Epic Adventure Part Three!
Yes, our itinerary for our New Zealand & Australia trip is a little crazy. New Zealand to Australia and back to New Zealand. However, it was cheaper to get roundtrip tickets from Seoul to Auckland, than to fly into one country and out of another; plus, it was better for matching our itinerary to our friends’ schedule and to work obligations. Therefore, over twenty days into our trip, we turned back to New Zealand for the final portion of our vacation. We had four days on New Zealand’s north island, and those four days flew by.
We began our time in Waitomo, which is famous for its glowworm caves. In the initial planning of the trip, I said that I wanted to see glowworms; however, Jared looked into the options and decided to make me earn a glowworm sighting. We had an early morning tour with Waitomo Adventures to visit the Lost World Cave. We were told to wear thick socks, athletic clothing, and to leave the camera behind. No camera?! Jared found this company through the pictures he had seen online, but they ask you to leave the camera behind so that you can enjoy the experience. Plus, the guides take several photos along the way and digital copies are freely given after the tour. Our tour lasted for four hours, but it went so quickly. We began by gearing up in jumpsuits, rubber boots, hardhats, and harnesses. We went on a practice walk to make sure we knew how to use our ropes and carabiners correctly. And then we repelled 100 meters into an abyss. At the top our ropes felt so heavy; I could barely make it wiggle, and I thought it was attached to something at the ground, but no! It was just so weighed down by the height that it felt heavy. We learned how to use our hands and feet to make the descent go faster and slower, and we were off. I’ve never repelled before, but it was so much fun! I wanted to go faster (partly because my harness was not comfortable), but we had to stay in a group. We stopped for pictures a few times along the way, and we picked up speed the further down we went.
Once in the cave, we scrambled along the rocks going deeper and deeper until we were away from the sunlight. Intermittently, we had to hook ourselves to ropes that were bolted into the rocks to make sure we wouldn’t fall if we slipped. My legs were too short to go down some of the rocks, so I often resorted to sliding down boulders on my butt; the rocks were muddy, and I was filthy by the end of it. We went to an inner room and turned off all our lights to see the glowworms, which looked like little stars. They glow from some chemical in their poop; isn’t nature beautiful? After the glowworms, we had to gain elevation to get back out of the cave. We were hooked on to a rope and had to climb a 30 meter metal ladder. I am not scared of heights, but about two thirds of the way up, I was not feeling so awesome. The higher I got, the more the ladder swayed with each step and added to my heavy breathing from the exertion, I felt a little lightheaded; I knew I was safe with the rope holding me, but I’ve never been more grateful to get off a ladder. The rest of the tour was spent climbing over rocks and up a few more short ladders. Though I hadn’t originally expected such an adventurous caving experience, I am so glad we went. It was one of the most exciting days of the entire trip.
Our trip to New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Hobbiton Movie Set. The set, like most of New Zealand is gorgeous; however, unfortunately that is the best I can say about it. We were on an afternoon tour and the place was packed. There was a large family in our tour group that took a lot of pictures at every hobbit hole stop. They took so much time, that no one else had a chance to get many pictures because there were several tour groups behind us waiting. This family had a young boy that they would send into other people’s pictures, so that the people would move and the family could get their pictures. Our tour guide kept telling the group to hurry because of the groups behind us. Jared and I wanted our own pictures, and we found the entire experience frustrating. I have friends who have visited and said this was nothing like their tour; so, I hope this was the exception, not the norm. However, at the end of the tour you get a drink from The Green Dragon Inn, and that lifted our spirits considerably.
We woke early one morning to hike for a view of Mount Taranaki, a volcano on the western coast. It closely resembles Japan’s Mt. Fuji, and was the backdrop for The Last Samurai. We had intended to do the hike at sunset the night before, but rain had come in and visibility was really poor. We were worried we’d have the same problem in the morning. We hiked for two hours, and were rewarded with a perfectly clear scene…for ten minutes. Clouds came in rapidly and we left without being able to see the mountain. However, we saw it! There was an unfortunate moment on the hike back down. I saw a rabbit hop into the bushes. I wanted a picture of him, so I kicked at the bushes to scare him out. I didn’t realize he was still so close, and I kicked that bunny right in the head. It scared both of us; he sprinted for his life as I cried apologies, and Jared laughed at us. It still haunts me.
Our final adventure for New Zealand and the trip was to see the first sunrise of 2016. Last year, we followed the Korean tradition of seeing the sunrise on the east coast. Once we decided that we wouldn’t spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney, we needed a plan of how we would welcome 2016. We chose to keep with the sunrise tradition, but upped the ante by placing ourselves where the sun first rises in the world. We planned to be on a beach, but a closed road made us act fast, and we found an overlook just before sunrise. Who would have guessed that the first sunrise of 2016 was the best sunrise of our trip?
We returned to Auckland to prepare for our flight out. Heavy rain and exhaustion from a month of travel kept us from exploring the city. Prior to this vacation, our longest trips have been around 16 days. We enjoyed an incredible 29 days of travel for this adventure. I always enjoy our travels, but this was especially wonderful. We had a beautiful mix of relaxation and adventure, long talks and companionable silences, challenge and comfort. When we first started dreaming of travel years ago, I never guessed we’d be so lucky to manage all that we’ve done. Each adventure helps us grow closer to each other and to understanding this wonderful world we’ve been given. Thank you for joining us.