|Our first night under canvas was quite comfortable so we jumped out of bed around 8am, packed the tent away and prepared ourselves for the day's events.
First stop was the official glow-worm cave just around the corner from the campsite. The guide books always advise to go on the first and last tours of the day as there are fewer people. Unfortunately, we just missed that by a couple of minutes and went on the second tour.
There were about 15 of us by 9.30 and we entered the cave with our guide. This was an entirely different experience from yesterday, with hard concrete floors, walkways, handrails and all the geological features tastefully illuminated. It was still quite impressive though, and you could appreciate the timescales involved in creating these caves - stalactites probably only grow by 1cm every 100 years and some of these were a couple of metres long.
However, the piece de resistance was the boat ride at the end of the tour. We had already seen a few glow worms this morning and been able to appreciate their long strands hanging from the ceiling. Yet only once we were in the boat floating in the dark on the underground river could you really see why this cave has been a crowd-pleaser for over 100 years. Above our heads was the most incredible galaxy of stars covering the entire ceiling of this large cavern. As we moved beneath them they appeared to move, picking out the relief of the cavern roof. We had all been told to be quiet as we might disturb the glow-worms, but I rather suspect they don't have ears and it was more to create a sense of atmosphere. We were speechless nonetheless. Thankfully no cameras were allowed, which meant that everyone was relaxed and forced to absorb the scene with their eyes alone. Amazing that poo and mucus could look so good.
As we left the cave we were faced with wave upon wave of the Japanese schoolchildren, all in their uniforms, all racing towards the entrance. There were more coachloads behind them and there was no sign of the flood receding. There must have been hundreds of them. We had no idea how the poor guide was going to deal with them as the cave wasn't that big and I think he would struggle to maintain a sense of magic with hordes of giggling schoolkids. I think we had just timed it right and for once the guidebooks were spot on in their advice.
Back in the car we headed towards Rotorua, the town famous for its geothermal springs, mudbaths and its sulphurous smell. However, our first stop was to be Wai-O-Tapu, one of the largest geothermal reserves around Rotorua and, arguably the best. We certainly thought so.
This large park contains all the requisite geothermal activity - mudpools, geysers and coloured lakes. It was lovely and sunny as we walked around admiring the sights through the ever-present steam that drifted around the place. The scale of the park was impressive, especially the huge area containing the Terraces and the Champagne Pool, a large bright green pond of fizzing green water fringed with an orange shelf created by the different chemicals active in the water. Kate was a little unnerved to think that all that separated us from such boiling water was a thin crusty deposit and made sure she kept strictly to the defined paths.
We were too late to see the Lady Knox Geyser in action today - we know that because it is induced to perform every day at 10.15am by having soap flakes stuffed down its vent to force it to explode in a 10m jet. We were glad we missed it really as we seemed to have avoided all the crowds and there were no other people around. The whole walk took around 2 hours but it was worth it and the variety in this one area was quite incredible.
On the drive back to Rotorua we had given a lift to a young Englishman called Andy who added further fuel to our "it's a small world" debate by declaring that he did Geography at Edinburgh University while I was there but a couple of years below, and that he now lived in Oxford, again overlapping while we were there. When we discovered that he had been made redundant from an Oxfordshire software company six months ago (he was travelling around on the pay-off), Kate declined to ask who that company was in case her family connections were revealed...
We decided to camp at the Lakeside Thermal Holiday Park, funnily enough right next to Lake Rotorua just away from the centre of Rotorua itself. It was a bit of downgrade from last night's campsite but we took advantage of the avaiable canoes and went for a quick paddle on the lake.
We walked into town a bit later and had some food at the Fat Dog (further proof of our naming theory) and then on to Fuze for a beer or two. We weren't really taken with Rotorua - it was slightly shabby with a seventies tourist kitsch about it that was slightly depressing. We were glad we were only staying a day.