I’m still in love with Waitomo. It seems it’s becoming more interesting the longer I spend here. It’s a joy to drive through the quiet, windy roads around the lush green hills and limestone karsts that dominate the landscape. I’m at that in-between stage where part of me feels like a resident here, I feel very comfortable, and yet I still enjoy playing the tourist, going on cave tours and hanging out in the cave museum. I genuinely appreciate every day I have here, and they really do pass by so fast. After a visit to the Waitomo museum one day I picked up a few vintage information books, one about cave formations and cave fauna, one on glow-worms and one titled ‘A Trip Through Time; A Guide to Landforms Waitomo Caves – Marokopa Coast’ the book explores Waitomo by car, with stop offs en-route, all presented in a charming 80’s fashion with unrealistic illustrations and a friendly personable narrative. I love it, and decided I would take a pilgrimage to retrace these steps, also it would prove interesting to see how much, if anything, it had changed over the years.
I was joined by Hendrik for the weekend’s adventure starting at The Natural Bridge. I visited this area almost a year ago on my 30th Birthday with my friend Luke, and the weather was reasonably better this time around. We walked through the awesome gorge, taking the track a little further this time to have some fun climbing in and around the karsts. Further along the road is the Piri Piri Cave. I hadn’t ventured inside before, but after a conversation with pro-caver Nick (mentioned in the last blog) I realised there was some pretty cool stuff to see down there. Armed with our head torches we took the steps leading down in to the darkness then climbed over to venture further inside. We could see there was a suggestion of steps leading us through a small passage towards what is referred to on the map as the ‘Oyster Room’ (it didn’t disappoint). It was a dry and muddy cave and we managed to find old graffiti and untouched stalactite formations.
Next stop along the road was the magnificent Marokopa Falls. A short bushwalk leads you down to the viewing platform for the waterfall, not quite satisfied enough we decided to slide on down through thick sticky mud to get to the foot of the falls. It was all part of experiencing the power close to hand, much like when you find the perfect spot for watching your favourite band from the audience- too far away and you are removed from the feeling. Returning home to remove some of the mud, we drove out to Pirongia and finished the great day over drinks with Heath & Colette.
Time for some sunshine, summer seems to have kicked in at last. Apparently it’s an unusually unsettled mix of weather here in Waitomo at the moment, days of blazing sun, then in the next moment thunderstorms, rain, and fog. Personally, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I’ve always enjoyed variety. The Cicada’s have started singing their calling song in the trees and the tarmac is warming up under barefoot.
Myself and Heath have always been pretty keen to enhance our photography skills, particularly in low-light and capturing the glow worms is really quite a skill. We take photographs throughout each tour that then get sent to the customer the next day, but the results vary due to the cheaper waterproof cameras we use and tricky changing conditions. Michelle had suggested we partake in a photo walk workshop around Raglan to hone our skills a little. It was really just a good excuse to have a play, Heath captured some particularly fine shots. It’s like anything, experience and practise will enhance the results.
I received a message from Hendrik offering to take a drive over for the night of the 14th from Matamata (Hobbiton) to cook me a special dinner. I didn’t realise at first that this coincided with Valentine’s Day (I’ve never been one to celebrate such an ‘occasion’) but the thought was touching and I decided I’d like to return a gesture, in the form of a childlike treasure hunt for when he arrived! I did have doubts as to whether it was going to all be a bit much, either a genius or ridiculous idea- it was hanging in the balance as I finished tea staining the papers ready for the treasure map illustration and clues. After some thought I decided that if I would enjoy the game myself then he probably would too…
The idea was that we could venture toward the nearby rock climbing wall, on the site of the old farm, which made for an interesting and historic walk. After an early start placing the clues in position I had a day of touring before I got to find him busy in the cottage getting dinner ready (I could get used to this?) It was time to begin the hunt, in and around the old fireplace, underneath the bridge, before leading us up the ‘stairway to heaven’ to the ‘hidden place’. Leaving the farm my car gave an almighty crunch sound, somehow I was expecting this as it was beginning to get creakier by the day. We pushed it into the layby all the while 3 cars from nowhere offered to help (don’t you just love this country). Reluctant to continue driving causing more damage we started to take a walk home. Another car soon pulled up beside us offering help, complete with farmer hat, friendly smile and offering us a cold beer-our new friend Gavin kindly dropped us home. I’m pretty sure we’ll stay in touch as he was keen to visit Hendrik’s pub and also he has a cave on his land (would be rude not to visit sometime, right?). It was somewhat of a silver lining, knowing the car may cost a bit, but this didn’t matter now- we still had that lovely cooked dinner to look forward too- fresh fish and mussels no less.
