New ZealandRound The World Trip

New Zealand: Waitomo to Rotorua (North Island)

The Lost World (www.waitomo.co.nz/http://www.connal.com/WP/?p=3117l)

At 7:00 AM we left the tent up and went to meet Dave, our guide for the Lost World excursion.  The Lost World was a large limestone cave dug out by a river.  20,000 years ago, the roof collapsed and left a big hole in the ground looking down onto the river 100 meters (330+ feet) below.  It was discovered just after WWI when the land was being cleared for farming.  The people who found it looked down the hole at the vegetation underneath and said that “It looked like a lost world”.  Thus, the name “Lost World” has been here for almost 100 years (for those of you skeptics who wondered if New Zealand was blatantly plagiarizing Michael Crichton).

Jon and I were the only visitors this morning.  Dave drove us about 20 minutes into the countryside and onto some private land.  In order to get there, we had to pass through a number of gates for sheep and cows.  Each time we reached a gate, Dave had to get out – open the gate – get in – drive through the gate – get out – close the gate – get in – continue on.  This happened about 4 times.  The Lost World is owned by a local farmer who allows Dave’s company exclusive access to it (for a small fee, of course).  So what was once a hazard for livestock has turned into a profitable operation.

At a little shed area, Dave gave us overalls, hardhats with lights, and gumboots and strapped us both into harnesses.  Then we began the short walk down the hill to a tree-filled area that was depressed into the ground.  Using our harnesses and karabiners to latch onto some safety ropes, we walked around part of the hole to look at the depth and hear the river.  We could see the other side of the hole where the abseil ropes hung.  Yikes!  Then we made our way over there.

Dave, it’s important to note, is a typical Kiwi with a dry sense of humor and an arsenal of one-liners.  He had us laughing the entire time, despite our slight nervousness.

We walked down a ladder contraption to get to the platform.  This was the scary part.  100 meters (333 feet) below was the bottom, and we were to abseil down the entire way.  My hands are sweating just remembering it.  Suddenly, I had a terrible fright: I didn’t know what I did with my car keys.  I started patting my pockets, which I couldn’t get to because of the overalls and the harness.  Dave looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Well, if it’s in there it’s not coming out with that harness on.”  I patted around for a while longer and finally gave up.  I had to stop procrastinating and face the problem at hand: 100 meters of air between me and the bottom of this hole.

A Long Way Down – below the fog is the bottom of the Lost World

Jon made his way down the ladders at this time, looking a bit green to say the least.  Dave knew better than to have us hang out on the platform, so he had us in position and hooked up in no time.  We were on three ropes: Dave in the middle, me on his right, and Jon on his left.  Not only were we connected to the ropes, but we were each connected to Dave’s harness by about 4 feet of rope.  So there was no way we would die unless someone walked up and cut all three of our ropes from the top.  Perfectly safe, right?

I have no idea how to describe what I was feeling.  I was hanging off the edge of a platform in a harness connected to a rope that ended 100 meters down.  I couldn’t look down.  I just couldn’t.  I knew I was going to do this, but that initial push off is always the hardest to take.  Dave said, “Pick a number between 1-10.”  I picked 7, Jon picked 15.  So I had to begin the descent first.  Jon cheated.

Slowly, I let the rope out with my right had.  My left hand was on the karabiner, and my right leg was wrapped around the rope below me to control my descent.  It was actually a bit of work to go down a few inches.  Then Dave looked at Jon and had him go down.  Dave matched our pace as we went, cracking some really terrible jokes.

I started to feel a bit better after a few meters, although I still couldn’t look down.  I made some crack about Dave’s lousy sense of humor and he pushed me away so that I swung outward.  Of course, I couldn’t go very far because I was attached to him but it shut me up nonetheless.

Never make a crack about a man who’s holding your life in his hands.  Let him joke all he wants.

