On the way we came across an advertisement for the Ernest Kemp--an adorable and old cruise boat that takes you around the lake and to view the Maori Rock Carvings (which are only able to be seen from the water.) They were offering a winter special (that included coffee and cookies), so we opted to give it a try!
There were only 15 of us on the cruise--which I'm sure is a much different experience from the 58 visitors they pack onboard during the summer! The skipper was a retired New Zealand Coastguardsman and the hostess was a lovely older women with two grandkids in Switzerland that she was missing very much. She immediately took to Julia and Joci and kept them entertained most of the cruise.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much to see out on the water. It was rainy and foggy--normally you would see snow-capped mountains in the distance, but we could only see the houses that were hugging the edge of the lake. But it was still a nice, relaxing few hours of floating.
We made it out to the Maori carvings which were pretty impressive--as they are literally right on the water! But I was surprised to hear they were created in 1979. Certainly not ancient, but still a feat to be admired!
Our hostess brought old bread out to show the girls how to feed the ducks and actually had them eating out of her hand at one point! So that was quite a show when the kids were done looking at rock carvings.
And then on the ride back she gave them all coloring sheets and crayons and played ring-around-the-rosie with the girls. Julia kept asking her to play Duck Duck Goose, but I don't think she understood. At one point, she asked me if Julia spoke another language. "That's not English, is it?" "Yes, actually it is. It's just very fast and very terrible English." *blush*
|Putting those Ginger Beer bottles to good use!|
We pulled back into port and loaded back into the campervan for potty breaks and to eat lunch, right there, BECAUSE WE COULD! And then made our way to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Still raining when we got to the caves, but it didn't matter because--we were in a cave!!
Like the Waiotapu Geothermal Pools, I wasn't overly expectant for this tour. But there's not many Glowworm Caves in the world (just two in NZ and one in the US) and it's one of the top-rated tourist activities in New Zealand, so we went for it. You guys, I was so wrong. From the moment we first stepped into the cave it was AMAZING! And it certainly helped that we had a fantastic tour guide. He was an older, native Maori gentleman who passionately appreciated the caves and was also really funny!
Yet again, we had a small tour group--around 20--and were told that during peak season groups are around 70 people. This allowed us to see and explore a little more. In the middle, we reached the Cathedral Cave, which is a large opening with perfect acoustics. Our guide encouraged someone to break out in song to test this out, but one disadvantage to a smaller group is no one was brave enough. If only Marmie had been there! He said they do a special program at Christmas where they can fit over 100 people in the Cathedral to sing carols. And now I want to go back at Christmas!
This was the part of the tour where we transitioned from stalagmites and stalactites to glowworm viewing. He has us all duck down and peer into the farthest reaches of the cave--and then he turned off the lights. And the glowworms were right there! When he turned the lights back on your could see their little strings hanging down like fishing line.
From there, we turned around and headed to toward the sound of lapping water where we boarded a rowboat. It was completely dark and our tour guide reminded us to remain totally silent (try telling that to a 3YO) as he rowed us out into the water and the blue-green glow reflecting off the ceiling. It was so beautiful and even more impressive when viewed in total dark and quiet. No pictures allowed--so I snagged this image from a postcard. But this is exactly what it looks like--utterly amazing!
We continued following the stream and ended up outside at the mouth of the cave--and back in the rain. The forest looked beautiful but we were all hurrying along to get back under shelter.
We made a quick stop at the Gift Shop, where Jon got talked into purchasing these tourist photos. (We were such suckers for these expensive photos that anyone could take but they're some of the only ones we have of our whole family on the trip!)
It was fairly late in the day by this point and still very rainy so while we would have loved to do the nearby hiking trail (which supposedly offers more great views of glowworms and is FREE), instead we drove just a minute or two down the road and camped out at Waitomo Top 10--which was probably in my personal Top 3. It's not very impressive when you pull-in-- a smaller holiday park, located in this little valley surrounded by hills and mountains. But it was so peaceful and quiet there that night. There were quite a few of us in the park (and by "few" I mean, maybe 5 campers??) because Waitomo Caves are a bigger attraction and we ran into a lot of British tourists on the North Island who were following their rugby team around the country.
But we still had the outdoor hot tub all to ourselves. And it was HOT. Has it become evident yet that I rate my campgrounds based on the temperature of their water attractions? Because after traveling and living with 4 kids in a small-confined space, and sleeping on a 2 inch foam mattress, the value of a hot soak at the end of the day simply cannot be underrated. We slept good and hard knowing that the following day would push us to our limits with lots of driving followed by another flight. Soon we would be our way to the legendary South Island!