Our plan for today was to drive down to Waitomo Caves and visit all three of the major caves in the area on a kind of buy two, get one free deal. This meant an early start to make our first booking at 10:30, so we aimed to leave Auckland by 7:30. Unfortunately, we misjudged the time we needed to pack up and completely blew our wiggle room before we even drove off! By the time we got going at 8:00, we had only 5 minutes to spare.
The drive down was OK, but rain, traffic, refuelling and roadworks took away any chance we had to make up time. We called ahead to let the operator know we would just make it, only to be told not to worry because the Ruakuri Cave was closed due to flooding!! WHAT?!! Oh, and so was the Aranui Cave... and the Glowworm Cave was partly closed!!! YOU'RE KIDDING!!!! The lady said we could still visit the open part of the Glowworm Cave and they would provide a part-refund, but not wanting to make a hasty decision we said we would discuss it when we arrived.
When we arrived, we discovered that the closed part of the Glowworm Cave was the boat ride, which was the main part we wanted to see, so we cancelled the lot and received a full refund. To be fair to the operators, they were very accommodating and did not quibble at all. It was only the fourth time this year that the caves have had to be closed - but the second time this week! We just happened to pick the rainiest week of the year to visit New Zealand!
A cup of coffee and discussion of an alternate plan followed. Angela had spotted a sign for a short walk to a lookout, so we decided to do that before heading back to the information centre. It seemed like a good idea at the time!! The rain had stopped while we had our break, but the path turned our to be very wet, requiring some fancy footwork to stay out of the big puddles, However, the rainforest we walked through was delightful. We broke out of the forest into farmland and the lookout was in sight - but so were the squally showers! We pressed on regardless, and were rewarded with a fine view over the area, but didn't stay long as the rain was closing in fast. We didn't get back down unscathed - soaking shoes and trousers - but at least the experience taught us to wear our waterproof overpants and boots from now on!
The information centre did not provide much inspiration for the rest of the day, although we did collect some useful brochures for future destinations, so we checked in early to our accommodation, the Waitomo Farmstay. This place is a revelation! The owner is very welcoming, the cottage is 100 year old and very comfortable, and the welcome booklet contained information about a couple of local sights that were not mentioned at the information centre, probably because they were outdoors and it was a wet day. Anyway, we decided to head off to check them out.
First stop was the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a remnant of an ancient cave system. We followed the boardwalk alongside the river through a beautiful, lush gorge. The bridge itself is quite impressive. We moved on to complete the loop track, the second half of which was through farmland - more mud! If it hadn't been for the presence of fossilised oysters, it might have been better to return the way we came. Still, it was interesting to see the fossils.
Finally, we arrived at the Marokopa Falls. Another short but delightful rainforest walk brought us to the platform and a spectacular view of the falls in the evening light, complete with rainbow. At last, the rain that had flooded the caves and ruined our plans, delivered a grand finale! The falls were very full and the 35 metre drop created plenty of noise and mist for rainbow. A lovely end to the day.
The reality of set-catering struck home this evening, when we had to cook a full dinner for the first time. Pragmatism (laziness?) took over and we created a quick make-it-up-as-you-go stir fry that actually turned out rather well. We have named it Waitomo Stirfry and may well serve it up to visitors when we get home!
Only one night in this delightful cottage, but a good day of hiking in Tongariro National Park beckons for tomorrow, rain permitting.