on Waiheke with some hand made gelato, per David’s suggestion.

If you only have a day or two in Auckland be sure to ferry over to Waiheke. Also make sure to stroll around the Britomart to grab brunch or just hang out on one of their bean bags while sipping coffee (and be sure to try that buffalo milk for me).

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Cheers!