School holidays are here and we have been fortunate to be able to travel around a bit more. We are exploring the Waikato region where we live. It is named for the Waikato River which begins at Lake Taupo on the North Island and flows west to the Tasman Sea on the west coast north of Raglan. When Isa looks at a map of NZ, she says the North Island is like the shape of reindeer’s head (in profile, facing left). Lake Taupo is the eye and nose is formed by Mt. Taranaki to the west. I like the image.
We went on one trip to Nikau Cave and Cafe, a drive through hilly farmland to a beautiful location owned by a kiwi couple. Their property includes a long cave full of stalagtites and stalagmites and you guessed, glow worms and a sweet cafe with delicious food-most of it grown on their farm. It is named after the native palm tree-nikau which are predominant in the forest around. The cafe is set in a gorgeous little green valley. We enjoy lunch and then set out. You have to go through the cave with a guide and as ours introduced herself, she handed out helmets and waterproof flashlights and told us to leave all of our car keys, phones, cameras, behind because we were going to get wet. We strolled through some paddocks with sheep eyeing us and through the forest full of nikau and ferns and down into the cave. The hike through the cave was an hour and a half and through a stream the entire way. We splashed for a bit and then Natalie confirmed that no one was claustrophobic and suggested that now was the time to turn back because we were about to crawl for 15 meters. On we went, and yep, we all had to crawl and wiggle through a tight 15 meters. Then the cave opened up to a cathedral like room full of stalagtites and stalagmites and we all turned off our flashlights while the constellations of glow worms appeared. It was magical. On and on we went through more water, past huge formations that grow 1 cm/year and curtains and columns of stalagtites and more glow worms. We saw one tiny trout and one tiny plant and then light coming through at the end. It was just what the website described and so much more. We headed back to our cafe to change into dry clothes and warm our wet toes in the sunny grass.
Last weekend, we headed to Lake Taupo with our friends and stayed on the lake front at a bach (kiwi for cabin). The weather was glorious, clear and sunny and very unusual for the time of year, I’m told. The water was cold, but we all brought our wetsuits and played and kayaked and collected pumice everyday. Because the lake is a volcanic crater and there are three volcanoes on the southern border, there is volcanic rock, everywhere. We hiked to Huka falls which is the beginning of the Waikato River and played in the hot springs bubbling up along the way. There are lots of restaurants as Taupo is full of tourists and we ate some delicious food and visited a cafe with mosaic furniture and gardens. Our bach had a beautiful deck overlooking the lake and we grilled and ate out in the evenings. Our neighbors at the bach had a fishing boat and were so kind to bring us a piece of fresh rainbow trout they caught and smoked. The lake is full of native rainbow trout and is not stocked. There are strict rules about what type of fishing and where it can be done. The fish cannot be sold, so you can’t order it or buy it at the store. You have to catch it or receive it as a gift. There are, of course, plenty of chartered fishing boats around. Taupo is also full of the adventure sports that NZ is known for-skydiving, jet skiing, helicopter rides. We saved those for some other time and went instead on a steamboat to Maori rock carvings that are only reachable by boat. The carvings were made in 1980 by a pair of local men and depict a 1000 year old legend of the Maori navigator who first came to Taupo. They were spectacular. We headed home and gathered up Jack who also seemed happy after his first kennel holiday in NZ..