Don't know why I've got a photo of a polynesian sunset come up - but never mind. Yes, it's technophobe Stuart here to let you in on our latest adventures. After the marvellous day in Rotorua and the exam results we set off yesterday with Lynne, Jim and Lydia to Waitomo Caves, about 150 km south west of Tauranga.
We had arranged to stay a place that is billed as one of the ten most amazing motels in the world. It's called Woodlyn Park and it's the dream-child of a crazy Kiwi called Billy Black who runs his own Kiwi Culture show which involves sheep shearing, exploding logs, a dancing pig and a NZ bear (which apparently is a possum). We didn't go to the show, however, but did stay in one of his theme motels. We had a choice of staying in his hobbit, plane, train or ship motels. We originally wanted the hobbit motel, but that wasn't available so we had opted for the ship. And when we arrived, there it was - a ship, in the middle of a field in the middle of the NZ countryside. It is an old ferry which he bought a few years ago and somehow got up to his house - he has built a ship superstructure on top of the old ferry hull, and we were staying it.
I was in a room in the original ship, so the wall was bulkheads with portholes. Naomi and Lydia wer enxt door, in a similar room but with authentic bunks set into the bulkheads. The bathroom was next door to that, with a posh wet-room shower and all the fittings, set into the front of the ship. Jim and Lynne were on the next floor up, with a double bedroom with a full width window like on the bridge of a ship. Upstairs again was the living room and kitchenette which again looked like e bridge of a ship, but with a full patio door instead of a wheel and instruments, which opened out onto a balcony. It was excellent!
The following morning we looked round the others: a train carriage that wasn't really anything different from what you would expect - an interior a bit like on a canal boat; the hobbit one was cool, with hobbit pictures on the walls and a big bed that looked fun to sleep in, but not as much space as we had had; and the plane which was a freighter which had served in the Vietnam War, which looked a bit cramped but would have been different!
We had arranged with the owners to be shown a woodland walk which included places whwere there were glowworms. This is what Waitomo is particularly famous for, so we went on the walk with some excitement. The only trouble was that it was pitch dark and we were in the middle of a rain forest. And my torch exploded as we got to the car park and wouldnt work properly, so we just had Jim's torch. We set off in line into the darkness. The path was a bit muddy but decently set out so we couldn't really get lost - we thought. Remember it's pitch black, and we're in the middle of a forest so thick you can't even see the stars. Off we went and quickly saw a few glowworms on the side of what became a steep-sided canyon. We kept going round the circular footpath, with Jim holding the torch in front, and me stumbling on in the dark at the back. "There's a tree branch on the right" Thud "Ah yes, that was it"... "Mind the path here, there appears a bit of a drop on the right hand side"... But I didn't fall down any cliff and we emerged intact at the end of it all. But we saw some more glowworms at various points as we climbed up and down the sides of this canyon, with the constant sound of the rushing water in the river, which was obviously rather rapid-like below us. We went through natural tunnels in the rock on two occasions, with stalactites ready to be bumped into, especially by blind people at the back! There was one bit where we followed the wrong track and ended up a bit confused but found our way back to the car park. It had been a hoot.
We then tried to find the recommended restaurant but couldn't find it so we went to the only eating place in Waitomo centre (well - calling it a centre is a bit of an exaggeration, because there are only about ten building in Waitomo itself). It was called and was a bit like a Wild West redneck bar, but it served excellent food. I had Sammy which turned out to be the biggest sandwich I have ever seen, with hunks of beef and bacon and tomato and salad and BBQ sauce, with potato wedges. The portions everyone else had were huge too - and there was a strange cat there that kept crawling along the floor on its side using the skirting boards as a sort of indoor climbing wall. Again - wonderful, but we got back to the ship and just fell into bed because it had all been so exhlarating.
The next morning, after having a lot of fun exploring the other motels and getting lots of funny photos in our own we went back to the site of the glowworm walk we had done the previous evening, and were surprised to see the walk in the daylight, climbing up and down the gorge with some of the drops that we could have easily slipped down actually being hundreds of feet, and unsupported by handrails and rather dangerous. The natural tunnels and caves actually looked just as dangerous in the light and Lynne managed to crack her head on one of the stalactites. We also found another cave we had missed which was enormous and which the river rushed through in a torrent. It was excellent again, and we realised how steep the walk was in a way we hadn't the night before when we were stumbling along in the dark.
After a spot of lunch we then decided to go to the famous Waitomo Glowworm caves, which cost an arm and a leg but were really what the place is renowned for. We fibbed about how old the girls were so it cost us NZ$125 instead of 175 (52 quid instead of 72!) because we could get a family pass. Mind you, the girls are pretty good at acting like they are under 15! The caves were spectacular, long tunnels full of stalactites and stalagmites in all kinds of weird shapes and sizes - some of the caverns were massive. When we stopped to get into the boats to see the glowworm cavern I nipped back to take a (forbidden) photo and got told off by another guide coming into the cavern, which was quite amusing but then I got told off by Naomi. It didn't help that every time I tried to turn the camera off I kept hitting the wrong button and taking another flash photo instead! And the photo didn't come out anyway...
We then got in the boats and immediately realised the seats were wet through with drips from the cave roof. Some of us managed to tuck our coats underneath us but the Bennetts all got wet bums. Then we set off for the shortest boat trip in the world. We went backwards about five metres, then round a corner for about five metres, looked at the thousands of glowworms shining at us on the roof and sides of the cave, hen went back to the jetty. Lynne had been having the heeby jeebies about the boat trip because she doesn't like fast rides on water which threaten to capsize at any moment, so this was hilarious in its lack of danger or thrills. The caverns and the glowworms were good to see, but it didn't really justify its admission price. Never mind, we were all tourists for this one!
The trip has been a wonderful one - all of us holidaying for 24 hours together, going to a place new for all of us and having a hoot in a zany motel.
Tomorrow we shall be getting ourselves sorted out and eventually packing, because on Monday morning we shall collect our hire car and drive up to Auckland Airport for the 5.10pm flight to Fiji.