When I last left off, I had just arrived into New Zealand with a terrible hangover.
From that point on, the mishaps only continued.
We had a lovely couple of days in Auckland, visiting nearby Waiheke Island and wandering round the city. However, we did end up with very soggy trainers, after being caught in an unexpected downpour on a hike through Waiheke’s rolling green hills – which are presumably that green because of the frequency of said downpours.
New Zealand weather has been pretty kind to us so far, but we have learnt several lessons:
- Layer up.
- Always take a waterproof.
- Don’t assume that the weather you can currently see with your eyes will be a good representation of the weather over the following few hours.
- If in doubt, assume at some point it will be a) cold, b) rainy or c) both.
Rhys summed it up very well the other day when I asked if anyone knew the weather forecast for that day: ‘No, but I imagine probably sunny spells interspersed with sudden and unexpected downpours.’
Our initial impression of New Zealand, even in the South Island’s supposedly ‘less beautiful’ cousin, is that it is bloody spectacular. This has led to us doing a whole tonne of walking (Caitlin has changed a LOT since the girl I knew back when we were inter railing: the girl who would take frequent rest stops even when wandering round museums). Even our so far fairly brief excursions have led to plenty of spots where all you want to do is cast down your bag, spread out the (metaphorical) picnic blanket, and sit gazing at the horizon for hours. It’s just fantastically green above all else: vibrant, fresh green, the-saturation’s-up-too-high green. The whole country is begging to be photographed, basically, and I’m sorry for the imminent Instagram spam.
After our swift excursion to Waiheke, we ran out of time in Auckland, so packed our bags and readied ourselves for our early bus to Waitomo the next day.
Our meticulous planning saw our departure run totally smoothly: up at half 6, showered, teeth brushed and remaining bits packed safely in bags. Kitchen closed, oops, never mind, who needs breakfast. Hostel left briskly, lift doesn’t work so we’ll take the stairs, plenty of time to walk to the bus for 7.15.
Front door to the hostel safely locked, off we go marching smartly down the street … ah.
I’ve left my phone on my bed.
I ran back, the door was locked, I didn’t know the code. I waited hopefully for some other early-leaver to helpfully open the door for me, but to no avail.
I walked down to the bus stop with the others anyway, but decided that having my phone was more important than getting that particular bus, so waved Caitlin and Rhys off and went back to collect it from the hostel and book another bus. $28 for being a stupid moron. Fair price.
A few hours later we were all reunited (phones in hand) in Hamilton, our pit stop before Waitomo. Weirdly, there wasn’t a way to do a very popular route (Auckland-Waitomo) direct with our bus pass, so we had roughly six hours to kill.
And what else does one do when stranded in a town with huge bags in tow, but go to the cinema and eat Nando’s?
(I would thoroughly recommend going to see Their Finest, by the way. If only because Sam Claflin is beautiful. Though be prepared to cry, because SPOILER ALERT what with it being a war film and all, people die.)
After that we caught the bus to Waitomo, home of the famous glow worm caves, for one of the longest stays we are going to get in the North Island – two whole nights. We got off the bus and walked uncertainly in the direction we thought our hostel was in, before being picked up by a friendly local who drove us about thirty seconds further on.
Juno YHA was beautiful, with outdoorsy vibes: all wood-panelled walls and board games and comfy, well-worn sofas. Luckily it was also equipped with a campsite-style shop (i.e. overpriced and understocked), because Waitomo, population 500, has no supermarket.
Unsurprisingly, we had not factored this in.
That night we ate at Roselands restaurant – the only viable option for us really, as it had a free shuttle service. We had been convinced by the hostel receptionist to go for the ‘all you can eat buffet’, which was somewhat oversold (the ‘buffet’ consisted of rice, roast potatoes and curry), but was pretty delicious nonetheless. I’m particularly glad we went because just below the restaurant we saw our first glow worms, with a mini-guided tour from the restaurant owner. He also took great delight in pointing out and prodding at the massive creepy spiders that apparently like to hang out near glow worm caves. Not my favourite thing.
The stars up at the top of the hill, where the restaurant was located, were fantastic. I saw the Milky Way for (possibly?) the first time ever, and decided that this is how I always want to see stars: out in their millions in the cold, clear air, uninterrupted by the light pollution of city streets and car headlamps.
We went to bed full and content, and were up bright and early for a brisk walk through the countryside. The old lady sharing our room seemed to find it hilarious when we tried and failed to get up for 7, but we did manage to set off by half 8 which is altogether reasonable.
Unsurprisingly the walk was muddy (have I mentioned it rains a lot in New Zealand?), and once again Rhys’ shoes were not particularly helpful, seeing him slipping and sliding his way up (and down) the surrounding hills. He bravely went first on the descent, got stuck on a particularly steep section, and his adoring girlfriend showed her support by laughing hysterically from a vantage point several meters above.
After we got back from our bracing walk, we headed to the main attraction: the glow worm caves. We had booked the intimidatingly named ‘Black Labyrinth’ tour, which was to involve clambering and wading and jumping off (small) waterfalls and such things.
I have to say it was an amazing, if bizarre, afternoon. Floating along inside a cave to see phosphorescent bugs is not something I was particularly looking for when I came travelling, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Glow worms are the weirdest thing, like blue alien stars blooming in the darkness, glittering down from above.
Aside from the glow worm-gazing, the caving was fairly intense, involving quite a lot of getting wet and cold and trusting the guides with our lives. Caitlin’s particular fear was falling foul of a pleasant-sounding feature of the caves called ‘the Human Blender’. Thankfully we all managed to avoid it.
On balance, though, one of the most strenuous parts of the whole tour was putting on and taking off the wetsuits we all had to wear. I do not look good in a wetsuit.
Later, while playing an rogue game of tennis with a guy who worked for the Black Water Rafting Company, we found out that our group had been referred to as the “problem” group, largely because of the three of us: one asthmatic, one scared of heights, and one claustrophobic.
Just what you want in a group of people about to enter a small, cramped cave filled with water.
He also cheerfully informed us that the water gauge – how they measure whether or not the tours can go ahead – has to be at 55 for the tour to be cancelled. The level before our tour was 48. We felt quite intrepid once we heard that.
We had to endure a fairly a stressful bus journey back from the caves, as we had been repeatedly told not to pee in our wet suits, and, obedient as we are, Caitlin and I were both busting for the toilet. After getting changed out of our wet suits (with difficulty), and peeing, we all regrouped for our complimentary soup and bagel. Naturally we disregarded the sign warning us to limit ourselves to just one bagel, like the rebels we are.
After several helpings, we headed back hostel-wards, to board games and an early night. Another early bus awaited: back to Hamilton (yippee!) and then on to Rotorua, for geysers and redwood forest walks, and a quick trip to Hobbiton.
Isn’t New Zealand brill?