New Zealand: Glow Worms and Kiwis

I've always wanted to visit New Zealand. But then, who wouldn't? A country that may look tiny next to it's big sister Australia on the map, but despite it's size manages to pack in an amazingly diverse range of places to see.
Under the premise of visiting my better half's family and home country (it was really just a ruse to get my hands on lots of L&P, the world's best drink) we popped over for a week. While being determined to see as much as possible but not wanting to spread ourselves too thin I devised a very useful (and not at all frighteningly anal) spreadsheet.
First up? Well the flight of course, despite the many tourists who have asked me about ferry trips across the Tasman.
Mikey and I had very different ideas about what constitutes an 'appropriate' bag for a week's holiday...
And after an evacuation from the airport and being barked at by the check in lady for needing a return flight (which I did, humpfh) we were New Zealand bound!

Our flight path took us right down over the barrier reef and it was INCREDIBLE to see it from so high up. It puts into perspective how large it is, and makes me feel like our northern reefs must bee teeny tiny compared to the absolute beasts we saw further south!

One of the best things about flying with Air NZ is their safety videos. You know how they're usually really boring affaiurs that no one watches? Not with this airline... In the past they've used Bear Grylls, Richard Simmons and their very own All Blacks but we had the lovely Betty White to talk us through proceedings...
Seriously, waste your lunch hour watching these. They have LOTR ones and everything.
There was also much excitement when I spotted a familiar island...

...and realised that we were flying right over the Whitsundays with a clear view of Whitehaven beach and Hill Inlet.

As they had ran out of any 'real' food to buy on the plane we made do with some local New Zealand delicacies.

And my new favourite beer - speights. Soooo good! So good in fact that Mikey got a stern word from one of the air hostesses after he ordered his third can (in as many hours) and informed he wasn't allowed more as apparently otherwise he wouldn't be let in to the country... I wonder how she'd cope on a Manchester - Magaluf flight???

Then it was with much excitement that I got my first sight of New Zealand....

There's Cape Reinga!!!

We were lucky to land on an exceptionally clear day, and our flight path hugged the coast the entire way down. It was absolutely amazing.

After forcing Mikey to stand in the long passport queue with me, we made it out of arrivals and were greeted by the big smiles of Mikey's parent's. Of course he was very excited to see his family and home country, but nothing could compare to seeing his best friend again...

Oscar with his new toy, Wombie the Wombat.
After catching up we fell in to bed, hoping to catch some zzz before we got up early to travel to our first tourist stop!
Waitomo Caves
One of my favourite websites is Twisted Sifter, who post incredible photographs of incredible things. A while back I'd seen this and had put a visit to see the glowworms top of my New Zealand to do list.
There are about 300 limestone caves (not all with glow worms) and a lot of people do the extreme caving trips which involve rafting and abseiling. Mikey, however, is an absolute sook when it comes to cold water and we just wanted to see the worms so I booked us on with Spellbound. It was a great tour with only 12 of us in the group, and it took us to two private caves. If you ever visit I can't recommend it enough, it's not much more than the standard entry but it's so much more personal. The caves really are breathtaking, but anything can be ruined by a bus load of American tourists.
We were taken by coach to our caves and enjoyed a lovely scenic walk.

It's funny - the grass in NZ looks like 'telly tubby' grass. So it almost looks like the English countryside, but not quite. And there aren't really 'rolling hills' more places where fault lines have settled or sink holes have opened!

I'm sure this places would be a geologist's dream. LOOK AT THE AMAZING ROCK FORMATIONS. If only I'd paid more attention to Mr Bunting during year 9 geography I might be able to tell you how these came to be. But I didn't and I've forgotten what the tour guide told me.

Anyway, I was very taken with my surroundings. It was all so green.

The Kiwi ingenuity pleased my greatly too - look at this sheep proof gate. Amazing.

Finally though I tore myself away and we made it to the bottom, and to our first cave...

We got to wear some pretty sexy gear.

Don't pretend like you're not impressed.

Before we went in our guide pointed out some eels living in the stream. This made my motivation for not falling into the water extra strong.

Once in the cave our guide told us all about the glow worms...
...which aren't actually worms. They're fly larvae (mmm) and hang around in caves with water and big gaps in places, ideal for flying insects to enter. They let down sticky threads and wait for some unsuspecting bug to get caught, then they reel it back up and eat it. Eventually they'll hatch, breed, and then usually get caught and eaten by the next generation (if food is scarce they have no qualms about resorting to cannibalism). The fly that they end up as can't actually eat anything tiself, so all they do is hatch, mate, and die. HOW ROMANTIC RIGHT??? That's what I thought too.

