We left Wellington and made our way to Mount Ruapehu – the home of New Zealand’s live volcanoes. We were just driving along when all of sudden Mount Ruapehu appeared in the distance. It looked exactly as you would expect a volcano to look, except it was covered in snow. Another two volcanoes including Mount Doom as it is known from Lord of the Rings followed it. It was getting late and the sun was setting so we just took some pictures from the car and made our way to the Tongariro Holiday Park. It had been raining on and off the whole way there so we were hoping that it would be clearer the following day as we were wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing – an 8 hour trek that would take us through one of the volcanoes and around the park.
We arrived at the Tongariro Family Holiday Park and Barry went to check us in. He was gone for quite some time and when he eventually came out he had lots to tell me. Turns out the last time the volcano erupted was only last year and it sent all the locals into a panic as rocks and ash starting firing out the top of it. Granted it would be scary, but I can’t help but think how cool it would be to actually see a volcano erupt. Sadly the next thing he had to tell me was that the Tongariro Crossing had been closed due to such bad weather forecasted for the next few days. Temperatures were sent to drop to below zero that night. Good job we have a heater in the van! We were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to do the trek, we’d heard from people that it was amazing, but we were given details of another trek we could do.
The next morning we awoke to a very cloudy day. The day before we could see the volcanoes from where we were but today, they were nowhere to be seen through the mist. We drove to the start of the trek that was recommended to us, but it as so cloudy we decided we’d have to give it a miss as we could only just seen past our noses. Feeling very disappointed and with nothing else to do, we decided to drive onto our next destination – Lake Taupo – the biggest lake in New Zealand. It continued to rain the whole way there, so it was a pretty dismal drive.
Once we got to the lake it was huge. You could mistake it for the ocean if you didn’t know any different. It even had it’s own island in it. We checked into our next park All Seasons Holiday Park Taupo. The lady there gave us a whole list of things to do so with the rain coming to a stop we decide to go out and explore. Our first stop was Hukka Falls. We’ve seen a lot of waterfalls on our travels so far, but nothing compared to this one. It wasn’t like a normal waterfall, it was just a mad gush of water raging down a canal and then throwing itself over a drop into a big lake. It was crazy to watch and so loud. All this water had to go somewhere though and our next stop was to Aratiaia dam. At certain times of the day they would open the floodgates and you could go and watch. So this is what we decided to do. They had a clock that was counting down and a siren would sound three times before they opened the gates. When the clock struck 0:00, the gates were opened. We both thought there would be a massive gush of water, but instead it was just a steady flow. Not quite how we’d imagined it!
With the rain still holding off we decided to make one more stop at Craters of the Moon. It was a thermal park where the ground is really hot from being situated on tectonic plates. You could see steam rising from the ground all over the place. You had to stick to the path as if you got too close to the craters, the steam rising from them could burn you as it was that hot. It was a 45-minute walk round and about 15 minutes in, it started to rain. We were prepared – we were wearing our coats, but it meant that the camera had to be hidden away. Needless to say we picked up the pace and found our way back to the van pretty quickly.
The following day was our wedding anniversary and although we had nothing booked to do, we were driving to our next destination of Waitomo. Once we parked up at Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park, we went for a walk around the town. It was tiny and took just a few minutes to see it all. Luckily we had a very nice restaurant next to our park called HUHU. We treated ourselves to a beautiful meal and some wine. It had been a while since we’d had a proper dinner outside of the campervan.
Feeling stuffed we made our way back to the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park and settled in to watch Lord of the Rings. We figured we should probably make the effort to watch it as neither of us had seen it before (Barry had attempted it previously but fell asleep) and we wanted to see if we recognised any of the places. It was long, but I have to say it was actually pretty good and I’m eager to see the next instalment!
After a night that saw a big storm hit – there was thunder and lightening and the van was rocking from the wind, we made our way to The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Today we were going to be tubing through the Waitomo Glow worm caves. Now believe it or not, I was much more nervous about this than I was the skydiving. I don’t like small spaces and I don’t like being underground. Why the hell was I doing this then?? Another great idea from Barry!! We only had a small group; there were just six of us altogether and two guides. They were fitting us up with all the equipment – wetsuits, boots, helmets and were explaining what we were going to be doing, when panic really set in for me. They told us that we would be going to depths of 60 feet in the cave. I really did not feel comfortable going that far underground and was seriously considering backing out, but I really did want to see the glow worms so I embraced the fear and changed into the wetsuit. We had to get a minibus to the cave entrance so we all jumped on board and made our way there.
Once we arrived, we were all given our ‘tube’. It was just a stronger version of a rubber ring and we would be using this to sail down the water in the cave. Now bearing in mind that there had been a storm the night before and the rain had been torrential all night, the water was going to be higher than normal and a lot more rapid. That didn’t help my fear of the small spaces as it meant the water level would be higher and so the space we were going through would be a lot smaller. Before we entered the cave we had to practice a few things. We started by sitting in our rings and linking together as this would be our position when travelling through the cave. Next up we made our way to a small river. I felt relieved as I thought this would be how we would access the cave. I figured it would be a lot easier to just sail in then have to climb down and through a small hole into the cave but I was wrong. This was just to practice jumping into the water as we would be jumping off some waterfalls once in the cave. We had to stand on the waters edge with our back to the river, hold the ring to our bums and then leap backwards into the water. Sounds easy but it takes a lot of courage to just leap off a ledge backwards into the unknown. One by one we all did it and no one fell out there ring into the water, but it was cold. So cold, it took your breath away when you hit the water. Barry asked our guide how high the waterfalls were that we would be jumping off. He gave a very shady response of “that will spoilt the surprise”. Great – that just made me a whole lot more nervous!
Practice done, it was time to head to the cave. When we got to the entrance, I couldn’t even see it. It was small and hidden behind a rock. My heart was racing, but I just got myself in the zone and powered right on into the cave. Once in there, it was dark and so we had to turn on the lights on our helmets. The cave was fairly big and you could stand up in it but then we had to start walking and it got smaller and smaller. You had to use the ring as a walking aid and we were bent over, as the ceilings were too low to stand up. Water was running along the floor and at sometimes you would stand it water right up to your knees.
After a bit of a walk, it was time to get into the tube. In we all got and we started to sail through the cave. The ceilings was getting lower and at one point you had to lay as flat as you could in the tube as the cave was so small you were face to face with the ceiling as you laid back. That was as narrow as it got and I managed to say surprisingly calm. Soon enough the cave opened up again and we started to see glow-worm’s glowing in the cave above us. They were so bright it looked amazing. Next up, it was time to jump off our first waterfall. Luckily enough it was only about 4 foot high, but when the water is gushing past you as fast as this was and the water is so cold that you’re starting to shiver it was still pretty scary. We all took it in turns to jump over and then we just floated on through the cave, looking up at all the glow-worms.
We continued on, jumped another waterfall (this one was about 6 feet) and then we were told to turn of our lights and find our own way out of the cave. It was pitch black with just the glow-worms gently shining blue above us. It was nerve-racking. You couldn’t see a thing and you would just float into the cave wall and bounce back off it. Luckily the current floated us out to the exit and we all made it out safely in one piece! Once we got back to the office we were treated to hot showers (we need them as we were all freezing by this point) and some tomato soup. It was an amazing adventure and I’m so glad that I made myself do it!