New Zealand North Island – Waitomo to Rotorua

Hi again friends!

Our schedule today was yet again packed. It has been an absolutely exhilarating day and one that we will never forget.

We woke up bright and early this morning after a good sleep in our AirBnb. Had some jam on toast for breakfast and then we packed our stuff into our car and drove to the centre which was just down the road to start our activity and the reason we decided to make Waitomo one of the stops for our trip – The Black Abyss tour.

The Black Abyss tour is a run through a company called the Black Water Rafting Co and is easily the best way to experience the stunning Waitomo Glowworm tunnels. The glow worm tunnels were featured on the amazing documentary series David Attenborough’s Planet Earth – they are that special. Most people jump into a little wooden boat and float down the stream of the glow worm tunnels to see their amazing glow light up the darkest of caves. We did it a bit differently. The Black Abyss Tour combines the serenity and beauty of seeing the glow worms in their natural environment with an action packed caving exploration. 

At the tour check-in we were required to put on some very thick and heavy wetsuits, this seemed like overkill as the day was quite warm, but the tour guides assured us that it would be extremely cold within the caves. 

We then jumped into the bus with our tour group which bussed us about 10 minutes down the road to what was a very non-descript area that just looked like a random spot on the side of the road. We walked up through the trees to a clearing in the grass where they taught us proper abseiling technique and practised with the ropes.

Practice abseiling pics

The practice was over and the adventure was to begin. We lined up behind what looked like a crack in the earth. We got hooked up and abseiled into the pure darkness of the black abyss. It was pretty cool abseiling down because you could use your legs on the side of the entrance but then when the cave opened up you were literally just dangling on the rope with no chance to touch the sides. We had never abseiled before so this was very new for us. We’re not sure about the distance we abseiled down but it was into pure darkness. Our guess would probably be about 35-40 metres down. Not a huge amount, but definitely enough to strike fear into us.

When we got to the rocky outcrop at the bottom we switched our helmet lights on and set forth through the dark and dank caves. It was really fun hiking through the caves, but it was also a bit treacherous. The ground was uneven and it was very slippery. We definitely took some bumps and bruises along the way. 

Walking through cave photos

We got to another pitch black section of cave where we had to hook ourselves up to a wire and zipline through pure darkness. This was terrifying because we had no idea how high above anything we were or how long the zipline was. We emerged onto a cliff-type ledge that overlooked a subterranean river. We sat down on the ledge and drank some hot chocolate that the guides had brought in thermoses for us.

Cave Ledge pictures

Our next step was to get into the water. We had to inflate some tube-type floatation device and then jump off the ledge with our tube into the freezing cold water. We then had to use a cable attached to the walls to haul ourselves and our tubes upstream and then we got into a train type formation where we linked arms and legs to float down the river whilst lying back and looking at the cave roof.

Link formation pics

While we were doing this the guide made a loud noise with the tube which caused the glow worms to use bioluminescence and light up the cave. This was stunning. Little blue dots all over the cave roof like stars in the night. We spent more time floating down the river and hiking through the caves. Then we needed to exit the cave somehow. The way we did this was to literally climb up a flowing waterfall. You could not see where to put your hands and your feet. We had to rely on where the guides told us to stand and grab all whilst water was flowing into our faces. This part was tough but extremely fun. After we climbed the waterfall we emerged from the cave into a forested area then hiked about 2kms back to the bus.

Emerging from cave photos

We returned to the centre to change back into our clothes. They made us some tomato soup and bagels to eat at the end of it which was a nice treat. This whole adventure took approximately 5 hours. It was the best way to experience the amazing glow worm caves. Our guides were also very funny dudes. Great experience. 

We then got in the car and embarked on our 2 hour drive east to the famous Rotorua. Rotorua is famous for a few reasons, but the first reason is one that you notice as soon as you step outside the car. We noticed it in a Kmart parking lot. The whole town smells like rotten egg. It is absolutely revolting and really difficult to get used to. Luckily it tends to come and go, but you catch whiffs of it when you’re outside and it can make you gag. The reason why this is the case is because of all of the geothermal activity in the area. The smell of sulphur radiates throughout the town. 

Despite the smell, Rotorua is actually a really cool town. It has quite a lot going for it. Our first activity was to do a geothermal walk at a place called Hells Gate. Hells gate is a geothermal park which means that it is where the smell in the town emanates from. It kind of reminds us of mordor which is quite appropriate. You walk around on boardwalks that go around bubbling mud pools and boiling sulphur pools. You just know that if you touched it, you would surely lose a hand. It is quite unique and majestic in its own way. The smell here though was the foulest. We’re not sure if this is something you could get used to because it was powerful.

After the walk you get to bathe in some hot pools/spas that are heated with the sulphur. This is really quite relaxing. It was raining a little bit when we got in here which created an interesting hot/cold sensation. In the middle of the spas were buckets of mud which you spread all over your face and body. This mud is said to have healing and relaxation properties by the Maori people. We played in here for a while until it was our time to go. We would say it is a must-do in Rotorua due to how unique of an experience it is, even with the wretched stench – it is all a part of the experience though, so embrace it! One downside though is that you lack privacy here. It was noisy and there were a lot of people. This would be far better as a private experience.

Mud baths pic

After the mud baths, all relaxed and very smelly, we went to the local Countdown (NZ’s version of woolworths) and bought some NZ snacks including Marmite and lime flavoured milk to snack on and drink when we got back to the airbnb. We relaxed in the airbnb for a little bit before heading out for dinner. We went to a burger joint which was recommended by our guides in Waitomo. It was called Burger Fuel. Burger fuel sells gourmet fat dirty burgers. This really went down a treat. We also had an L&P to go with which is a New Zealand made lemon soft drink which was also delicious. A great meal. 

We decided to go to a massive play park called Motion Entertainment for our night activity. It is basically a big warehouse that contains bowling, laser tag, arcade games, mini golf, escape rooms, trampoline areas. It was super cool. We ended up playing the minigolf together. It was lumberjack and old-timey colonial themed which was fun. Lorant won this by one stroke, he played it well. It was a nice, slow and fun way to spend our night. After this we went back to the Airbnb and climbed into bed at a reasonable time. 

Minigolf pics

Much Love.

Ronnie & Aimee.

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