They wave their glowy bums around to trick their food in to coming towards them (note: don't try this is maccas, they don't like it), creating the magical ambient atmosphere that tourists can now enjoy.

Our group was split in to two, and we were left to enjoy the quiet of the cave while the others hopped in the boat for their ride through the darkness...
...only soon it didn't seem so dark after all. As our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness of the cave we realised that the light from the glow worms was reflected in the water. We could see our feet, and where we were walking. Without any sunlight at all were able to navigate around quite happily.
The glow worms themselves were just gorgeous. It was like hundreds upon hundreds of LED lights had been stuck to the ceiling of the cave; we were told that often they even cover the walls.
It was quite difficult to take a decent picture but Mikey fiddled with the settings on his camera and eventually got a few snaps...

And thankfully Spellbound actually email you through some professional pictures:

Our turn on the boat was amazing, especially as our 'night vision' was on after waiting before hand. I'm definitely not eloquent enough to properly describe what it felt like to glide through that cave in silence, black water reflecting thousands of pin pricks of light. Lets just say that at more than one point the words "I'll never forget this, ever" were uttered.
It felt too soon to be ushered out of the cave, blinking like tiny moles at the sunlight (which was actually cloud light because it was raining) but after a cup of tea we were off to cave number two, known as the 'Spirit Cave'.

This one was illuminated as there were only certain parts with a few glow worms and what we really wanted to see was the amazxing limestone formations.

The cave is known as the 'spirit cave' because of the wind that whistle's through; it's this same wind that causes some pretty unusual shapes called helictites. (See above - the sideways one!).

It was freezing in the cave, and every so often we'd see a hole in the roof, the culprit of the wind. This also meant that parts of the cave were dotted with animal bones, remnants of unlucky creatures that had taken a wrong turn and fallen to their deaths.

We made our way through the 'cathedral' and largest part of the cave. Apparently these are very good for singing in - if only my mother had been there with us!

I was fascinated by the daylights holes that peppered the cave. The cave was dicovered after a farmer went looking for his lost cow (deceased, unfortunately). Can you imagine being the first ever person to climb down and find all this?

Another awesome dead-animal-cave-feature was the divcovery a while back of some moa bones. The moa is one of those animals that you can't believe ever existed. Usually standing at around 12ft tall, they roamed New Zealand until the Maori's hunted them to extinction.


Sadly for us it was then time to once again venture in to daylight. Thanks Spellbound - you were awesome!!!

Otorohanga Kiwi House
In much the same way that, despite living in the UK for most of my life I'd never been to Ireland, Mikey had never actually seen a real life Kiwi...

Not actual size
This was obviously something we needed to rectify, and conveniently there was a Kiwi viewing place (I don't know what to call it, it wasn't quite a zoo) on our way back to Cambridge.
I literally had no idea that Kiwi's weren't extinct (wish I was joking, am not) so I was very happy. They are properly weird little things, nocturnal and lay eggs that are around 20% of it's body mass. Because of their night time habits we weren't allowed to take pictures of them, but were instead quite content to watch them running around. One was employing the classic "if I can't see you you can't see me" tactic and hid it's head behind things for the entire time we were there. I was instantly enchanted. Honestly, when things are just left to evolve...look what happens.
But the Kiwis weren't the only super cool and uniquely NZ thing to see, there were also Tuatara and we were in time for the feeding!
Nom nom nom, we very much enjoyed watching these little fellows bounding around after grasshoppers.

But we also wanted to do some feeding ourselves. There are no proper ducks in Cairns so we were very excited (completely sincere here) to feed some.

See? You can't fake that kind of joy.
We also saw lots of birds. I'm told this is a pigeon of some sort that Mikey used to like to shoot back in his days as a killer, but I think it looks more like an angry bouncer that would deny you entry to a club for wearing trainers. Look how ridiculously small it's head is.

A sly looking Kingfisher.

I definitely didn't feed this Pukeko any of the duck food. Nope.

After breaking some more rules (at one point we chose not to walk on the designated footpath) we decided to brave the rain watch the eels being fed. It was cool, but also creepy. They launched themselves out of the water to grab as much of the ox heart (yep) that they could, and literally appeared from no where. Their area wasn't very big at all, but there were so many eels. All I could think of was the Mighty Boosh.

When we got home it was clear that that the excitement was too much for some...

But more excitment was to come the next day as we set out on a our road trip!
Next Stop: Taupo

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