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.

Advertisements

Seina, Italy

Seina, Italy

I don’t know what is worse news; waking up to heard that your travel guide is MIA, or waking up to hear that your guide is missing who has the breakfast vouchers! Apparently, our guide was out and about with some of the group until 5 AM and slept through endless knocking and texts until we broke into his room to rouse him! With Dario in tow, we scarfed down some nibbles and took off our Siena.

Siena is just beautiful. Rolling hills, gorgeous old buildings…  stereotypical Italy that any painter would want as their subject. In trend with all of Italy’s other cities, it also has a massive basilica dedicated to St. Catherine, however, it actually had St. Catherine’s remains on display inside which was a little different. The streets in Siena are very hilly and lined with various flowers and flags from all of the different districts that make up the city. Every year, these districts participate in two-horse races in the track in the middle of Siena, called the Palio di Siena, which people from all over the world come to see! Unfortunately, we were not there at the right time of year to watch, but if you visiting Italy between July and August, you should definitely check it out!

We stopped for lunch and sat outside of a little restaurant on random street we wandered down during our free time. As we progressed through our meal, dull thuds reverberating through the streets started getting louder and clearer to hear, and it turned out that the district we were having lunch in was having a parade! There were about 50 people dressed up in their traditional garb with their district flags flying high! It was so neat to see the locals traditions in-person like that.

Eventually, we made our way back to the main square where the horse races take place, the Piazza del Campo, and hopped on the bus for Assisi. About 20 minutes into the bus ride, we realized we were missing to of the more wondering-off types in our tour, and we had to go back to Siena to pick them up. Major bummer from a timing perspective, but at least they were OK.

I took a nap on the bus to Assisi. We arrived and took an escalator up to the top of the steep hill on which Assisi stands, and walked to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi; yet another astonishing catholic building filled with incredible art and sculptures. We quickly toured the church as a darkening sky and the rumbling of distant thunder warned of the impending downpour. All of a sudden, we were in a race against the rain and huge gusts of wind to get to our hotel and unload our bags from the bus before getting soaked! Thankfully, my bag was one of the first to get unloaded, so I was able to remain somewhat dry during the luggage battle up to our room on the 4th floor. What a sight it was watching the rain run over the beautiful view we had from our hotel window!

Once the storm dissipated to an acceptable umbrella level, a few of us ventured off into the streets of Assisi to find a spot for dinner. We ended up finding this French-ish Italian restaurant that was decorated like the inside of a doll house… That should have been our first warning. I got sat in front of some really creepy dolls that wouldn’t stop watching us and a TV near by was playing a very dramatic, old Italian soap opera show. Not only was there a creepy factor, but we could see the waiters SMOKING in the kitchen! Unfortunately, we had already ordered at that point and my scrumptious sounding meal came out as a soggy, truffle, mushroom, and bacon mess. How do you screw those ingredients up so badly?! We paid way to much for our meals, I guess entertainment was included, and left to find a market to buy Pringle’s to fill us up and wine to finish off the night.

Creepy dolls in the French / Italian restaurant in Assisi, Italy

Siena Tips:

  • Watch the Palio di Siena horse races in July & August.
  • Explore the different districts to encounter surprise parades, see the differences in the decorations and flags, eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and stop into enchanting little shops.
  • Take silly pictures with scenic views!