Earlier this year, I told my readers about legs #1 (Rapa Nui or Easter Island) and #2 (Tahiti) of a trip my family and I took in 1985. I had the pleasure of taking my family across the south Pacific on an extended vacation. We traveled from La Serena (Chile) to Santiago de Chile to Easter Island to Tahiti to Auckland, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia and finally to Sydney, Australia.
Leg #3 of the trip was half of a week on the northern island of New Zealand. We landed in the city of Auckland, rented a car, and looked around a little. Unlike the previous leg (in Tahiti), I had no need to close my eyes to prices. For example: we had the same hotel chain in both places. In Tahiti, our room was costing $200 per night. In New Zealand, $36. As I said, the same hotel chain; I even think the room in New Zealand was slightly larger! And likewise, all of the other prices were much cheaper in the land of the Kiwi.
The best part of the trip was the Waitomo Caves (and the glowworms in the caves). Waitomo is a small town about three hours south of Auckland by car (130 miles, see the X on the map, SSW of Hamilton). When we reached New Zealand we had no idea how to spend our time (remember, this was 1985, and back in the mists of antiquity, there was no internet to provide suggestions). Someone helpfully told us about the wonderful caverns in Waitomo. So we decided, why not? Packed up the family, enjoyed the trip south. Beautiful scenery: lots of rolling green hills dotted with white sheep (did you know there are more than 8 sheep for each human in New Zealand?).
So we arrived in Waitomo, found the caves, and discovered a possible problem. The tour involved a long walk through the caverns –- that was expected –- and a boat ride in the middle to see the glowworms. Glowworms (Arachnocampa Luminosa) are really the bioluminescent larvae of a kind of rare insect. But the people in the boat needed to be quiet, so that the “worms” would not be afraid and would luminesce.
We had three children with us. The older two were well-behaved, but could we keep the 22-month old toddler quiet ? We had driven 3 hours thither — we decided to take the risk. A bottle would help the youngest stay quiet.
Sure enough, a few minutes after we got into the boat and were floating down the river, the artificial lights were turned off, and my littlest started to squirm. She did not want the bottle. She twisted around and spotted the myriads of green lights on the ceiling of the cavern. For the next 40 minutes (the whole time we are there), she lay quietly (staring up at the glowworms) and the only thing out of her mouth was a subdued “pretty, pretty, …”. The tour was a success.
We also spent time in the markets and restaurants in Auckland, and that was all very nice. Back then kiwi fruit were only grown in New Zealand (they are now grown elsewhere), and thus very expensive in either Chile or the U.S. of A. So we were delighted to find out that a kilo (2.2 lbs) cost less than a dollar. One guess what we took back to our room to snack on. No, not one kilo! Moreover, I have always enjoyed the taste of lamb, so I was in carnivore heaven, eating lamb dish after lamb dish. Finally, we enjoyed the national dessert, Pavlova (a dessert made from meringue and kiwis, optionally topped with berries). Nonetheless, if you ask my family, what they remember is the caves, and our little girl looking up, entranced by the glowworms.
I think that what we did back in 1985 may now be called the “combo tour” of Waitomo and Ruakuri … it has been too long and I have forgotten too many details to be sure. But my daughter still remembers the glowworms.