A few minutes later, we’d made excellent progress and were feeling (slightly) more confident.  We decided to stop and take some photos to prove that we were actually there.  We were feeling so much better that we even had an entire discussion about digital cameras with Dave.  Strange feeling – having an informative conversation dangling from a single rope 200 feet in the air.  He is very adept at every camera and took pictures of us with both our cameras.  Here are a few, and I’ve posted some more on a separate page for those of you who are interested.

Just hanging out 90 meters above ground.  Are your hands sweating?  Mine are.

It’s a good photo, but we’re really thinking “Oh My God.  Hurry up and take this picture so I can hang on the rope again with both hands!”

After a few more one-liners from Dave, we went down even more.  We took pictures at the halfway point and basked in our own glory for a while.  As we got closer to the ground, the weight of the rope became lighter and so we descended a bit faster.  We had to use our foot-wrap around the rope much more than we did at the top.

20-25 minutes later, we landed on the bottom and I was actually sad that it was over.  My hands, however, we very glad to be done.  Not only were they slightly rope-burned, but they were also trembling despite my bravado.  The funny thing is that – suddenly – I remembered where the car keys were.  The guys again looked at me like I was crazy.

We took more photos, joked around, had some lemonade and chocolate bars, and then began the climb back up.  We walked through some cool caves and Dave pointed out fossils, shapes, and other interesting sights.  One shape looked like the silhouette of a man’s face.  Dave said they’ve named him “Bob” and when we asked why he shined his light on it the rock and we saw what looked like dreadlocks for hair.  Thus, the name Bob Marley.  Dave said that it might explain the mist in the air.

Har – har.

Then we went to meet Elvis.  Elvis is an eel that lives in a part of the river and waits for its daily feedings of bread from the guides.  Elvis was probably 1 meter long (“just a baby” says Dave) and is expected to grow to be much larger.  It was very cool to watch Dave feeding him, and I got some pictures but you can’t really see it so I won’t waste the website memory.

We scampered through some deep ravines and rocky outcrops, slipping and sliding and getting very muddy in general.  Water was dripping all over and the walk was quite slick.  But Dave was never far away and was very good about checking our progress. For much of the climb, we were harnessed onto safety ropes which was great in case we fell.  I was also thankful for the hard hat because I hit my head more than once.

Dave also showed us some glowworms at one part of the cave.  He said we got ripped off yesterday because we never actually got to see the worms – just the glow.  So he shined his flashlight on the roof of the cave and we saw the little cocoons.  He also pointed out that the glow is emitted from the larva (maggot) burning its own waste.  Then, he mentioned that the cave has limestone walls.  Limestone, he said, is basically fossilized dead fish.  These facts prompted the killer punchline:  yesterday, we paid $10/person to see “a bunch of burning maggot shit on dead fish rock”.

We continued on until we reached the final part: the 30 meter ladder.  The iron ladder stretched up into the abyss above our heads, and we couldn’t see the top because of the darkness and dripping water.  Dave gave us another “how to use your harness” safety lecture, made us demonstrate for him, and then he climbed up to prepare the safety rope.  (He would belay us from the top of the rope).  After he ascended, he called down and I began my climb.  I refused to think about how high I was, how slippery the ladder was, how tired my arms were, or how much I just wanted to be done.  Instead, I counted to give my mind something else to focus on.  Finally, I was close enough to see Dave’s light at the top, and I took a quick breather and felt my arm muscles tighten up.  Time to begin the climb again.  As I neared the top, Dave saw that I was tiring so he actually hoisted me up the last 3 feet.  I was breathing really hard from the exertion.

Dave unharnessed me and clipped me onto the safety rope, and I sat for a few minutes to catch my breath.  Dave lowered the rope to Jon and waited for him to harness himself.  Then Jon yelled “OK!” from the bottom and Dave belayed him on the rope by taking up the slack.  At one point, Dave decided to play a little joke on Jon by hoisting him up without telling him.  This causes him to separate from the ladder and swing up.  As soon as Dave did this, we could hear Jon yell out, “Hey!  Stop lifting!!!”  It turns out that Jon’s gumboot was caught on the ladder and – while he appreciated the lift – it was tearing his boot off.

After the ladder, we climbed up a little bit further and made our way out into the sunlight.

