Auckland fell behind us as we headed away with Rob, our new Kiwi driver, with his frankly unnervingly normal name. After Fly and Aerial we were expecting something even madder like Banana, or Donald. No such luck, but Rob seemed nice enough and set us off for our first stop of the main trip – Hot Water Beach.
On our bus we had Sigrid, Lauren, Leanne and Femke – the awesome foursome who we had met as we left Paihia the day before. We also had Pippa and Noah who we had shared a room with there. Finally, when getting on the bus, we also met Summer, who both of us recognised. The only slight issue was we had absolutely no idea where from, leading to us having to embarrassingly ask.
It turned out to be Fraser Island. I blame all the alcohol and lack of sleep there. I could have met Robert De Niro and I probably wouldn’t remember. Anyway we got chatting and it turned out Summer was a load of fun, so we headed off happy and chatty.
After a quick supermarket stop we were arriving in Hot Water Beach before we knew it. If you’re confused about Hot Water Beach – it’s a hill with really cold fire.
In all seriousness, at low tide an area of this beach is revealed where the water under the sand is hot, heated by ‘geothermal activity’. If you’re wondering what exactly the geothermal activity is – me too! Something to do with volcanoes, probably. Ask your geography teacher.
In any case, all of this ultimately means that you can head down to the beach at low tide and dig yourself a hole which will become a hot spa pool. It’s pretty cool, even if you have to share the beach space (though thankfully not your pool) with a few hundred other people. That’s exactly what we did and unsurprisingly, it was a beach, there was water, it was hot.
Our big communal bath finished, we headed to our next stop – Cathedral Cove. This is a cove shaped a bit like a Cathedral (New Zealanders clearly have developed their Australian cousin’s penchant for obvious place naming), a classic photo opportunity and also was a set for the Chronicles of Narnia, randomly.
Despite a lack of fawns and talking lions who symbolise Jesus Christ (this symbolism blew my mind when I realised, incidentally), it was pretty stunning. Katie, Sigrid and I watched everyone else get their instagrams and/or profile pictures sorted for the next few weeks -courtesy of a rock and some interesting poses:
If you’re wondering why the three of us did not – we have too many photos already. Apart from Sigrid, who is in her own words ‘A one photo kinda gal’. We did at least pose for the group photo in a sort of awkward ‘we’ve only just met’ way:
We headed back to the hostel to do the only things left in Hot Water Beach – drink (an increasingly common theme) and pester our driver with inane questions. Or, have a little breakdown about your itinerary, like Summer did.
We did both to excess (Summer especially) and the next morning the windy roads of New Zealand, travel sickness and these nighttime activities combined to make one very unpleasant bus journey to our next stop of Waitomo, via a very subdued early morning walk around some old mining tunnels.
We arrived in Waitomo slightly perkier and having learnt a very valuable lesson about the evils of drink. We immediately forgot this lesson and went to throw ourselves off some waterfalls in caves.
We arrived at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company to start our tour, nervous (me about shoulders, Katie about dark spaces, heights, caves, water and virtually everything the tour involved). First, we had to kit ourselves up. This involved some far-too-damp-for-comfort wetsuits, really cool boots and even swisher helmets.
Jealous, aren’t you? I would be. Luckily, our new outfits had pushed most worries out of my mind (and none out of Katie’s) and we headed to the cave.
Our cave tour would involve tubing through the cave on an inflated tyre tube, jumping off some waterfalls and lots of glow worms throughout. After one very small practice jump in daylight into a freezing cold river we were all deemed ready for 3 hours caving. New Zealand’s attitude to health and safety summed up, right there.
We descended into the cave. My experience of caves has usually been all boardwalks and handrails through. This was different. This was effectively falling into a small dark hole of uncertainty and probably death.
Our guides, Anz and T (we’re back to the nutty Kiwi names as you’ll have noticed) told us everything would be fine and I basically jumped into Anz’s arms on my descent. They were strong.
Incidentally, Anz and T were a man and a woman and you’ll never know which is which. Their names also combine to make the name of the movie Antz, which I only just realised. Sorry, I’m rambling.
Anyway, we all made it safely in to the cave.
We headed into darkness and soon hit the underground river. Katie’s claustrophobia was sorely tested by a very low bit of rock which made a space tighter than me on a budget on this trip. However, she impressively made it through without complaining and soon we hit the first waterfall.
We looked down at total darkness, the sound of rushing water and the sharp drop and all shrinked back. If you had to guess who would volunteer to go first, you probably wouldn’t go for the girl scared of small spaces and submerging her head in water and yet Katie stepped up and put us all to shame with only a little scream.
I stepped up 3rd and stood backwards, with my tube behind me. Having heard Katie do it I had no fear and jumped into the darkness. There was an enjoyable millisecond in the air and then I crashed into the water with all the grace of a rampaging elephant. But I’d done it, all my limbs were in place and I wasn’t underwater.
The rest of the trip became easy afterwards and the waterfalls became the most enjoyable parts, shortly followed by the stunning glow worms all over the caves.
We now interrupt scheduled programming to present some fun facts about glow worms:
1. They are not worms
2. Their ‘glow’ is effectively their poo
3. Once they mature and turn into a fly, they have a lifespan of about two days
4. They spend most of this 2 days making more baby glow worms, if you catch my drift. Then they die.
Thank you for your attention. Back to the blog…
The caves were stunning and over too quickly after a few more waterfalls, lots more tubing and many more glow worms (though they were still long enough for some people in the group to be singing Justin Bieber songs as we went through – awful business).
So we ‘graduated’ our cave trip and finished up our time in Waitomo celebrating.
Also we lost a tube. Oops.
Alex Odlin is neither ashamed nor surprised that his girlfriend has turned out to be braver than him at jumping off waterfalls in caves.
The Bagginses has the precious!