Monday, March 15, 2010

Pt 14 - Ruakuri Cave and on to Taupo

Friday 26 February - Ruarkuri Cave and off to Taupo.
Today demands an early departure, but we are on the ball and arrive early waiting for a 9 am pick up from the info centre for a tour of the Ruakuri Cave. While we’re waiting we check out the museum for a bit, but I think I saw all the best stuff the other day.

We pile into the van and head out to the cave. We have just a small group in this first tour of the day. Only 9 people. We have come from all over the world. Denmark, Canada, California, and of course ourselves from Sydney. The entrance newly constructed is concrete but it is formed to imitate the natural pancaking of the local limestone. It is really very well done. The owner of the land now having the income from the reopening of the cave is letting the land surrounding the site return to bushland. As the bushland regenerates it is anticipated that the faux stone entrance way will become more camouflaged.

You enter the cave via a huge hole that has been drilled in the ground. A gently sloping spiral walkway runs round and round down 14 metres. The lights on the walkway create quite a beautiful effect. At the end of this descent you walk through another perfectly circular tunnel. It’s all very James Bond. Perhaps best of all, the whole cave is wheelchair accessible. What an achievement!!

There are some lovely crystal features in the cave. A striking feature of this cave, as in the Aranui cave are the very large stalactites that hang like elaborate chandeliers above the paths. They create an imposing and majestic sense of an underground palace. The natural cave decoration not overdone so each individual feature can be seen and appreciated for it’s own merit. There are some nice shawls along the walls as the passage narrows. Everywhere there is the tinkle of dripping water. Flowstone on the walls is wet and glistening. Water drips slowly from the tips of the stalacmites depositing the merest trace of calcium carbonate to grow in lustrous beauty ever downward.

There is quite a lot of cave coral. Tiny sharp clusters of crystal where the water has sat for long periods allowing the crystals to form in all directions. Even the stalactites and shawls have cave coral on them. We continue along the path through this hall of the mountain kings. Nature has painted highlights here and there with a layer of iron oxide juxtaposed against the snowy white of pure calcium carbonate.

As we move through away from the crystal caverns we enter large passageways where the pancaking of the limestone provides a striking and fascinating feature. I wrack my brain to try to remember what they said on the signs at the pancake rocks at punakaiki.. the pancake rocks are a mystery and they have no idea how they formed.. these ones at Waitomo are explained as progressive layers deposited over time. No mystery. In the end I conclude: punakaiki is igneous rock, these are sedimentary... sometimes I wished I pay more attention to geological information… which actually usually bores me to tears!

Areas where photos are not allowed are signaled by small blue lights along the path. These are areas where glow worms live or where the risk of dropped cameras to black water adventurers is simply too great to allow people to have cameras out and active.

As we come to an area where the glow worms can be seen in close proximity with their threads, we take it in turns to examine the grubs up close and move along to allow the others through, watching over the railing as the lights from the hardhats of the black water tubing folk flicker from the passageway the river has run though far below. We wait and watch to see them land in a shallow area, climb over an obstacle then position themselves in their inner tubes, gum boots hanging over the rim, to float on into the pitch black. I can’t decide whether that looks like fun or not!

We move along imagining we might see Gollum any time now, and arrive at some large fossil shells that were found during the redevelopment of the cave. We admire ancient rock falls and progressively hear tell of how the construction work for the new pathways was undertaken. We pass through a section with lights out quietly admiring the glow worms on the roof. There’s a pretty decent display. Not nearly a competitor for the dedicated glow worm caves, but nothing shabby none-the-less. It seems the Ruakuri cave is a back up for somewhere to take people should the glow worm cave need to close. Maybe due to another big flood or perhaps if carbon dioxide levels get too high or something.

Eventually we come to an area known as “the pretties” this is a chamber with plentiful crystal formations. Mostly stalactites and cave coral. Mostly white. It is most assuredly a pretty chamber. As we move along we come to the area where the old path used to go through towards the section that is wahi tapu. Sacred burial sites for the maori ancestors. We get a bit more detail on the story of the dispute over ownership of the cave. Each tour has given us a little bit more about that issue and while each piece of information has stood alone at the time, collectively they are fleshing out the issues and the solution arrived at. The dispute was active for over 40 years before local Maori won the argument. It all sounds oh so familiar with the goings on in Australia, though to an outsider it seems like New Zealand is a bit further along the road to a reasonable reconciliation with the indigenous people than we are at home.

