Waitomo to Rotarua

Waitomo to Rotarua

Waking up was easy in our airplane in Woodlyn Park! I was somewhat alert because, in the middle of the night, an animal was trying to get into our plane! It was rustling about outside and was probably a sheep but, after that, I was a light sleeper. My body was awake at 7 AM and our Waitomo Black Labyrinth cave spelunking tour was not until 10 AM.

We made toast for breakfast in our plane’s kitchen and got all packed up for the day ahead. We waited until the office was open at 8AM to drop our key off and the front desk guy assured us that we would have no issue hopping on an earlier cave tour. With that in mind, we drove over to the Black Water Rafting Co. check-in and were able to move up to the 9:30 tour. We hung out in the lobby and had some very expensively average coffee while we waited. WiFi has been pretty sparse in NZ so far so I took full advantage of that time waiting!

We were finally called out by our two guides for the 9:30 tour. There were ten of us on the tour and we had to get all suited up with very wet and cold gear before we could go to. Just to give you insight into how it felt, pretend like it is 45 degrees out and you are putting on very thick, wet socks, pants, and a jacket that are also like 40 degrees..and then add rain boots on top of that. We were looking gooood!

After a briefing, we headed out onto the bus to take us to the cave location. We all unloaded by a stream with a platform and the guide showed us how to jump backwards using our inner tube into the freezing water. We needed to practice outside so we could jump OVER WATERFALLS within the cave! So scary but awesome at the same time.

We took a trek down a path with our inner tubes and were at the cave head. There were rocks everywhere so figuring out footing was essential. There was no way I was going to twist an ankle before our big Tongariro hike! We got down into the cave and turned all of our headlights on. It was otherwise totally pitch black. The rock around us was so complex in shape and I was loving every minute of our walk through the water.

We got down to thigh level in the water and the rapid was so strong I almost took off at one point! We climbed up a rock platform and had to jump backwards with our butts in our tube out and down from a 7 foot waterfall. It was exhilarating!

Cave jumping for the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

After our waterfall jump, we lined up and grabbed the feet of the people behind us to form an “eel”. Little did I know, there were actually eels below us in the water…. But anyways, we turned all of our headlights off and looked up in the dark to see the absolute spectacle of the glowworms. They were everywhere and looked like blue constellations across the cave ceiling. All of the glow worms drop 20ish “fishing lines” that trap insects for the worms to eat. If you are ever in New Zealand, the Black Labyrinth tour is worth every penny and is a must do. You can kind-of see the glow worms in the photo below, but the quick flash camera does not do them justice at all!

Glow worms in the caves during the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

We were in the cave for about 2 hours and eventually floated our way out. It was cold and slightly drizzly outside but who cares when you are already soaked? We sloshed our way back to the HQ and had hot showers ready and waiting for us, the only trick was trying to get out of our gear when our hands were still totally frozen! Talk about hilariously awkward undressing!

The hot shower was probably one of the best showers I’ve ever had in my life – it felt so good to defrost! After we got dressed, there were toasted bagels and tomato soup waiting for us in the lobby. The soup was soooo yummy and warmed us up even more. What an amazing start to the day!

When we were ready, we hopped back into the car and took off on our two-hour drive to Rotorua for our Maori cultural experience. The drive through the country side was beautiful (as usual in NZ!) and we pulled up to a beautiful Wai Ora Resort right on the lake. We got a tour of the resort and were really happy with the room and the view of the lake. We also had some time to kill so we grabbed a bottle of wine and hopped in the hot tub for some relaxing.

The shuttle picked us up for the Takami Maori Experience at 5 PM and we were transported to the check-in area. We waited for about 15 minutes until our driver, Mark, arrived with a much bigger bus. Mark had a bunch of personality and said hello to us in 59 languages! He named each country and had 4-5 versions of “hello” / catch-phrases from each country in its native language with a perfect accent. He was pretty impressive and it took him all 15 minutes to get to the Takami Maori village to get through it all!

Once we arrived, we had to pick a tribe chief from our tour group who then led us to the entrance of the village to greet the Takami chief. The Takami villagers came out in a boat from the river and performed the Haka in front of us

Then, each of our selected chiefs had to accept the offering from the Takami chief so we could enter the village. Once that process was over, we were invited in and led to 5 different stations throughout the village where we learned about the traditions, houses, Haka dance, face tattoos, and how the Maori came to New Zealand. It was pretty interesting and worth going to.

After the learning stations, we were moved into the area where our food was being cooked in the ground. There was a huge hole in the ground where our food was placed, covered with burlap sacks and dirt, and left to cook for 3-4 hours! They pulled the food out and smelt so delicious!