There was also another bonus to my darling car breaking- that I got to spend another day with Hendrik whilst sorting it out (well, having lots of fun too) we bought some camping supplies in anticipation for the weekend ahead.
Camping and live music were the social events I’d really missed from back home. It was the epitome of fun for our group of friends to have a good old knees up over a few days. It was Hendrik’s best mate Amy’s 30th party, in the form of camping on a friend’s vast land over in Matamata. Good job I didn’t need my car for the weekend! I was picked up and we headed to the Garden Art Studio in nearby Cambridge that was going to exhibit my artwork. A diverse little gallery in wealthy Cambridge, it felt good to have my work on display and to inform me to start producing new pieces. Onward to the party and we were greeted by a pretty, smiling Amy. We pitched our tent and began meeting everyone including lovely hosts Rachael and Grant, who happen to have a superb record collection including a rare Tim Buckley vinyl (respect soared at that moment) J. Amy also had a gorgeous VW Beetle to die for- a really cool chick.
Adding a whole mix of fire poi, lush food, dancing to Fleetwood Mac and of course drinking, it’s fair to say it was a pretty decent occasion indeed. We were sent to sleep by the eccentric musings of Jim Morrison being piped through the window.A pleasant trickle of rain hitting the tent sent us to sleep and within a few hours we were back on the road to meet my old housemate and our ex Hobbiton co-worker Ellis. Dropping in I briefly saw Cathie (my landlord during my time at Hobbiton) and it was all smiles and hugs seeing Ellis again. We planned to hit the Karangahake Gorge walkway on this super-hot day, to view the immense towering bush and find our way through the many gold mining tunnels, each offering wonderful viewpoints when hitting the daylight again.
Seeing that we were much nearer the sunny east coast I had decided to take Michelle up on her kind offer of letting out her Bach for myself and Hendrik to stay in for a couple of nights. It is located over in Waihi – the gold mining town I visited nearly a year ago whilst WWOOFING. It has an incredibly large mining pit that raises mixed opinions from the locals, but we couldn’t help but stand fascinated and in awe of it. The Bach is just out of the township and boasts a scenic estuary outside the back door, leading towards a popular surf beach. It was yet another haven for us to spend some extended quality time together, playing games, dancing and enjoying each-others company. This would be the longest time we had spent together, and it felt very comfortable.
All this road tripping was pretty tiring (especially for the passenger who just sits there taking in the view) 😉 we found ourselves a nice pub to get some grub and beers and I lost Hendrik to a vintage pinball machine for about 30 minutes J it’s nice that we’re both into our games and geek fun. We spent around an hour constructing the best models we could make using counters, chess pieces and straws! We’d also found a very simple looking gamed called ‘Mancala’ using a basic wooden tray with hollows containing glass nuggets – it’s now my favourite game ever (I kept winning somehow) to keep it balanced though we’d hit the dartboard every so often where I’d get a beating. We had a dartboard at home for a time and I have distinct memories of our beloved cat Martin sitting comfortable directly below when we were playing, it’s a miracle those darts didn’t rebound onto him. Bless him. We also had opportunity to rekindle our love of finding interesting pieces around Waihi, souvenirs, books, and gathering ideas, particularly for his pub. It’s fun to have somewhere to design, plan and invigorate and the ideas are endlessly flowing into that place, it’s inspiring. We took a short drive out to Bowentown from a recommendation from Amy and again had a beautifully sunny day to explore the beach with it’s sea caves and soft creamy sand. We were joined only by a family catching crabs (yes, there were a few catching crabs jokes that day). Hendrik began to remove clothes and head in to the sea! It was magic, I knew we both wanted to hit the water, it was the perfect environment so I just marched on in as well. Spotaneous-happy-sunshiny-days.
It was time to head home, with the ute full of blankets, camping gear, booze and his plants in and around the dash (his babies). We took a de tour to Mount Mauganui (still on the east coast) and enjoyed a drink in a lovely colourful bar I’d been to a few times before. A pit stop at a yummy New York pizza place in Hamilton (detoxing was imminent for the next few days) and finally we headed back to the cottage. An evening was spent listening to the haunting yet uplifting voices of the Bulgarian Choir, as we had realised the night before through chance that it was something we both really enjoyed listening to and had accessed through different sources, that’s the beauty of music. What a truly amazing few days, I felt the light was truly shining through on us.
Soundtrack: Fleetwood Mac – Dreams, Moby – Inside, UB40 – Rat In Mi Kitchen, The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices – Mir Stanke Le
Book: Moby – Porcelain (autobiography)