It was with great excitement that we arrived in Waitomo. The glowworm caves were one of the first (non Lord of the Rings related) places to make it on my list of things to do in New Zealand. There are a number of companies that run tours to different caves in Waitomo. I can’t tell you what all of the differences are, but some of them run rafting tours in addition to cave tours. They are all concentrated in one area, so it’s easy to pop in and see what they have to offer, though during the summer it may be advisable to book ahead.
A tiny town has sprung up in Waitomo around the tourist trade that includes a campground, a handful of restaurants and some cute hotels. We tried to stop by the Morepak Pizzeria for dinner, but it was closed, so we walked over to HUHU Cafe instead. We ended up being really glad the pizza place was closed because the food at HUHU was outstanding. We had been eating canned food in the camper for a few days, so we were both craving something substantial. For Kris that meant a steak and veggies…and for me it meant the chicken and veggies off the kids menu. Xander had a bit of both.The next morning, we walked from the campsite to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre to do our tour. They don’t allow photography in the caves. This is mostly to prevent dummies from disturbing the worms by trying to use their flash, but I think it’s also because it’s dark in the caves and you’re moving on a boat, so the pictures would be terrible without a flash. Here is an image taken from the Waitomo tourist website that shows what it looks like in the caves:Or…this one of Chinese actress Liu Shishi in one of her pre-wedding photos. The Visitor Centre has a large, recognizable canopy that perplexed the vampire (me) a bit. Why build something that looks like a shade structure but then have it let the sun through? I have to remember that not everyone hides from the sun!We purchased our tickets for the next available tour, which was departing in about twenty minutes. They have a cafe and a restaurant, so we grabbed some tea and Kris entertained Xander by showing him the trees.
Twenty minutes was just long enough for us to realize that taking Xander on a tour of the caves with other people in the mood he was in was a terrible idea. In the last few weeks, he had become hyper aware of everything around him, and was beginning to gesture and babble about the things that he saw.
It has been fascinating to watch him start to engage with us about the things that he sees…unfortunately this engagement doesn’t have a volume control. The more excited, intrigued, or frustrated he gets, the louder he becomes. The caves were likely to do all three since being on a boat would lead to excitement, strange new glowy lights would intrigue him, and then he would be frustrated because he couldn’t touch them…or the water…or the cave walls. I started giggling picturing it just as they started calling for our tour group to depart. I could see from Kris’s face that he was on exactly the same page.
When we bought the tickets, the woman had pointedly told us that if we couldn’t keep Xander quiet enough, they would ask us to get off the boat. Part of me wanted to go on the tour knowing it was bound to happen just to see how exactly they would do that, but common sense prevailed. We didn’t even need to discuss it. I asked Kris if I should go get a refund, and he agreed it was a good idea. Bye bye, glowworm caves!A few weeks earlier, we probably would have been determined to give it a shot, but travel has taught us that sometimes it’s best to trust your instincts and abort the plan. We don’t have anything to prove.
We headed back towards the camper and stopped at the Waitomo General Store for cheese toasties instead. I’m sure the caves would have been nice, but our cheese toasties were delicious and we were all relaxed and happy.
After lunch, Xander was thrilled to ride up high and check out some more trees… And a sweet Maori canoe…And a slide…And a trampoline! He had a fantastic day and could make all the noise he wanted.The following day, the plan was to check out the Otorohanga Kiwi House. We grabbed breakfast at the most excellent O Cafe in the town of Otorohanga first. We planned to just pick up something quick, but their menu was so appealing it turned into a multi-course, sit-down breakfast!Otorohanga is a really nice little town that feels very community centered. I was a fan.
The Otorohanga Kiwi House is a native bird park with a massive walk through aviary, a duck pond, and indoor kiwi houses where you can see the elusive, nocturnal kiwi during the day. They do feedings and keeper talks throughout the day, so almost any time you visit, there is bound to be something you can catch.
Our main goal was to see a kiwi, but the image below is about as close as we got. As soon as we got into the kiwi house, it became apparent that it was another unfair situation to put Xander in. It was a strange new environment, and he wanted to make a bunch of noise about it. The whole idea of the enclosure is to simulate the quiet dark of night and to make the kiwi comfortable so they’ll come out and eat. We quickly fled before he scared the poor birds to death. The duck pond was way more his style! The ducks were so busy battling one another, they didn’t even notice Xander making noise.My favorite enclosure was the New Zealand falcons. When we first walked up, we hadn’t spotted either of them yet, but she had definitely spotted us. Her egg was on the ground next to this window, and she was not amused by us standing there. She flew straight at us, ready to attack. Her ferocity was magnificent. Here is the male of the pair keeping an eye on us from his perch, but letting his lady handle the rough stuff. The New Zealand falcon can fly at speeds over 100 km/hr, and can take down prey larger than itself. There is something alluringly primitive and reptilian about their eyes. She was following my every move. I could have stayed and watched her for much longer, but she kept trying to attack us, so we needed to move on and let the poor girl relax. Seconds after I took the photo below, this pigeon flew at Kris and Xander’s heads. It didn’t seem like it actually wanted to make contact, but I was impressed with Kris’s ninja-like protective swiftness. We suspected it wasn’t the first time this bird had behaved like that, so we sat on a bench and waited for the next group of people to come in. Sure enough, it swooped right at their heads, rising at the last second to soar over them. It was way funnier to watch it happen to someone else!The kingfishers were perched on the very far side of their enclosure, so I couldn’t get a picture that showed their brilliant colors, but it was cool to see them nontheless. They are fiesty little birds who dive bomb their prey, bring it back to their perch, and then bang it on the branch before consuming their meal.And here is a snuggly family of pateke. They happen to be one of the rarest ducks in the world, but I mostly just thought they were cute and cozy looking.It doesn’t begin to do justice to their magnificent mischief, but as promised, here is a photo of a kea! And here is a New Zealand white-faced heron. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a stop at the Otorohanga Kiwi House. It was a pleasant walk and we got to see lots of cool birds. That night, we headed to Hamilton to see the New Zealand All Blacks take on Argentina! Don’t worry, I got pictures of Xander in his All Blacks rugby gear…
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