Monday, February 12, 2007

New Zealand - Waitomo

Day 3 - Waitomo
We had an early breakfast and set off by 7.30 am to see the spectacular Waitomo Caves. The word 'Waitomo' comes from the Maori 'wai' meaning 'water' and 'tomo' meaning 'hole' - translating into 'water entering a hole in the ground'. The Waitomo caves are famous for the underground labyrinths of stalactite and stalagmite formations and glowworms.

On the roads early in the morning

Ramarama - one of the signs on the way that caught our attention

More! Bombay Pukekohe

The driving dude

We drove on...

...and on...

...and on...past green valleys...

...past pretty houses...

and fancy buildings.

The navigator was doing an excellent job...

...refuelling herself now and then with McCoy fruit smoothie, a drink that she became kind of obsessed with in NZ.

Pretty roundabout

Okay, we're on the right track!

The roads get more beautiful!

We passed farms with cows...

...and as if they don't have enough cows, there are cardboard cutouts of 'em!

More pretty houses - man, I'd love to live in one of these!

Kiwis - fakes ones - were everywhere! At petrol stations...

...and even on farms!

A vegetable market and the Big Apple cafe

More farms!

Lone jogger

Okay, just one more turn...

And we were finally there!

Now, a bit about the Waitomo caves. About 30 million years ago, Waitomo lay under the sea. The remains of tiny marine creatures accumulated on the seabed and formed a limestone rock strata - made purely of fossils and calcium carbonate. Over the last 24 million years, the Waitomo landscape was shaped by faulting, earthquakes and volcanoes. The limestone layers were pushed up from the sea floor, buckled and broken. Cracks and joints allowed water to flow through and gradually dissolve and carve out amazing caves. Even inside the caves, the water formed stalactites (mineral structures growing down from the ceiling), stalagmites (mineral structures growing up from the ground), columns (formed over thousands of years when a stalactite meets a stalagmite) and other beautiful structures. It is estimated that it can take 100 years to form 1 cubic cm of these structures.

The local Maori had known about the caves for many years but chose not to reveal it to the outside world. However, in 1887, English surveyor Fred Mace convinced Maori Chief Tane Tinorau to escort him on exploration into the caves. They floated into the cave on a raft made of flax stems, using candles as a source of light. When their eyes got used to the darkness, they were amazed to see a multitude of glowworm lights around them. They went back many times and discovered many more extraordinary formations. Soon, government surveyors mapped the cave and by 1889, the cave had opened to visitors. Many of the staff employed at the Waitomo Caves today are direct descendants of Maori Chief Tane Tinorau!

Our guide, armed with a flashlight and an amazing sense of humour, guided us through the dark caves. Dim lights had been installed to highlight the more spectacular structures. Sometimes the roof was so low that we had to bend our heads really low to go through. We saw the 'Tomo', a very deep limestone shaft, and according to our guide, many curious tourists had lost earrings, caps and even dentures when they bent over to take a 'deeper' look! Then there was the Cathedral Cavern where many concerts had been held! Some people even got married in the Cavern that could seat a few hundred people!

We were then taken to an even darker place for the underground boat trip. It was so dark that we could not even see the boat! The boatman somehow guided us to our seats. It was a very primitive kind of boat and did not even have oars! The boatman was guiding the boat along using a rope fixed to the roof of the cave! It was freakily exciting. And when we looked up at the ceiling, oh boy! Thousands and thousands of glowworms were lighting up the cave in a magnificent fashion.

We were not allowed to take pictures, but I found an image on the net that shows what we experienced. Simply amazing!
These were the larva of the Arachnocampa luminosa glowworm, that give out light to attract food. The life cycle of this glowworm has four stages. The eggs hatch into larva after around 20 days. The larva are less than 3 mm long. They attach themselves to the ceiling, emit light and send down sticky lines to trap insects. The insects are then drawn up and devoured by the larva.

Lines of the glowworm larva
After about 9 months, the larvae undergo the pupal stage that lasts for about 13 days before the adult emerges. The adult looks like a large mosquito, has no mouth and its only function is reproduction. Since it has no mouth, it dies of starvation within a few days. What a life.

We were allowed to take pictures near the exit of the cave.

This is where our boat came out of the cave.

Out in the light after 45 minutes of darkness!

It was a long walk back to where Golu was parked.

Viv in the tunnel

However, we decided to go for a walk around the area before we drove off.

We found this really amazing trek.

And that led us to this spectacular jungle area with really queer tree trunks!

And here's the incriminating photo of me picking a wild flower - I just couldn't help it, and Viv just couldn't help clicking it! :/

Anyway, we just kept walking and walking till we reached a fence and we couldn't walk any further!

And I decided to take over the camera for a change!

We made our way back to the carpark and drove off. We stopped by the i-Site (New Zealand's official network of visitor centres) to find out if there was anything else we could see in the area. We were guided to 'The shearing shed' that housed Angora rabbits.

Viv poses in front of 'The Shearing Shed'.

We went inside and saw about ten Angora rabbits in cages.

They were amazingly big, fluffy and cute!

The lady took one of them out - Charlotte. She was to be sheared that day.

Charlotte looked totally at ease - like she knew that it was just another haircut.

Charlotte was put on the shearing machine and the lady started the shearing process, while another told us about Angora rabbits. These Angora rabbits have lost the ability to shed their fur as a result of being taken out of their natural habitats many generations ago. So if they are not sheared, they will die of heat.

All this fur will be replaced in just three months!

Charlotte looks like she's totally chillin' eh?

The final touches were given using a pair of scissors.

The shearing shed also had a shop selling Angora fur clothing and stuffed toys.

This was one of the displays.

Cute huh? Holy cow, it was a real rabbit!

I pose with the cutie...

...and the cutie's owner!

I'd never seen Angora rabbits in my life, so Viv had to literally peel me away from the place. Besides, we hadn't had any lunch and were starving.

We bought sandwiches from this place called 'Glowworm Cafe' and decided to sit on the stone benches outside and eat them.

And even though I did not like the sandwiches too much, sitting there surrounded by nature in that way, I really think it was one of the best lunches I ever had.

Next up - Rotorua



  • ME FIRST!!!
    Now waiting for bhai's tippani..

    By Blogger Sakshi, at 8:49 AM  

  • silver!!
    hey sash. i seriously suggest putting up your pics on flicker or a more photo-friendly website. blogger kinda sucks if you're uploading loads of pictures like this- just terrible interface.

    you've some really nice pics in there, btw.

    my $0.02 :)

    By Blogger The_Girl_From_Ipanema, at 11:23 AM  

  • An observation...NZ looks like a land of cows...they hv so many of them...and if they hvn't had enuff of 'em...they put cut-outs of the poor animals on their farms...OMG...whoever named it kiwiland seriously needs to rethink!!!
    Imagine the NZ cricket team being referred to as the Bovines instead of the Kiwis ;-)

    By Blogger Bivas, at 11:16 PM  

  • #Sakshi,
    Thanks! Tippani comin' up soon! :)

    #Ipanema Gal,
    Thanks dear! The pics are not uploaded on blogger, they're on picasa, I've just used the image links here. :)

    Hehehe! Holy cow! :D

    By Blogger Sayesha, at 3:52 PM  

  • these rabbits are too cute....

    By Blogger Neihal, at 8:28 PM  

  • Nice! Did you get your very own Angora 'stuffed' rabbit?

    By Blogger sandya, at 1:24 AM  

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