New Zealand is well known for its adventure tourism, and we decided to get in on a little of the fun by signing up for black water rafting through one of the Waitomo caves. (http://www.waitomo.com/black-water-rafting/Pages/black-labyrinth.aspx) so there we were at 1:30 pm on Wednesday, struggling into damp wet suits (wondering what other smelly bodies had been in them...), getting fitted up with a hard hat and headlamp, and listening to the safety instructions delivered with great Kiwi humour....such as, "Go to the toilet before you get into this wet suit because this bootie acts as a plug in your boot and then you will marinate in urine for the rest of the trip, plus you will continue to feel the effects of this for the next 48 hours!" We were led by three enthusiastic guides in their twenties, two Kiwi (one female, one male) and one German woman, all with great ways with words. Safety was paramount and to that end, the very first activity was to practice jumping backwards off a dock into a steam before going into the cave. The purpose here was to learn how to jump properly because we would have to do this twice to go over waterfalls, and secondly was to get thoroughly wet and then warm within our suits. So we each picked an inner tube, placed it around our bottoms, and jumped off backwards...what fun! This helped enormously in erasing my fear of "keeping up" when I witnessed much younger people than me having some issues with this.
So into the cave we went...inner tube over shoulder and climbing down, down, down to where finally the water was deep enough to float. Sometimes the water was rushing swiftly and we had to form a "human eel"...put our feet up on the tube in front for that person to grab onto, and then grab the boots (making sure we could feel the feet...another set of safety instructions) of the person behind. And other times the water was very calm and we had to paddle with our hands to keep moving, all the while gazing up at the glow worms on the roof of the cave, looking very much like a star-studded sky. (The glow worm is the larval stage of an insect, Arachnocampa Luminosa, and uses bioluminescence to attract other insects for food.) Jumping backwards over waterfalls was great fun! I don't have any pictures of us, however here are a couple from the company's website.
We were probably in the cave a couple of hours, and I was glad to reach the end. It was a great experience but probably not to be repeated (I am not keen on wet suits, and it amazes me that our guides spend all day in them!) It was exhilarating and fun, however one of the best parts was stripping off that suit and getting into a shower, followed by a snack of hot tomato soup and toasted bagel. I was hungry after all that adrenaline!
We are now in New Plymouth, back on the coast after the past week in the interior. We drove here along the "Forgotten World Highway" through some spectacular scenery, including a single lane tunnel 180 metres long. The road was narrow and tortuous for much of its 155 km length, including one 12 km stretch of gravel through a heavily forested gorge. We climbed up, up, up and over and down, down, down, several "saddles", fortunately not meeting too much oncoming traffic! When we weren't in forest or bush, the cleared land is pasture for cattle and sheep. No crops are grown here, not even hay, because there's no flat land. The pastures are series of hills, many conical in shape, all etched with mini terraces from years of grazing animals. I didn't take any pictures, preferring to take all this in with my mind's eye. It was so varied that I felt a few photos wouldn't do the landscape justice.
Along the way we stopped for a drink at the Whangmomona Hotel, a building dating back to 1895, and now the only real place of activity along the road. The population has dwindled here as farms have amalgamated and people have moved away.
We are now about to go into the New Plymouth CBD to check out the museum and art gallery, and find out where to walk for a few hours on the slopes of yet another volcano, Mt. Taranaki. It last erupted in 1755 so not expecting to see even steam venting. It is shrouded in cloud at the moment.