Emerging from the Lost World

We walked out, feeling great about our wonderful morning and the beautiful day.  Since we had some extra time, Dave took us to “the window” which is a smallish hole we saw from the caves.  We re-harnessed onto ropes and hung over the edge looking down.  This was the spot where it was given the name “The Lost World” and I can definitely see why.  You really expect dinosaurs to emerge from the trees.

So that was our morning.  And it was only 10:30.

We went back to the campsite and collapsed the tent.  Then we made lunch – tuna, tomatoes, and lettuce sandwiches.  The joke about the tuna is that we bought it two days ago, but didn’t realize that the cans weren’t easy open.  So we had to buy a cheapo can-opener.  Unfortunately, the can-opener doesn’t work.  So I have no idea how Jon finally got into the tuna can, but we’ll need to buy a better quality can opener today sometime.

Cozy Cottage Campgrounds – Rotorua (www.cosycottage.co.nz)

After lunch, we got in the car and drove to Rotorua.  Dave had given us “off the beaten path” directions and we had a lovely drive through the countryside.  Rotorua is a major stop for many New Zealand travelers because of the number of activities there are to do here.  Rafting, hiking, skydiving, sledging – the possibilities are endless.  We’re sort of just passing through and enjoying the scenery.

We arrived at the Cozy Cottage Campgrounds a little after 1:00.  The Cozy Cottage campgrounds has heated tent sites which quite intrigued us.  It turns out that the campground is right next to some hot springs, and part of these springs flow right beneath the tent spaces.  Very well planned!  The campground also has a heated swimming pool, two natural hot spring ponds, a bubbling mud pool, and is a few seconds’ walk from Lake Rotorua.  It’s the Ritz of all campgrounds!

We set up the tent and then decided to walk past the bushes to the lake.  On the way there, we passed quite a few natural hot springs, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me.  At the lake, we watched some big, beautiful black birds swim nearby.  They looked like black swans with red beaks.  If I knew anything about birds I could say what the real name is, but I’ve no idea what they were.  We took a number of photos, and even got an action shot:

We both had headaches which we attributed to the fact that we were up at 6:00AM and had an adrenaline rush and near-death experience by 8:30.  That’s a pretty full day already.  So we went to the TV lounge so I could work on the journals and Jon took a bit of a snooze.

He woke up at 5:30 and was absolutely starving (and grumpy) so we went to the grocery store to get some meat for the campsite grill.  Yum!  A GRILL!!  We drove around for a bit but finally found a huge grocery store which had everything we needed.

Cooking Dinner

I took the veggies into the kitchen to cut them up and begin sautéing the mushrooms, onions, and asparagus.  Jon prepped the meat with some spices and brought us both a beer.  By the time we were ready to eat, the kitchen was full of campers preparing their own meals.  Some were elaborate (lamb and potatoes) and others were more simple (spaghetti in a can).  But either way, the kitchen smelled good.  We had our delicious steak dinner outside despite the chill in the air.

Rotorua

We went into town to find an Internet Cafe because it’s been a while since we’ve been online.  My parents emailed a copy of Jon’s NY Driver’s License so now he can experience driving on the left hand side of the road.  Rotorua is a lovely town with a very quaint town center.  The people are so nice too.

Natural Hot Springs

Back at the campground, we put on our bathing suits and took a dip in the campground’s natural hot springs.  They built two little wooden gazebos around the hot springs and also built two good sized concrete hot tubs in which the water collected.  It was very nice and much like sitting in a hot tub, only without the whirlpools.  The water was very warm, but not scalding, and we sat in one of the tubs for a while until the heat got to be too much.  Then we went to shower and settled in for the night.

The tent was considerably warmer than the freezing cold of last night.  This was obviously because of the thermals underneath the ground.  So cool to know what a difference something like that can make.  Last night, we zipped closed every tent opening and cocooned ourselves in our sleeping bags as soon as we got in the tent.  Tonight, we left most of the tent covers unzipped and were in no particular hurry to get under the covers.  Love those hot springs!