After our beautiful but brief stay in Taupo, we set out early the next morning for the Tongariro National Park. This park is a treasure, and is officially recognized (twice!) as being a World Heritage Site: once for its cultural significance to the Maori, and once because within such a small area, so many different environments are covered,from scrub, to lush rainforest, to deserts. Pretty crazy. Since we were setting off so early, it was of great importance that I fuel up with a good breakfast. Luckily, I had stocked up on this:
…Just don’t tell the guys I was eating Manly Yoghourt, okay? It was actually really delicious with all the seeds and apricot chunks mixed in, but I think I’ll switch back to plain, smooth yoghourt for my next stock up.
Anyway, long before we hit the national park, we visited something that had been number one on my list of things to do in New Zealand (well, aside from have a good time, obviously): try blackwater rafting through the glow worm caves of Waitomo. (Translation: go tubing in the dark through underground limestone caves while looking up for the blue glow worms.). I apologize that I have no pictures, but given the circumstances, I’m sure you’ll understand that I wasn’t about to bring my camera down there.
Having done it, The Boy and I agreed that it was by far the best thing we’d done in New Zealand up to that point. (A whopping five days. But still!) In fact, we even felt it worth it to buy the DVD of pictures afterwards, and I normally despise businesses that do that. People, I can not give you a more glowing endorsement than that.
The caves themselves were great: eerie, and old, and full of weird, crazy limestone formations. The mini-hike to get there (which was uncomfortable as hell in a wetsuit, by the way) was very pretty, wending through really nice native growth forests. Once inside, we splashed, crawled and floated through tunnels to see an underground waterfall, to fall backwards over an underground waterfall, to see the caves by lamp and candle light and of course, to admire zillions of tiny glow worms. If you have the chance, do go; it’s totally worth it.
I was heartbroken to discover, after a warming shower and hot chocolate post-caves (both were part of the experience) that the angora rabbit shearing shed, which the guide book had listed as being right next door, was in fact closed down. Boo! I had so looked forward to seeing an angora bunny sheared!
After that, it was up into the mountains of the park. Our guide informed us that our hostel was at 800m above sea level — the highest we would be in New Zealand, unless we went off on some serious mountaineering. We stopped in the Tongariro Park’s info centre and I took a picture of Mount Ruapehu.
Near the info centre, there was also a path for a walk to Tawhai Falls. We got surprisingly close to the falls! After a quick picture, and some more ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the cloud-shrouded Mt. Doom (née Ngauruhoe), we set off for our hostel in the National Park Village.
This hostel had kind of a chalet feel, and I suspect that it is very popular for skiers and snowboarders who visit Mt. Ruapehu in the winter. We were very pleased to be met with a cuddly welcome party when we arrived…
At the recommendation of our driver, we tried the restaurant next door for dinner and the food was absolutely amazing. Stay tuned to hear about the $9 curry deal (ridiculously cheap by NZ food pricing standards) of the following night in Wellington…