We left Auckland pretty early. While we did get a decent view of the water from our hotel and the highway, we really didn't get to see or do anything else in the city. I hadn't slept very well the night before, so I passed out in the van. I awoke for "morning tea," which for me was a pretty good raspberry white chocolate blondie-pie thing. It wasn't quite a pie, but was too tight/compressed to be a crumble. I don't think anybody actually got tea. We got back in the van to finish the trip to Waitomo. I noticed that the scenery had changed into rolling hills and farmland. There were cattle, sheep, and horses everywhere. The views were spectacular and we could see for miles. We arrived at Waitomo and got in line for the cave tour. The tour took us through some limestone caves. They paved the caves. They must have taken out some stalagmites because the floor of the cave was paved with cement tiles. I understand the concept of making something accessible to as many people as possible, but paving the floor? As there were steps we had to walk down to get there and some rather narrow spaces, it's not like they needed to make it flat for wheelchairs. Other than the floor, the cave was pretty. The stalactites were still intact, and there were some stalagmites left, although mostly only ones that had met the stalactites in columns. They were dripping on us. This implies that they are still growing and more stalagmites would be growing- except that they paved them. The cave is not one of those muddy caves that I've gone spelunking in, it is a pretty dry cave, with lots of space for fitting tour groups. One of the chambers that we entered is even called "The Cathedral" because it has high ceilings and the stalactites look like church organs. After looking at the dry part, we went down near the river. As the river runs through the caves, it brings in river creatures like fish, mosquitos, and other bugs. Just as bugs elsewhere swarm towards lights at night, the bugs from the river swarm towards the lights on the ceiling of the cave. Too bad for them. The lights on the ceiling of the cave are little glow worms, each dangling their own 1-strand spider web. When the bugs hit the strand, they get stuck and get pulled into be eaten by the glow worms. When the glow worms grow into their fly stage, they too can get trapped in the strands and end up cannibalized by other glow worms. However, as it is very dark in the cave, you don't get to see most of that. They do turn on a dim light in one area where you get to see the strand hanging. Beyond that, the glowworms just look like a night sky full of little blue stars. The only difference is that this night sky is dense (even denser than the real night sky in Uluru), very visibly has three dimensions as the ceiling is not flat, and goes on for rooms and rooms. It actually reminds me somewhat of an Australian Aboriginal painting with all the little dots. We rode a little boat on the river so that we could marvel at lots of glow worms. The boat was moved manually, but not with oars. The "driver" held on to different cords that were running through the cave and pulled us along. He would also push off of one rope to get to another, or even push off of a stalactite. This left us in silence and in the dark, which just amplified the beauty of the glow worms' lights. The only thing I was less than happy about was that we only got 45 minutes in the one cave area. I would have like to do some of the other tours of other caves as well, or even gone black water rafting. Next time... We went to lunch at Roselands farm. The food was good, but the view was spectacular. It was on top of a big hill and we could see for quite some distance. Also, they had some really neat art on the walls. There was one painting I was going to get for my house, but they were having trouble figuring out the shipping. Oh well, hopefully I'll find something else. The rest of the way to Rotorua was uneventful, but beautiful. There were more rolling hills, farms, interesting flowers, and animals. On the way in to Rotorua, we passed the Zorbing area and watched a couple of people Zorb down the hill. I think that got my siblings excited to go Zorbing soon. We also saw where the luge cart area was and I got excited for that. As we entered Rotorua proper, we started to smell the sulfur in the air. Rotorua is located on the edge of a lake in a volcanic crater. The area is full of hot springs, sulfur pools and geysers. Even the park had areas fenced off to protect people from walking into the steam emitted by the ground. Think Yellowstone Park. Tomorrow, we are going on a tour of the natural wonders of the area, so I'll talk more about them then. After we settled into our hotel rooms (no bugs in this hotel-woo hoo), mom and I went for a walk around town. The visitors center and Rotorua museum are contained in some of the nicest buildings, certainly the nicest visitors center building I've ever seen. We wandered the gardens and up by the lake. There are tons of water birds near the lake. We were wading through seagulls (lake gulls?), ducks, swans, and other similar birds. People must feed them because the swans were willing to come awfully close to us. For dinner, everybody went to Nando's. Nando's is a chain we saw all over Australia, but hadn't been to yet. The whole restaurant chain is based on a single pepper. While the peri peri pepper sauces and spices were good, everything had a very similar flavor. It was pretty good, but I don't really see how anybody could be a regular as the singular taste of the peri peri pepper could get old after a while.
Tomorrow: we see where the stink is coming from