New Zealand Diaries #14 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 17, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 12: Glowworms! Cave! Amazing room!

9 Jan. What a day! Up early, eat in our room, check out around 07:45. It’s only 25 minutes to Charleston, even with missing one of the turns. We arrive just as the cafe opens. I get a hot cocoa, we fill out paperwork, and watch others arrive. There are only 4 of us on the “scenic tour”, while there are a dozen or so people doing the underground rafting. They all have to be kitted out with full 5 mm wetsuits: overalls, jacket, socks, booties, helmet. We are given helmets with LED lights on the front. A guide takes us on a short ride in the “dry bus” since we aren’t getting wet. Ten or so minutes into a national park. We stop at the car park at the end and get onto a small train platform out in the midst of a glade.

There is a narrow train track running into the forest, and we follow it back into a…shipping container? Yes! They use a shipping container as secure storage for the train. Right at the platform is a secondary line where an extra train car rests. Our guide unlocks the container, starts up the wee train engine, and pulls the train and a few cars out of the container towards the platform. The larger van of rafters shows up, we all pile into the train cars, and we putt-putt along the tracks into a rainforest. It’s beautiful, green, humid, with leaves right up to the sides of the cars. There is a stream wandering back and forth and a walking trail (they call hiking trails “tramping trails”) which crosses the train tracks several times. We eventually reach a second platform.

Our guide leads us through more woods for about 10-15 minutes walking through the trees. Along the way to the cave entrance we climb 130 steps. These aren’t neat stairs, but boards attached vertically to the ground to make risers, with no treads but the dirt. It requires some physical fitness! Then we reach the cave entrance. There is a pair of professional videographers tagging along for some reason; they stopped partway through the caves.

The cave entrance has a gate since the cave is restricted to Department of Conservation folks, cave society members, and tour groups. Our guide (forgot her name!) is a pleasant Kiwi. The two other tourists are a young Austrian couple. The gate is unlocked, and locked behind us again. We turn on our helmet lights, and off we go into the cave!

I’ve not done any real spelunking or cave exploring, and this was not a touristy cave with a boardwalk and handrails. There were ropes along the ground to show the path, and that was it. The only lights were on our heads. It was so cool! The stalactites and stalagmites were incredible. There was a formation they called “cave coral”. Some places looked like brick walls with white growths on reddish-brown rock. One room was the “giraffe room” for its patterning. There are few intersections, not easy to lose your way. A gentleman owned the property the cave was on, and found the larger back entrance. His dog went in, and he followed the dog with a candle and a box of matches! Scary thought in a cave with active water flowing into it. It does occasionally flood up to the ceiling in places.

We go through gorgeous galleries and caverns, keeping to the path, occasionally having to climb up or down rocks. Wet places are very slippery. One area is the “Hall of Refugees” with a line of short stalagmites maybe a foot or so tall leading up to a tall formation that sort of resembles a king or queen. It is a comfortable temperature: we take our jackets off to avoid sweating in the very humid air. Mostly the cave is natural, but in some places the Boy Scouts carved paths in the ’60s. In a freshwater pond we saw an eel! Maybe 15-16″ long. Also a fish, don’t know what type.

Then we head into a smaller gallery, and our guide asks us to turn off our headlamps. Oh my. Suddenly we were looking up at a galaxy of stars, just a few feet above our heads. No light but the small greenish bioluminescent back-ends of the worms. They drop sticky strands for a few inches, and their bums glow to attract food, mostly flies and such. One worm had fallen and we were able to locate it with our lights on: it was no longer than a fingernail! We also saw a real weta, a cave weta, maybe as long as a finger joint. Cool!

As we were walking towards the end of the cave system, we see light, then more light. Come around a corner to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We were at the back where the other cave entrance comes in, and were looking at a 30 foot circular opening with amazingly lush green foliage all over, and a natural waterfall sprinkling down from a hole in the ceiling. After the dark and muted cave the richness of the greens was exhilarating. It took my breath away when we first saw it.

We walked up a small ramp to another gallery where we saw more glowworms. It’s indescribably cool. We reversed our trip through the cave, with Kelly navigating as the guide pretends that she isn’t good at finding her way around. We get to our original entrance, the guide unlocks and relocks the door, and we head down, down, down the 130 steps. Stop on the large swingbridge to watch for the rafters coming down the river. We are well ahead of them, so we enjoy the sun on the bridge. Then more folks show up, and I start getting nervous. The bridge says there is a load limit of 10 people, so when number 11 comes along, I get off. The rafters (well, tubers really, but that sounds like they were potatoes) in their tubes come along down and we all head back to the train platform.

The folks in their soggy wet suits join us in the train cars and a guide passes out a bin of juice boxes. Most everyone grabs one: either blackcurrant or orange/mango. Tastes good! Then the train ride back, the bus ride back (we appreciate the dry van now!), and then into our car. Kelly purchased a bright red golf shirt from them–one of our mementos! It was a splendid time!

We drive back towards Charleston, but detour at a sign suggesting that it is only 16 km to “Cape Foulwind and Seal Colony”. That just sounds too good to resist. There is a seal colony, with parents and pups coming in from the water. The pups are adorable again, we stay quite a while. It is rather aromatic, though I don’t know if the name is from the fierceness of the wind or the seal smell.

Kelly takes over driving for a while. We stop for a breather and a pint of Monteith’s somewhere–I really have no idea where. Then into Nelson. I take over for the city driving–it’s ironic since Kelly always does city driving when we’re at home. We are staying at Warwick House which is stunningly beautiful. Built in the 1850s, there are only four or five suites. We have the Tower Suite with a separate “gin and tonic” room, a two-story-high octagonal tower. There is a Peacock Suite, a Bayview Room, and at least one more on the lower level. The ambiance is peaceful and just plain civilized! A tub so long Kelly can’t brace his feet to sit up in it; lavender soap and shampoo, comfy chairs with sheepskins in the tower, a gorgeous bed. There are more doors in this suite than our first apartment! (Well, there weren’t any actual doors in our first apartment, so that’s not saying much.) Magazines in the room have articles on Warwick House and the proprietors, Jenny & Nick Ferrier. Jenny greeted us, and we met Nick in the morning.

We walk out for dinner and end up at a pub where there is Musical Bingo going on. They play songs on the TV/stereo and you check off when your song titles play. Silly trivia, the servers are all wearing red cowboy hats, fun atmosphere but loud. Walk back to the room in sprinkling rain. Then it turns to real rain, and as we reach the corner store looking for wine it becomes a downpour. And the store was closed. Kelly is still in his not-really-waterproof coat. He behaves like a soggy cat: cranky and growly and just pathetic. We have cider in the room in our tower suite. Enjoy a good bath, sit up and read and enjoy the peace of the place. Very restful!

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.