Day 2 of our trip started bright and early. We boarded a coach bus and headed south to Rotorua with a stop to the Waitomo Glow Worm caves, the Agrodome and Te Puia—Maori Arts & Crafts Institute and the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley.
The coach ride to each place and on into Rotorua made for a long day. While the countryside was beautiful and each stop was enjoyable, I didn’t enjoy being on a bus for that long…and this was the first of several excursions like this.
Our stop at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves was one I was excited for before going on the trip. It’s not every day that you climb into an oversized rowboat and coast in complete darkness while glow worms hang out above you. We had a tour through a cave system with stalagmites and stalactites surrounding us before boarding the boat. Since no light whatsoever is allowed inside the portion with the glow worms, the “captain” guided the boat through the cave by pulling on a set of cables. The ceiling of the cave was dotted with these neon bluish-green specs that almost resembled LED lights. They also don’t allow talking during this portion of the tour, so all you here is water moving around the boat. The ride itself was only 5-ish minutes long, but it was definitely dreamlike and almost surreal to see. Pictures weren’t allowed once we got into the caves, so sadly I wasn’t able to snap any. Any type of lighting can harm the glow worms and their life cycle. I did, though, snap a few pictures outside of the visitor’s center and at the end of the ride after we had gotten off the boat.
After the cave tour, we loaded the bus, were given our picnic lunch (included with the tour), and were off to our next stop—the Agrodome. In our travel materials, this stop was positioned as “an authentic working farm,” and while it can be considered a farm because of the live animals and whatnot…it’s not really a farm and more of a tourist stop. So I was a bit disappointed in that aspect. However, I got to feed some of the animals, so all was good. I mean, who doesn’t want to feed a lamb! There were cows, sheep, donkeys, alpacas, goats, ducks, ostriches, and highland cattle. There was a red deer farm (yes, red deer are farmed commercially in New Zealand) next to the Agrodome, so we saw some of those as well. We rode in an open, but covered, flatbed trailer (I don’t know what else to call it) to the different animals, and the sheep and cows literally came up right next to us. I grew up around farm animals, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it. We also watched our guide sheer a sheep (after offering to sheer Tim’s beard TWICE) and watched the sheep dog do its thing and round up sheep. Our guide was a pretty cool guy—interacted with all of us, cracked some jokes and was pretty nice. Points for that.
Our final stop of the day was at Te Puia. It started with a cultural performance by Maori people, which I honestly could have done without. Not trying to be mean or disrespect the Maori culture, but it was worse AND cheesier than the luau in Hawaii. We learned that the Rotorua area embraces the native Maori culture more than any other part of the country, so I understand why they would want to share this performance with visitors. The area around Rotorua is also very active in the sense of geothermal and volcanic activity, so we saw geysers and bubbling mud pools. Not the most fascinating stuff to see, but still neat nonetheless. Did I mention how smelly it is around Rotorua? There area smells like sulphur (rotten eggs), and even though you don’t notice it most of the time, every once in a while you do get a strong whiff of it. Stinky!
We also got to see a real kiwi while at Te Puia. The kiwi is New Zealand’s national animal, and sadly it’s on the endangered species list. It’s actually quite the funny animal—it’s a flightless bird related to the emu, is the size of a chicken and lays huge eggs. It’s also nocturnal, so we weren’t able to snap any photos of it while we were in the building that housed the kiwis. Bummer.
The day ended with us getting dropped off at hotel in Rotorua and walking around town to find dinner. Pig & Whistle Pub was our choice that night. It has a great patio out back, which is where we sat. I even discovered a New Zealand brew I became fond of and drank throughout our trip.
My overall opinion on the day:
I think stopping at places between close cities is a great way to see the area, but I honestly would have only chosen to see the glow worm caves. The Agrodome was fun because of getting to feed the animals, but I’ve done that at petting zoos here in the states. As far as Te Puia, I was expecting more from the stop. I thought seeing some of the geothermal activity would be really cool, but in the end it was bubbling mud puddles and an exploding geyser. You can only stand and watch those two for so long before you get bored and want to move on. In the end, I AM glad we traveled between Auckland and Rotorua this way and was able to see what we did. However, it’s one of those things that you only need to do once in your life.