travel things

New Zealand: Finale

I can’t wait to post my pictures and share about my adventures in Puerto Rico (as well as my trip to Blacksburg this weekend), but first I must finish up this New Zealand series!

It has been really fun to go back and re-live our New Zealand trip by typing everything out. I made a photo album of our pictures to show friends and family, but other than that I hadn’t showed any pictures other than the few that I posted on Instagram after our trip. I missed having a public blog for the time that I was “offline,” and it’s been really fulfilling to *officially* share our trip with the {internet} world.

This post is a short chronicle of our last day in New Zealand. I managed to fill six blog posts with tons of pictures and stories, but can you believe we were only there for three days?!!? I am still in awe of how much we packed into that little trip. We saw a lot of different parts of New Zealand, and had some really exciting adventures.

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Our last night in the country, after visiting the Lost Spring, we traveled about three hours southwest to Waitomo, a rural area in the middle of the country where the main attraction is the glow worm caves. Other than the caves and a few small bed and breakfasts, there isn’t much to speak about for Waitomo besides the sheep. Well, and apparently they make a lot of honey in the area as well {which we bought as a souvenir! After I bought it I was afraid they wouldn’t let us take it through customs, but fortunately they did. It was a great practical, re: edible, memory.}. SONY DSC

I was actually not happy about the bed & breakfast we stayed at. Despite the raving reviews on TripAdvisor, I was displeased with our interactions with the owners. We arrived late the first night, about an hour after we had told the man we would get there. It was 11:00pm and after Whit drove yet another couple hundred miles in the few days we had been there, it was pitch black and the signs were hard to follow, so it took a little while to locate the place. But, when we pulled in, the owner yelled (jokingly) at us for getting lost. Excuse me, you live in the middle of nowhere!! You shouldn’t get mad at people for getting lost, you should be helpful and welcoming. Maybe the joking is a Kiwi thing, but it seemed unacceptable to me.

Fortunately, he was about to go to bed, but he stayed awake to show us our room. He was a little rude in the way he bluntly answered Whit’s question about if there was wifi. And, our room was way yuckier than I imagined. It was a tiny cabin with nasty 70’s colors everywhere, and old blankets and sheets. I don’t really care about stuff like that, but it was definitely lower quality than the previous two places we had stayed, so it just made our welcome feel a little less warm.SONY DSC

Then, Whit and I both had a terrible night’s sleep (which obviously isn’t the owners’ fault). Whit and I had been trying to get tickets to (almost) all of Phish’s 30th anniversary tour, which was supposed to be better than average, and we were within driving distance of almost all of the locations, so we could catch practically every show, giving us excellent odds of hearing the best music. Anyways, we had failed to get a few nights’ shows in the initial Phish ticket lottery, so we had to try to buy them quickly when they went on sale on Ticket Master. Unfortunately since we were in New Zealand the on-sale times were in the middle of the night.

Whit was determined though, and he woke up twice during the middle of the night to try to get us tickets. The wifi was really spotty in our room, so he sat outside for part of the time, but he only managed to get tickets to one show, so that was a letdown. {Later in the summer we did end up getting tickets to most of the shows we wanted, and it was indeed a phenomenal tour}. I slept through the night except for waking up in a cold sweat once after terrible nightmares. My anxiety was really bad in Australia and I did okay in New Zealand until then. To this day it was probably my worst night’s sleep ever. I thought something was really wrong with me because I was simultaneously sweating AND freezing, and my body just felt bizarre.

IMG_1936Anyways, the next morning Whit woke up to get breakfast while I showered (he had showered the night before – and stubbed his toe badly on the shower door; I was so nervous I’d do the same but thank God I didn’t, I would have been so mad). He came back with some food and I asked him if they had anything I could eat; he said they had some gluten-free stuff. I had brought my own breakfast but I was tired of the same granola bars over and over again. I went to the breakfast room and asked the owner’s wife if I could have some of the gluten-free offerings. It was about five minutes past the time that breakfast closed, and she not-very-kindly told me that breakfast was over. Even though Whit had just come back to the room and told me they had tons of food left. Not nice. But it was only about 10 hours of unpleasantness and we were soon on our way to our last spectacular NZ day.

