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.
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.
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/