Road Trip North Island: Waitomo Caves

Tuesday morning we picked up Fez, our trusty ride for the next two weeks, and hit the open road. On the left side. I had already been confused when Frank as the driver got in on the right side of the car, so imagine how I felt when we started driving. The soundtrack of our first 15 minutes consisted of me adjusting to exits being on the left, passing lanes on the right, and the fact that cars coming towards us in the lane my mind thought we should be in were not going to crash into us.

Which is all on video. I decided to GoPro video our entire road trip through New Zealand. I’ve been consistently taping the roads we’ve driven and activities we’ve done throughout these two weeks and am so excited to edit together a final video (which may take a while, please be patient). The variety of landscapes we have encountered is mindboggling and I hope it translates well on video.

The scenery in the North Island is satured with color. It’s all vibrant green hills dotted with white sheep underneath a stunningly blue sky. It’s a rolling meadows landscape in technicolor. And it really does look like The Shire. Unfortunately Lord of the Rings references are hard to avoid in NZ nowadays, and when you’re driving through it you can’t help but be amazed that what you saw on film actually looks like that in real life.

When I crowd-sourced recommendations for this month the Waitomo caves were a must-do adventure, so due to their proximity just 2 hours south of Auckland they were our first stop. We booked with a smaller, family-owned company Kiwi Cave Rafting because it gave us a little taste of everything for a reasonable price: we repelled into the cave, trudged up the river to pause underneath a sky of glowworms, tubed back down through a few minor rapids, did some cave trekking with a hot drink and chocolate break, rock climbed back out, and were rewarded for our efforts with a hot shower and tomato soup, all for a reasonable NZ $155. Other companies had wet and dry adventures as separate options and to do both cost at least $100 more. I think we made a great decision; without the combination of experiences it would have felt a little not worth the price, but doing all of it, and with a small group of just four of us and one guide, made for a very fun afternoon.

The caves were a great introduction to the craziness of New Zealand nature. Lit only by headlamps, we wandered past rocky stalagmites and stalactites, half submerged in a cold dark underground river. When we reached a pebble beach we turned off our lights to gaze at the sky of glowworms above us. They glittered like stars, which made for a trippy scene so far underground. We turned our lights back on and went to a section with a lower roof to see what they actually look like close up and their sticky strings that hang down to catch food – not quite as mesmerizing as they were in the dark.

The black water rafting part was pure fun: we got into black inner tubes and sailed down a river in the dark. Most of the trip was fairly calm, but in a few spots it picked up and sent us on an underground waterpark ride. Then our only choice was to hike back up to the cave entrance on, around and through the rocks lining the river. Our guide would send us through very small openings and take pictures of us squeezing our way out. Sorry I don’t have any of those, they cost extra of course (and GoPros were not allowed). We were all so excited with this trip to an underground world and I can see why it was so highly recommended. I would say it’s a worthy North Island stop.

We ended our first road trip day at the local watering hole for trivia night with a couple people from our hostel. It was a low key evening and we didn’t come close to winning, but it was still an entertaining way to toast the beginning of this adventure.

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