On our previous lap of the North Island, we visited a place full of (glow) worms. This place is called Waitomo. This is the scene of one of many moments on this trip where I've had to conquer some fairly heavy level of fear in order to get things done. Abseiling into a dark cave before squeezing through some near-impossibly tight gaps in dramatic rock formations whilst submerged in water doesn't exactly feel like home for me.
With a still mildly jetlagged Ellie, we decided it would be a better idea to visit Waitomo at a more leisurely pace. We checked in at Juno Hall - a lovely place named after a lovely dog, presumably...
The youth hostel is nestled away in the Hangatiki Scenic Reserve, just outside of town, and offers the opportunity to meet a host of lovely creatures both inside an out. Our favourites were the tank full of terrapins and the equally exciting gaggle of goats (incorrect collective noun used for alliteration purposes). One of them looked like a dog so Jane yelled "puppy!" at it which raised some eyebrows around the camp.
Given that the main attraction in town is fluorescent fly-larvae, people are often waiting for it to get dark in Waitomo. In daylight, its warm but happily there's a pool at the hall that isn't full of terrapins so we went for a swim. Jane has been perfecting the art of aqua-jogging using a child-size inflatable ring covered in rainbows. For one reason or another, Ellie found this act rather amusing. I had a long conversation with a guy about Weezer then made some food for us all as fuel for the ten minute walk to the natural bridge at Mangapohue. As it so often is, the meal of choice was around 20 kilos of dahl.
When darkness descended, we tricked Ellie into taking on the most treacherous drive of her life (so far) from the campsite to the bridge. It's dark, every corner is beyond 90 degrees and there are seemingly infinite numbers of semi-suicidal possums to avoid. Safe to say she loved it.
With just enough screaming to keep us awake, we made it to the bridge. On arrival, there was a guy there sitting in his car with his hood up with the light on, staring at nothing in particular. There are plenty of warnings of cars being broken into around here so I decided to wait with the van whilst Jane and Ellie started the hobble to the bridge. Once I felt it was safe, I ran to catch them up, guided first by torch light, then by some rather magical looking worms.
Already a bit of a theme is emerging with this particular adventure - that theme being that you simply cannot take a photo of New Zealand that does it justice. That night in Waitomo is a particularly dramatic example of that. Such other-worldly beauty in reality - a smudge on a screen when photographed.
The next morning when I opened the van, I was confronted by a rather poorly Ellie, (Jane had told her not to eat the worms but she just insisted...). I made some tea in the hope that it would pass but it was clear that a period of recuperation would be required. We spoke to our temporarily landlords of Juno Hall and the receptionist let us know that she too had been rather unwell throughout the New Year's festivities. As a result, she felt some empathy and agreed to let us hang on a bit longer whilst Ellie had a nap. We had planned to head on next to the mighty Taranaki for a two-day hike but, as Ellie had a bug (worms!), this didn’t seem like such a great idea. We sensibly decided to delay our visit and do something a bit less energetic. Also, I injured the tap and the sink was out of action. Hopefully our luck would improve soon! Next stop - Taupo (a new place for us all!).