I am living in Hamilton at present, and we decided it was time to visit Waitomo, one of the most famous local destinations, and one which I had not been to for over 30 years.
It is just over an hours drive from Hamilton, and it is three hours from Auckland. We were only on a day trip, and our main motivation was not the caves, but the bush walking in the area.
However we arrived at the magnificent visitor centre to find there was a $35 special winter price for a tour through the caves, so that was too good to miss. The tours run every hour, so we had time to grab a coffee before the next tour started. The Caves visitor centre is an amazing building with a huge overarching canopy, set amongst the trees, and well worth a visit on its own.
Our tour was a 45 minute guided walk through the cave, ending in a silent float through the main cavern which was alight with gloworms. Some interesting Maori history of the area – until the settlers came, Maori did not really enter the caves. But they are now a part of its story and are partners in offering the experience, which is all the richer for that.
The main cave has some great spaces – Kiri Te Kanawa has sung there, and when we were offered the chance to sing, I could not resist. It was a beautiful place to let the voice fly.
Waitomo is a Maori word made up of two parts. ‘Wai’ which translates as water and ‘tomo’ which means entrance or hole. Waitomo can be translated as the ‘stream which flows into the hole in the ground’.
We drove on to Ruakuri walkway, near another one of the caves. The walkways were hanging off cliff face at times, with sight lines plunging metres into the valley and creeks surging through rocks. Not that well sign posted for a not-so-confident person like myself. But it was worth the effort, walking through natural tunnels, through abundant NZ rainforest.
A special treat was to find a big fat wood pigeon devouring Kowhai leaves near the car park, unafraid that I was standing 2 metres away.
Highly recommended We enjoyed a fabulous meal and glass of wine – but take note it does not open until at midday.
- I had Green Lipped Mussels, diced with smoky Pancetta, Aioli ad Herbs baked in the shell ($13)
- Cynthia had the Lamb Shank with harissa-roasted Pumpkin, Kumaa and red onion with Humus and coriander Yoghurt.
What I learned
Stay for day or more
- There are some longer cave experiences which I would love to try – a special deal for all three caves on offer.
- There are also lots more walking tracks to explore
- I am keen to try the black water rafting
My choices of places to stay?
- Huhu has an interesting looking tower which looks like fun
- Top 10 Holiday Park is in the centre of everything
- Waitomo.com – the main Caves site
- Waitomo.org.nz – the regional website
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