February 10 at 11:46 PM · Waitomo Caves, New Zealand ·
Since Glen & I had requested to leave as early as possible & handle our own luggage, disembarkation from the ship was smooth, and we were on our small tour van before 8am, on our way to Waitomo for a small group guided cave tour instead of the big Waitomo cave operation that takes large groups and doesn’t allow taking photos. First we walked deep into a glow worm cave, saw the tiny, aqua-cyan points of bioluminescence up close, with the “fishing line” webs trailing down, as our guide explained how these larvae maggots only live where there are enough flying insects to be trapped in the dangling webs, meaning only above underground rivers close enough to openings or “tomo” holes above caves, then the glow worms eventually turn into flying insects themselves, lay as many eggs as possible, then die, usually never leaving the caves. Next we boarded a raft and spent time traveling up & back along a section of underground river with a gorgeous galaxy of glow worms above us, reflecting on the water below. Sure wish I had a better camera that could capture the extremely-low-light beauty, since no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get much to show up, but thankfully the tour company emails you their stock photos to share the magic.
at Waitomo Caves.
February 11 at 12:25 AM · Auckland, New Zealand ·
After the glow worms, we took a snack break outside, learned about the cave system and the extinct giant moa birds, then we went into a dry cave, past stalactites and stalagmites, flowstones, and “tomo” entrances high above us where we could see daylight peeling down into the caves. Of course over the centuries various unlucky birds and animals have fallen down those tomos and couldn’t find their way out leaving only their bones, including a giant moa bird skeleton. In 20 years of these cave tours, our guide has found & helped rescue several birds, lizards, and even cows who have fallen into the caves. They have run solar lights into this cave that the guide turns on and off again on our way out, but he also highlighted areas with his big flashlight. On our way out on a bridge above a small water area, we had an “after-dinner mint” of another magical small galaxy of glow worms above us.
at Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park.
February 11 at 2:22 AM · Otorohanga, New Zealand ·
After the Waitomo cave tours, our guide drove us by an ostrich farm near the road, and two ostrich nicely came right up to us, but we didn’t have any snacks for them. 😉 He said we had enough time for a quick ice cream stop, plus another stop at a nature park since it was close to kiwi feeding time. He got us in for free, and before we saw some other lizards and birds, we went straight to the kiwi house first and saw a cute fluffy brown kiwi scarfing up his snacks in the dark. Kiwis are nocturnal so this kiwi house has the lights on overnight so we humans can appreciate them and help in conservation efforts. Unfortunately all varieties of kiwi are highly-endangered because of non-native predators like the Australia bushtail possum, introduced to NZ in an attempt at starting a fur trade but quickly getting out of hand in the wild, stealing kiwi eggs from burrows. Since NZ has no native mammals and no natural predators, stoats and weasels were brought to NZ to help control the possums & rabbits, but that also failed and they also eat kiwi eggs and chicks. Poor kiwis and such a mess humans have created since the Polynesians first arrived 800 years ago and hunted the giant moa birds to extinction in only a couple hundred years, even before any white men ever arrived bringing their own misguided plans. NZ is now trying several programs to get back to native flora & fauna where possible, but that is a conflict with local industry and farmers. I’m sure glad we could see a live kiwi enjoying its snack instead of only the stuffed ones in the museum display case, and I hope future generations will still have kiwi birds in their world too.
at Auckland Sky Tower.
February 11 at 2:53 AM · Opaheke, New Zealand ·
We were thankful our guide was driving the 3 hours back from Waitomo to Auckland for us so we could get a nap. He dropped us at our Auckland hotel, we left our luggage and cleaned up a bit, then walked a couple blocks to the Auckland Sky Tower for food with a view. The revolving restaurant was all booked, so we had some sunset snacks at the Sky Cafe then took in the views. The harbor bridge has a fun LED light show, but the inside reflections and outside floodlights made it harder to see the city lights, especially through the glass floor sections. They have lovely decorations for Chinese New Year, including red & gold lights!