A late start today as we have only 150 km to go to the Waitomo Glow-worm caves. The day starts out hot and sunny but deteriorates into light rain and cloud as we climb into the mountains. Then as we get closer to the coast and Waitomo it once again turns into a lovely hot day. The coolness of the caves and their constant 16C temperature will be very welcome.
Waitomo township is a Maori community of only 300 people. The name Waitomo come from Wai (water) and Tomo (entrance/hole). The Maori refer to this as the stream which flows into the hole in the ground. We have arranged to visit the Aranui Cave, a prehistoric limestone cage full of stalactites and stalagmites.
Our guide is Aroha (pronounced like Aloha), the great granddaughter of the Maori chief Tinorau, who along with an English man Fred Mace discovered the caves into 1887. Tinorau was the first to guide people into the cave starting in 1889 when the only entrance was from the river. Here the tour would take 4-5 hours climbing up rope ladders to see the cave and the glow-worms.
The stalactites and stalagmites are very amazing. One drop every 1 ½ minutes or so which means they grow one inch every 500 years. The Stalactites drop water and limestone to the cave floor forming the stalagmites ultimately joining up to form columns.
In the middle of the cave is one of five Cathedral Chambers in the world where the acoustics are perfect. Perfect sound, no echo. So, our little group gives it a try with “Twinkle Twinkle”. They have held 9 weddings in the chamber and every Christmas hold special carol concerts.
We now head into the glow-worm area. First Aroha shares the story of the Glow-worm. They are found only in NZ and four states of Australia. They are the second stage larva of the fungus net fly. They live in this state for 9 months and move quickly through the final 2 stages. The adult in fact dies very quickly, 5 day maximum for the male and 5 hours for the female. The problem being they have no mouth and starve to death if not caught in their own children’s feeding line.
The feed similar to a spider excreting a feeding line. Insects fly into the caves and head to the glow of the worms to escape the dark and find themselves trapped in the sticky line and paralyzed. The glow worm sleep in what appears to be a hammock and when an insect is caught on the line it vibrates allowing them to lazily come out and eat their dinner. They do not eat often as one sand flea every 3½ days is sufficient.
After our walk we all get in a boat and out into the river where the roof is covered in glow worms. They are territorial and do not really like to be near each other but over the years have got used to each other and in the large volume areas are no more than an inch apart. It is all very amazing.
After a light lunch we head to the town of Otorohanga and the Kiwi House. This is primarily a bird sanctuary, but they do have forms of geckos, eels and tuatara. More on it later.
We arrive just in time for the Kiwi talks in the Night house. They off course are nocturnal, and they have created houses that make them think it is night time but allow you to visit with a low light. Unfortunately, there is a power outage and you cannot see a single thing. How disappointing, hopefully they will come back on once we have wander around.
We stay at least to hear about the kiwi. First that they tend to digest stones. This is a breed and release facility all about trying to increase the numbers in the wild. Prior to the Europeans arriving there were 12M kiwi and now there is only 58,000. They introduced predators like possums and yes, cats and dogs. They are a flightless bird as prior to this they had no real predators.
Now in the wild 95% die before reaching 6 months old without pest control. With pest control they are down to 50%. Dogs are now the worst predator. There is a new program in place to try and get the hunting community to help out. They have created fake kiwi, that look and smell like kiwi, but emit an electric shock when touched. This way they hope to train the dogs to not want to hunt the kiwi.
While cute, kiwis are actually very aggressive animals, attacking with their feet. Because of this they never have more than 2 in a single pen. Their nostrils are right down at the end of their long beaks and they use their whiskers to find their way around as they are almost blind.
The female lays one egg every 25 days that is so large it would be the equivalent of a human giving birth to a four-year-old. She does not hatch the egg, but rather the smaller male sits on the egg and sometimes two if the next one is laid before the other hatches. At birth they have all their feathers and facilities and are kicked out of the nest right away.
Disappointed at our nob viewing we walk around the rest of the enclosures and see some wonderful different birds included the grey/white oyster catcher without the usual orange beak, the Morepork owl, NZ Falcons, Kakariki a breed of parakeet, the Pig Goose who chases the yellow faced glover out of his pen and both Forest and Mountain Parrots.
The most interesting to me, is the Tuatara, a living fossil. They are the only survivors of a group of reptiles that roamed the earth with the dinosaurs. They have not changed in over 225 million years. There are two here and we are lucky enough to see both.
We go back to the Kiwi Shed to see if he or she has moved to the front of the glass. The lights are still not, and we are the only ones in there. I tried to use the flashlight on my phone to see farther back but still not luck. Everyone decides to move on, but I try one more time with the phone right against the glass and their she is … much larger than I thought.
I call the others to come back and remove the light till they arrive. Fortunately, when I shine it back, she is still there and moving toward the food bowl. We all finally see the elusive Kiwi …
As we are leaving another one comes out in the other nocturnal area, but it is difficult to see as it darts back and forth along the back wall. At times all you catch is a glimpse of his beak. A good day as we were starting to think we were never going to see one ...let alone two.
We go to check into our B&B only to find out the side that Bob, Jan, Gail and I are staying in has two other rooms and only one bath. And there are other guests coming!! We contemplate finding something else but, in the end, decide to just share. Our two new friends turn out to be a lovely young couple from Minnesota, Paige and Jamie. As it is the first day, they go to there room very early and we do not see them again till breakfast.
No one wants to be the designated driver, so we opt for Chinese Takeaway and get plastic plates and utensils to have back at the B&B. We decide to order two dishes for each couple and then Bob throws in a Vegetable for good measure. When we get our food, each order is huge, and we end up throwing at least a third of it away. A waste for sure.
Not long after the food is cleaned up most of the gang heads for their rooms. It has been a busy day and we had a late night the day before. Tomorrow we are off to Hobbiton in the morning and then a long 6 hour drive up to the top and the Bay of Islands.