Friday, 12-09-2014: Day 23.
Kiwis and Glow Worms.
We woke to a chilly camper van. We didn't know how cold, exactly, but the weather reports told us it was about 9°C outside, and the inside wasn't much warmer. We got dressed (quickly), had a little breakfast, and took a short walk over to the ...
The Kiwi House promises that you'll see a kiwi, and that was a promise fulfilled — we saw exactly one kiwi, a Great Spotted Kiwi named Atu. She was in the nocturnal portion of the zoo, so photography wasn't allowed. But she looked a lot like this:
They're odd birds, those kiwis. Watching Atu run around the pen with only vestigial wings, poking her beak into the soil looking for food, was quite funny. Kiwis have terrible eyesight and hunt primarily by sound and smell. To help them with this, they have large ear holes and long beaks, and, unlike any other bird species, their nostrils are at the end of their beaks, which supposedly aids their sense of smell.
Another odd thing about kiwis is the size of their eggs, which are about as big as the mother kiwi herself. The Kiwi House had an x-ray of a mother kiwi about to lay an egg; she was pretty much all egg. Later on in our trip, we saw this skeletal reconstruction that gives you an idea of how big kiwi eggs are:
The rest of Kiwi House featured ducks, hawks, owls, kingfishers, yellow- and red-crowned kakariki, kereus, kakas, wekas, keas, eels (too cold for them) and a tuatara (that didn't want to show off).
As we made our way around the various environments, we were followed around by a spur-winged plover that was somewhat hostile ... and pretty noisy.
We took about an hour to go through the park. A few of the exhibits were under construction or improvement (it's sort of the off season down here). We debated coming back around during one of the feedings times to maybe see more kiwis, but the girls were excited to see the glowworms, so we decided to move on to the nearby Waitomo Caves.
But first, we had to do a little dumping. Which is a euphemism for exactly what you think it is.
The Waitomo caves are only one of the cave tours you can enjoy from this spot (the other two are the Ruakuri Cave and the Aranui Cave). The Waitomo caves take about 45 minutes to tour, but if you have a few hours and like wandering through guided limestone cave tours, there's a package deal for two or even all three caves. The other tours require some traveling to get to, so we just signed up for the Waitomo caves. Later on, we heard from another traveler that the Ruakuri caves were pretty fantastic and that all the caves have glowworms.
Before we entered the caves proper, our guide told us a little bit about the history of how the caves were discovered. then we ventured down a long corridor, ducking under low-hanging stalactites. The first part of the tour was a pretty standard walk through the limestone caves where the glowworms live. After we looked at some of the more interesting formations in the caves (an elephant, a camel, a face), we got our first glimpse of a glowworm colony: no lights, but we got to see the silk strands covered in sticky mucus hanging from the roof of an outcropping.
Then we walked down even more stairs into the dark and got into a boat (our group was so large that we had to split up into two boats; we were in the first). Our guide, who stood on the bow, then pulled our boat through the caves via a series of overhead ropes. It's really dark down there; about the only light you can see is the blue glow from the glowworms on the ceiling above you. I'm pretty sure our guide got lost at one point because we seemed to go in circles a few more times than necessary, but maybe he was just giving us a good look. In any case, one can't help but wonder what would happen if you somehow became adrift down there.
Photography isn't allowed in the glowworm caves because it'll disrupt the worms, but our guide told us we could snap a few photos "off the books" as we started to exit the cave. I'd left my camera behind, but I did try to get a picture with a small point-and-shoot anyway.
Like any good tourist attraction, someone snaps your photo against a green screen at the beginning of the tour, then try to sell you a package of photos of you in in front of various backdrops at the end. As far as this sort of thing goes, these were better than most, but we still passed on the $35 keepsake.
After we left the caves, we drove toward Ohakune, a small town a few hours north of Wellington.
On the way, we had to get gas. A word on gas in New Zealand: it's expensive here: $2.20 per liter for regular gas and $$1.50 per liter for diesel. There are 3.785 liters per gallon, so, if you're playing at home, that's $8.53 per gallon for regular gas. Diesel seems cheaper, but we were told we'll have to pay tax on the diesel fuel we buy when we turn in the van at the end of our trip. The behemoth holds 80 liters of gas, and we filled up with 60 liters for just under $90.
We also did some grocery shopping at the New World (sort of like a Trader Joe's) next door to the gas station to pick up some staples for dinner before heading off to the Top 10 Ohakune Holiday Park.
There are numerous Top 10 parks scattered about the North and South Islands. They seem to be a little more expensive than other non-Top 10 parks (running about $70 as opposed to $50 or so for a non-Top 10), but the amenities are really nice and they're centrally located to all sorts of different touristy goings on. And, so far, most of them are within walking distance of the town center, which is pretty convenient. They also have reasonably reliable wi-fi available, usually through IAC.
Since this was the second time we encountered Wi-Fi from IAC, so we decided to spring for the 7-day, 1 GB IAC package for $25 (instead of another 24 hours for $7). One downside, though: it is limited to only one device at a time—a bit annoying but manageable.
We were anticipating a chilly evening (promised lows of 4°C), so we were pleased we learned how to operate the camper van's floor heater. Sometimes it pays to RTFM.
- Kilometers driven: 190
- Kiwis seen: 1
- Glowworms seen: thousands
- Interesting chip flavors sampled: 2