Monday, February 18, 2008

New Zealand: The Waitomo Caves

Located deep in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, miles of pastoral bliss pass you by as you travel your way through the twisting country roads – grassy knolls, placidly munching sheep and big, blue sky. This scene repeats itself over and over again, grass/sheep/sky…grass/sheep/sky…grass/sheep/sky like some bucolic version of an M.C. Escher tessellation come to life.

Out here you will find the Waitomo Caves, a three hour drive from Auckland and famous for its system of underground rivers and glow worm grotto. The caves boast a natural auditorium nicknamed “the Cathedral” whose ceiling height soars hundreds of feet above the ground, the acoustics so perfect that the legendary Vienna Boys Choir has performed here amidst the thousand year old stalactites and stalagmites, their voices reverberating against the cavern walls. However, the real piece de resistance is the glow worm grotto itself, available only to those who will travel by boat or tube through the wending underground river system to the innermost recesses of the cave. Here there is no light save for that of the blue-green twinkle of the glow worms hanging up above – appearing like billions of tiny stars in a night sky. To glide through the water with your head back, staring at this constellation of sparkling creatures in silence is something that should not be missed, especially if you are already on the North Island.

Details: Caves are open daily, 9-5 every day of the year. Sadly, no photography or video is allowed inside the caves as it disturbs the glow worms, but it’s such a magical experience that it would be difficult to forget. Most people choose to stay in Auckland and make the caves a day trip as there’s not much else to do out here; however for those who’d prefer to stay overnight in the area there are a few options: for something on the swankier side there's the Waitomo Caves Hotel or for those on a tight budget there's a local Hostel. For a fun, cheap camping option check out Wicked Campers which are great for road trips around the country. You can also rent them in Australia as well. If you have children, a quick stop at the nearby Otorohanga Kiwi House, a native bird zoo featuring over twenty New Zealand species along with exhibits on local vegetation would make a lovely side trip.

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