While they were preparing our food, we were taken to watch and listen to traditional Maori singing and dancing. The songs were very catchy and the performers were excellent. The singing and dancing, traditions, dress, and even people looked very similar to Hawaiian people and culture. Apparently, the Polynesian people (including the Maior) all came from the same island that was separated / destroyed by tectonic plates. The people ended up on multiple islands across the pacific, like Hawaii and New Guinea, so they all come from the same ancestry! I had no idea!

Once the dancing was over, it was time for dinner! There was so much food consisting of 3 types of potatoes, carrots, chicken, lamb, muscles, and bread. It was pretty tasty too! We sat across from another couple from Texas and chatted with them about traveling with kids for the duration of dinner. It is always nice getting to know people from other walks of life while traveling.

Traditional dinner at the Maori Village in Rotorua, New Zealand

By this point, it was 9 PM and I was exhausted. As soon as we got back to the resort, I was in bed and asleep within minutes.

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Waitomo

Waitomo

With all of the jet lag and poor plane sleep, we slept for 12.5 hours straight in our little New Zealand bungalow! Since it was 70 degrees out the day before, we left one of the windows open while we slept. Little did we know that, at 7 AM, it going to be 30 degrees and, thus, so was our bungalow! I did not want to get out of bed!

After checking out of the Top Ten Hotel Hot Water Beach, we drove over to Hahei to park for our Cathedral Cove walk. The hike from the parking lot to Cathedral Cove was about an hour and we were ready to go in our hiking boots! While the hike itself had a peculiar start walking through a massive field in between houses and then continuing on a neighborhood side street, the morning view once the trail opened up to the beach was perfect.

We continued on the trail and went up, and up, and up a seaside cliff. Since it was so cold when we woke up, I wore a sweater and got pretty hot. Thankfully, my sweater had an open back for extra air conditioning! We walked up and down a total of three giant mountains to get to the Cove. It was a great workout! We even ran into our pool-friends from Hot Water Beach in the day prior!

The views along the hike were insane…

The cove itself was so pristine and empty – going to tourist attractions early really is the best way to beat the crowds and have a truly intimate experience.

The Cathedral entrance was huge and it was so cool to walk through. Definitely worth the hike and the hike back.

We worked up a big appetite on the hike and went into Hahei town for some lunch. We stopped at a Café and I had a delicious muesli, berry compote, and yogurt dish and Ryan had an excellent bacon and egg bagel.

After lunch, we stopped off at the market to get groceries for breakfast / lunches over the next few days and some wine for night caps. All of our hotels had kitchen areas which made meal prepping easy and what a better excuse to eat PB&J’s every day than a road trip?

We walked back to the car and were off on our 2.5 hour drive to Waitomo. The drive was so twisty and turny but I couldn’t believe the landscape. I am officially in love with New Zealand!

Waitomo is located in the upper-mid-west of New Zealand and is known for its glow-worm caves and we were staying the night for our “Black Labyrinth” cave spelunking tour in the morning. In my research for hotels, I stumbled across the Woodlyn Park motel which had a bunch of really cool sleeping experiences in hobbit houses, planes, trains, and ships! After seeing those accommodation options, we decided an average hotel wasn’t going to cut it and opted to stay in an old war plane instead. Our room just happened to be in the cockpit of the airplane too! Something totally different and cool. Go big or go home right?

Upon check-in, the receptionist suggested we check out Marokopa Falls and Mangapohue Natural Bridge if we didn’t have evening plans. It was still light out so we figured it was “adventure time!” and so we hopped back in the car for the 30 minute drive and ten minute jungle walk to Marokopa Falls. I was not expecting much but OH MY GOD. It was like something out of Jurassic Park. I literally was trying not to tear up at how amazing it was and how overwhelmed I felt about this trip so far.

Marokopa Falls in New Zealand

We hung out at the falls for about 15 minutes to take it all in. There was only one other couple that came and went too so it was basically private which was nice for reflection.

After the falls, we drive back to Mangapohue – and under ground cavern where 90% of the roof collapsed. It was massive and the “bridge” that was left was amazing to see. From the top connecting points, you would have no idea there was a cavern underneath.

We took a little walk after the cavern to see some oyster fossils and then jumped back in the car to head to dinner. Based on the awesome suggestion record of our Woodlyn Park check-in lady, we decided to go to Huhu Cafe for dinner. It was empty at 5:30 when we arrived, but was full within the next 15! We got a table and opted to share a few things – the bread, pear salad, and crispy pork. Oh my, was it good!

We devoured the deliciousness that would have cost us double in the US, and were in awe of how good it was in such a rural location. We tried to get dessert but the service took fooorever so we opted to head back to our plane instead and prep for our big, cavernous day tomorrow.