Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 3 – Raglan and Waitomo Caves

We arrived after dark from Matamata yesterday and were anxious to see our new “home” in Raglan. This charming beach-side surf town on New Zealand's west coast is situated on a large sea inlet that looks like an expansive lake. It's has a quaint downtown area just two blocks long and feels like Santa Cruz – surfer's and all.

Our new accommodation is a modest one bedroom guest house with a view of town and an enormous ball field below. Our host Rick, who originally hails from England, tells us it's a four minute walk to town. So we're off to find the perfect breakfast spot this morning.  While there isn't a lot to choose from, we did find a cafe that is our new favorite. Blacksand's Cafe has a great selection of breakfast sandwiches and New Zealand style egg frittata's (or egg pie). Coffee lovers take note because New Zealand has served up the best coffee we've ever had! New Zealander's have different names for coffee but more on that later...

Today we plan to tour the glow worm caves and Waitomo caves. From Raglan, the trip to Waitomo is at least two and a half hours of winding county roads and more of the typical New Zealand rural landscape. We arrived at the Waitomo visitor center and waited for our tour bus that would transport a group of us to the cave entrance.

Waitomo (meaning 'two  dogs') was discovered about 500 years ago by Maori natives and named for the dogs they found living in the entrance. The caves are 60 meters (approximately 180 feet) underground and a recently completed suspended trail system makes them fully handicapped accessible. As we walked the trail, we could hear water flowing below us and every so often a group of black water rafters would float by. They were all in wet suits and I'm sure the water was frigid.  It looked exciting and cold!

We left Waitomo caves with a few great photos and headed over to the glow worm caves nearby. While we waited for the tour to begin, the clouds that had been forming all day finally opened up in a torrent of rain. We made a run for the cave entrance and got a good soaking. As we entered the cave, we were informed that no photography would be allowed because the flash would disturb the glow worms. 

We first walked through the main entrance which opened up into 'The Cathedral'; a vaulted ceiling at least 50 feet high with many varieties of hanging stalactites.  Our tour guide asked if any of us would like to sing a song but no one volunteered.   I asked if she would do us the honor with a native Maori song. She blushed and agreed. It still gives me the chills when I think of it. 

Our guide then extinguished the lights and we left 'The Cathedral 'by flashlight to board a boat in the dark.  It's an eerie feeling to float along in complete blackness except for a glow on the low ceiling overhead. Above us were billions of blue points of light that looked like the Milky Way Galaxy. No one spoke or made a sound as we floated in complete silence. All too soon we floated out of the cave into bright sunshine and the magic was over.

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