23.03.2018 - 27.03.2018
On our way south, we stopped for the night at a town called Ngaruawahia, making use of the camper van equivalent of Airbnb to park on someone’s driveway for the night. Our hosts recommended a local walk to us which was only 2km each way, but which pretty much involved climbing up steps the entire way. It certainly got the heart rate up! The park in Ngaruawahia is also home to a hilarious public toilet which gives you verbal instructions on how to operate it before playing a panpipes version of What the World Needs Now when it’s occupied.
We dropped in on the city of Hamilton for lunch and to visit the gardens. Within a large park, close to the city centre, they’ve created a dozen or so enclosed gardens with various different themes. We had a very pleasant stroll and managed to time our visit perfectly as we returned to the Kuga about thirty seconds before the heavens opened.
Our next destination was an hour’s rainy drive south in the small village of Waitomo. Whilst the village itself has nothing to offer, the area is well known for containing a large network of caves which are a major tourist draw. Trips into the caves vary from half hour boat trips to see glow worms to all day adventures. The trip that we’d booked was certainly at the latter end of the scale.
Our first order of business was the simple matter of abseiling into the cave, a mere 100m down into the gloom below. It was a jaw dropping sight and proved too much for one member of our group who took one look at the gaping hole and decided to back out. She missed out on a treat as it was an exhilarating experience to descend from brilliant sunshine at the surface into the misty cave below.
Once underground, we followed the cave upstream, at times against quite a strong current. We saw a variety of creatures including eels, weta and some fairly large spiders, and of course lots and lots of glow worms. We also had a number of waterfalls to climb which were challenging against the fast flowing water. After being underground for over four hours, we saw daylight ahead of us, signalling our exit to the massive and much needed bbq that awaited us. It was an absolutely brilliant day out; a fine example of New Zealand adventure tourism.
After our caving extravaganza, we had a more chilled out day, mooching west to the coast and then south towards New Plymouth. We stopped off at a couple of beautiful beaches and the obligatory waterfall. One of the beaches could only be accessed through an old tunnel that was dug to get livestock from the farmland to ships in the cove, whilst the other beach had some interesting rock formations that we had to race against the tide in order to see.
The skyline was beginning to be dominated by Mount Taranaki, a large isolated volcano which is surrounded by water on three sides. We headed straight for the mountain, parking up for the night in one of the visitor centre car parks. We had hoped to climb to the top, but the weather was extremely changeable, it being both mountainous and coastal, plus the wind was also gusting too much for us to be confident of making the eight hour return trip safely. We settled instead for some low level walks including one through “Goblin Forest” which was pretty cool.
As we headed east from Taranaki, we took The Forgotten Highway towards the centre of the North Island. You can see why it’s been forgotten as it was hilly, twisty, bumpy and falling away in multiple places - a challenging road, even by New Zealand standards. It was, however, extremely picturesque and so remote that the only town the road passes through has declared independence from New Zealand, affording us the opportunity for a bit of international travel.