After spending three weeks in Auckland, I got a call from a friend, Samira, who I know from my hometown in Sweden. She was driving from Auckland to Wellington the next day, and I decided to tag along. It is an eight-hour drive which we finished in three days, taking our sweet time to explore some of what the north New Zealand island has to offer!
Before I describe the specific spots we visited, I just wanted to mention that the drive. New Zealand serves up miles after miles of rolling green hills, covered with grass, trees and flowers. Visually, it is beautiful, if a bit repetitive. Audibly, however, it is a nightmare. I don’t know what they use to pave the roads in New Zealand, but the car hums a constant, monotonous and loud noise when driving. Occasionally, the surface changes to something quiet, but only for a minute, so you never ever get used to it.
The Glow Worms of Waitomo
Our first stop was Waitomo, a patch of land riddled with caves. These caves are home to Arachnocampa Luminosa, or glow worms. As grubs, these insects nest in the cave ceilings where they spin sticky ‘fishing lines’ in which they catch insects brought in through the subterranean rivers floating underneath. They attract these insects by glowing a soft blue light. There are thousands upon thousands of these insects, so looking up, both insects and nomads are easily fooled into thinking that what they are looking at is a starry night sky. The insects fly towards this and then get stuck in the webs and eaten by the grubs. Nomads just appreciate the beauty as the boat they sit in slowly drift along the subterranean stream.
There are two ways to see the caves. The cheaper option is to take a tour on a boat. The more expensive way is to wear a wet suit and float down the stream in a little rubber ring. Sounds a lot more fun, but I couldn’t afford that.
Samira and I spent our second day walking a few trails near the town of Turangi, located on the south end of Lake Taupo. It was a decent day, but I wouldn’t recommend stopping here as there are better places close by. Still, I got some good photos that I thought I’d show you before moving on to more fun stuff!
Tongariro National Park
In New Zealand, you do not hike, you tramp, and the best tramping I’ve done in a long time was in the Tongariro National Park. The park is home to three volcanic mountains. The most popular walk is the Alpine Crossing, a 5-7 hour tramp through a mountain pass. However, we couldn’t do that since Mount Tongariro erupted shortly before we got there and was still steaming while we were there, so the crossing was closed.
This turned out to be a damned good fortune as it forced us to explore some lesser-known tracks, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss these gems!
The Taranaki falls is a two-hour loop track through plains and forests. The highlight is the Taranaki Falls. Having been to the Iguazu Falls, I am quite jaded when it comes to waterfalls, but I quite liked this one since you could walk right to the top edge or behind the falls at the bottom. (Best place I ever ate a cheese sandwich!)
A shorter trail leads to another waterfall, Tawhai. This is a shorter waterfall than Taranaki, but it is also more beautiful, enclosed in forest and forming a clear mountain pool at the bottom. I was so bewitched by the scene that I simply had to strip to my underwear and go for a spontaneous swim in the freezing snowmelt water!
Fans of Lord of the Rings will of course recognize Tawhai Falls as the place where Gollum catches and eats a fish.
For lunch, we stopped at a cute little café in the middle of Mordor. A mere ten minute stroll away is a ridge from where you get an adorable view of Mount Doom, or Mount Ngauruhoe as the locals call it. This is the very spot where many of the Mount Doom scenes were shot. It is an easy spot to get to but a hard one to leave as it is breathtakingly impressive.
There isn’t much more to say so I’ll let the picture speak for themselves.