From the pretties and the old path we loop back to the main route and commence the walk out of the cave. We pass two other groups coming in. Neither is large. The walk back to the surface is easy. Surprisingly easy up the giant spiral. It really is a very accessible cave. They have done an excellent job in redeveloping it. Big costs, time limit for recoup too. Along the way we did actually pass a wheelchair with a waterproof cover sitting in a corner of one of the larger spaces. Seems an odd place to store it.
Back on the surface we pile back in the van with thanks and compliments all round. Then it’s a short drive back to the i-site and our vehicle. We spend, or should I say waste a little time in the museum watching the multimedia show. It doesn’t tell us anything that we haven’t been told on pretty much every tour. Lifecycle of the glow worm, how caves are formed; the waitomo landscape and so on.

Hubby falls into the chocolate tourist trap and pays a ridiculous amount of money for some very poor quality kiwi fruit chocolates… ah, don’t you know you can get Whittackers kiwi fruit chocolate everywhere including at home? Anyway, time has come for us to say farewell to Waitomo and head to Taupo. We like caves. In fact I think the more I tour them the more I like them.

We do very little of interest on the drive to Taupo. The scenery is pretty similar to that coming down from the north. A bit greener perhaps. We pass through some pretty areas of native forest in small patches. Oh if only there was more native bush left. We wizz past the turn to Pureora. Dirt road. Hubby is anxious to get to Taupo anyway.

Taupo seems enormous and crowded after Waitomo. We sus out where we are staying but we are a bit early for check in which is not until 3:30. We spend some time wandering about to the north of town. A quick visit to Huka Falls Jet and the Prawn farm… hmm, doesn’t look too inviting as today we want something reasonably quick. We head back to the base for helicopter flights. They have a café – the Hub Café. It looks quiet but we decide that is more tempting than central Taupo and the crowds. As hubby finishes up our order I wander over to enquire about flights over the volcanoes. $650pp from here. It involves 90 mins flight time and an alpine landing.. hhmmm tempting, but I wonder if we can do one from closer that doesn’t take so long and cost so much. We would want to wander about down there on the ground anyway. We decide to look into other options.

Lunch is good. Hubby goes for yet another burger. This one has avocado and a patty that is clearly proper mince with various spices. They provide a bottle of tuimato sauce. Tomato sauce with tui beer in it. Hubby reports it was very nice- both the burger and the sauce! I opted for the oh so healthy French toast with bacon and fruit. This was very nice too. All in all a very satisfactory meal.

Lunch concluded we wander out towards Rapids Jet. Along the way we pass the lava glass studio. By now though we’re getting a bit over the lava glass. I think they have made a mistake marketing it absolutely everywhere. Every tiny gallery has some lava glass. It feels like it’s lost its exclusivity. For 500 bucks I want at least some sense of rarity, but hey I guess if they sell it’s all income isn’t it.

Having had a quick look we head on to Rapids Jet. No more trips in the jet boat today due to lack of numbers. How many people to do you need to go ahead? 4. “We could always eat some more” we joke. Laughs aside, they can take our number or we can book on one of several confirmed trips for tomorrow. We book and pay for 10 am. The river is a glorious colour: a rich, wonderfully clear blue. The huka series of lava glass does capture the hue of it very well. Looking downstream the river looks pretty. I’m really looking forward to the jetboat trip, but hubby is a bit nervous about motion sickness. He’s a sly one I joke. I might have to start pulling the motion sick lurk myself and get a guarantee of a seat on the outside edge for ease of depositing cargo overboard!

Now after 3 we take a look at Craters of the Moon. $6 entry for volunteers to watch your car. There’s toilet facilities and a small shop. Some people are coming out. One says to the others “everyone is very subdued”. A couple say nothing in reply the fourth says “just overwhelmed”. The tone suggests she meant the opposite, but the statement was made pretty dead pan so who knows. .. we figure we might be best advised to head on in to Taupo and check in to our accommodation and look over the itinerary for tomorrow and the next days, relax and take care of a few niceties like check the email, which we’ve neglected for a few days... oh dear, I've missed the deadline for futher submissions for the recipe book daughter 2 is having bound from contributions from friends and family for daughter 1's kitchen tea... she's chosen a few more for me from my recipe book.. phew.

An early night.. hubby is snoring by 8pm. I’m off to bed at 9:15. Journal completed for today. An easy one as not much in the way of photos!

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