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The first thing I noticed when we left the b&b were the birds. Though it was winter, there were several beautiful flowering bushes around the perimeter, which many exotic birds were fluttering and singing around. Instead of trying to pull my camera out and grab pictures of them, I just stood next to them and enjoyed them. I wish I had a video of them, but I only have a wonderful mental picture of the moment.

We had a tour scheduled to visit the glow worm caves, which was due to leave outside the restaurant right next door. We moved our car over and found the empty twelve-passenger van. We thought it would just be us and the tour guide, but another couple (who were from Germany) joined us. We were kind of glad that all of us were from different cultures because we were pretty wiped out from the past couple of days, and were glad to have a more quiet day. The guide showed us around of course, but the other couple didn’t say too much.

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Most of the glow worm cave tours are adventure-based or big commercialized tours. I really wanted to do the “black water tubing” where you ride through the cave in a wetsuit, but we decided it wasn’t practical, as it would be cold and we wouldn’t be able to shower afterwards, plus I really wanted to be able to try to take pictures. This company advertised that there were specific stops for photography, and that it was more calm and relaxed, which ended up being true.

We visited two different glow worm caves as well as a third cave, and in between there was a break for cookies and tea in the middle of a field. We got to drive through the sunny pasture lands, which we loved! It was a serene way to take in the natural beauty of the land, and as well we enjoyed learning about the native culture from our Maori guide. We pulled over one time to simply marvel in the view. In the middle, far background of the picture below you can see the snowy top of a mountain – Mordor! I didn’t care how touristy I was, I could never get over the fact that we were in the country where two of Christianity’s greatest novelists’ fictional “Heaven” locations were filmed (does that sentence make sense? whatever).

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Where we had our break for tea. We watched a bird chase a bug through this little field; it was so bucolic!

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Glow worms are one of the few bio-luminescent natural wonders in the world. We’ve seen them on National Geographic films before! (How nerdy is that?!) Basically there are a bunch of little worms (I think they’re actually larvae) that attach to the roofs and walls of certain caves, and their excrement glows for whatever reason. Kind of gross when you think about it, but the effect is creates is simply magical!

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In the below picture you can see the stringy worms; the luminescent blue-green part is their feces! So weird!

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In one of the caves, we just walked around and got an up-close look at the worms. We turned off all of our head lamps and let our eyes adjust to the pitch blackness of the cave. As our eyes adjusted, we could see more and more teal glowing lights! It was spectacular!

The second cave was the best: all five of us got into a large raft and our guide used a pulley system with ropes on the ceiling to move us slowly down the small river in the cave. We went back and forth, back and forth. We turned our head lamps off, and turned them on to shine them directly on the lights. It felt like a ride at Disney World, like It’s A Small World or something like that. Such a simple, peaceful treasure.

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If you looked, you could see glow worms everywhere!!

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On the way back from our pastoral, magical journey, our guide pulled over when we got to this house. He is a Maori, a native islander, and he had made a phone call to his buddy during the drive. He told us he had to check because his farmer friend had lost a sheep earlier that morning. He took a detour and pulled over here, at his house, to make sure they had found the sheep. {The parable of the lost sheep is true – shepherds will spend hours and go well out of their way to get that one lost sheep back!} When he pulled over, we turned around at this small lodge that he told us was where his family and extended family gathers for funerals, weddings, and major events. They dig a deep hole in the ground and smoke a huge pig to eat together. Back to the farm – the farmer invited our guide to wrangle a sheep (he used to be a farmer too), so he got out of the car and threw one of the sheep over his shoulder and put it in that pen in the back of the truck. It was a humorous surprise and cultural detour!

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Seeing the glow worms was a more relaxing, but completely amazing way to spend our last day in New Zealand. It was a unique attraction that was another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were again shocked that the caves and Waitomo are still mostly untouched. I just can’t imagine a more perfect place on earth to travel to. Everywhere you go in New Zealand is a jaw-dropping, astounding natural wonder, yet it’s undisturbed. It’s easy to travel throughout, but you still feel like you’re on an island in the middle of the South Pacific, away from all the crowds and money-spending that America and a lot of other tourist destinations are known for.

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My heart will forever be in New Zealand! ❤

View Part V here, and the whole series here.

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