This morning we arrived in a little harbor town (Mt Maunganui) near the town of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. “Maunganui” is a Maori phrase meaning “big hill” and the 750 foot Mt. Maunganui qualifies. The mountain base is the suburb of this small town, but the extinct volcano is still a revered Maori site. A popular trail follows the base of this large hill and takes about an hour – with great views of offshore islands. A summit walk is possible, but a bit more challenging.
The larger town of Rotorua is about 55 miles away. We spent a day and night there when we were in NZ before and that is where we learned so much about the Maori culture.
Today we had a long excursion to Waitomo (2 1/2 hour bus drive one way to get there) to see the famed Glowworm caves. And while it was a long bus drive, we were on such an amazing bus, it was a joy ride. We have never seen a bus quite like this – worth a picture! Doug is posing to show just how big this bus was – with some theater seating with each row elevated above the one in front of it.
The drive was really pretty and we saw lots of cattle and sheep – and lots of lush green. We saw lots of fields with what looked like corn plants, but were told that corn was grown for human consumption and maize is what we were seeing – just for the cattle. We made a brief stop at Lake Karapiro to stretch our legs. Because it was a Friday, there were quite a few boats out on the water enjoying a glorious, sunny day! We were also told that this was a big golf area – and if you were here for two weeks and played golf every day, you would not be able to play all the courses – there were over 100.
We arrived at the Glowworm Caves which are a big tourist attraction. The Maori people found these caves by the river leading into them. They are very old limestone caves with stalactites and stalagmites growing from the gradual dripping of water over many, many years. It has been estimated that it took about 100 years to form 1 cubic centimeter of stalactite.
We had an interesting Maori guide take us through these caves. It was her great grandfather who showed the first European explorers the caves and the glowworms hanging from the ceilings. The cave has been developed for easy access to the public with good stairs and railings, lighting, and a smooth walking path. We could not take pictures while inside the cave. There was a lofty chamber inside called the Cathedral. It was very large and made any sounds inside it magnify and echo a bit off the walls. There have been concerts as well as weddings held in this chamber – including the Tabernacle Choir. Our little group chose to sing Happy Birthday to see how the sound reverberated. I do believe the Tabernacle Choir sounded a bit better!
When it was time to see the glowworms, we got into a little wooden boat in almost complete darkness. In order to see these amazing little creatures, it had to be complete darkness and absolute silence because any noise scared these glowworms.
These glowworms can only be found in New Zealand. The have a 4 stage lifecycle starting with the eggs which after about 20 days hatch into young larvae. These larvae build a nest, put down sticky lines to attract insects and then feed on these and slowly grow over 9 months to the shape and size of a matchstick. It is during this stage that they emit a visible light that appears to be a glacier blue. They start out less than 3 millimeters long, so these lights are tiny. Before becoming an adult, they are in the pupa stage (like a cocoon in the butterfly stage) for about 13 days while they hang suspended by a thread. In the adult stage they look like a large mosquito. They have no mouth and their only function is to reproduce and disperse the species. Adults live only a few days.
Since we could take no pictures, I bought a postcard and took a picture of that to try to show what this amazing phenomena looks like. It is a bit hard to see, but the thousands of little blue lights on the ceiling are the glowworms. The boat is pulled along a rope system by a guide to help keep the silence. The light at the back of the boat in this postcard was just used for this postcard – in reality, there was no light at all. IT truly was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. There were just thousands of these little blue lights all above our heads.
From the caves we went to the Otorohanga Kiwi House. The kiwi is New Zealand’s national bird, but they are hard to see since they are nocturnal. So in this special setting, they make it appear to be night during the day so visitors can see them when they are more active. We could not take pictures inside where the kiwi were, but we could take pictures outside where there were many other birds in this center.
The kiwi is a flightless bird that can only be found in NZ. Its body is covered with hair-like feathers loosely attached giving it a shaggy appearance. It has a long bill with its nostrils at the tip of the bill instead of at the base like most other birds. It has a well-developed sense of smell. The body is almost cone shaped with a small head and legs that are powerful and muscular. It has very small wings which end in a primitive like claw. The kiwi used his long bill to dig up its food mainly consisting of worms and insects.
They had two different specie types of kiwis at this center. One was a bit shy but the other was very active trying to dig up food as it hurried around its penned area. They are fun to watch with these long bills, and I find them kinda cute in their own way.
We didn’t have very long to look around the rest of this bird park, but as we made our way quickly around the loop we saw a large variety of birds. However, I spotted a Tuatara – which was not a bird at all, but rather a reptile. It is referred to as New Zealand’s “living fossil” and is the sole survivor of an ancient order of reptiles common throughout the world over 200 million years ago. I was excited to have seen it.
It had been a long and exciting morning, but we were starting to get a bit hungry for lunch. And what a treat we were in for! We went to this wonderful country house and garden called Crosshills where we were served a delicious New Zealand lunch. It is privately owned but during the tourist season, they host these luncheons several days a week. We ate outside on one of their many covered seating areas amidst all kinds of wonderful flowers and green plants.
And while the lunch was wonderful, the walk through the gardens was truly amazing. Pictures can’t do it justice. The one picture here is in the front garden near the entrance to the home and is in keeping with the rest of the stone house and gardens. The tower-like stone structure is a bird house! On the other side of the house is a two story guest house covered in ivy. And in the back are many different garden areas with an abundant variety of colorful flowers.
When we got back to the ship, we were surprised to see what was on the other side of the ship. We left so early, we really didn’t get a good look around this area. But upon returning, we could see why just walking around the small port town would have been a great way to spend the day as well. There were lovely beaches and park areas along with little cafes to enjoy a seafood lunch or cup of coffee.
We had a New Zealand dinner in the dining room with more lamb (had some at lunch as well) and the dessert I had been waiting to try – pavlova. It was like a meringue (only better) with a sweet cream and fruit on top. After dinner, we went to see the comedian, Kevin Jones, who has appeared on Comedy Central. He was pretty funny.
And to end a great day, as the night was falling, we went outside to see the still active volcano that was in the middle of the ocean and right off the side of our ship. The picture is dark but you can still see the plume of smoke rising above it. [Those are not clouds.] I’ve never seen an active volcano completely surrounded by water. It is still its own little island and very new – pretty interesting!