Winter in New Zealand is long. They celebrate Queen’s Birthday week the first week in June and they don’t have one single national holiday day off until Labour Day at the end of October, their version of the un-official start to both the summer and holiday (aka: silly) season. We thought it was bad when places deck it out for the hols at the start of November? Try not having the bumper of Halloween and Thanksgiving to push it off. And New Zealand winters are hard. Rain and wind and snow. Even for someone who loved winter, it was a bit rough going at parts. Luckily, I mixed it up, switched jobs 3 times and went to Wellington for a week before settling into a new 9 month position. I couldn’t imagine doing it non-stop.
Anyway, for Labor Day weekend, I did a quick weekend trip down to Hamilton (The Tron!), a quick detour to Raglan and caving in Waitomo, the main reason for the trip! Private rooms in Raglan were sold out for the holiday weekend, so I ended up at a generic American-style hotel in Hamilton, which is like one of the most boring-big cities in New Zealand. It’s a major farm town and like every farm convention in the country is held here at some point. There are some gardens, but it gets a pretty bad rap from Aucklanders, so I didn’t care much to see anything. Besides, the place I stay had cable, which I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, so I was like a pig in shit watching CNN (International!) and Sky Movies at night. Whatever, it was my vacation.
I drove down on Saturday morning to Raglan to see the beach town and grab some lunch, but the weather was horribly overcast and the waves looked really rough and cold, so I just took some pictures, tried to take an alternative way out of town and promptly ended up lost on a dirt road. This was probably the scariest drive I did in New Zealand as while I had a map, I still had no idea where I was going to end up. Plus all the dirt and my cell phone was out of range. I past a couple of people driving the other way, but still. Not all that fun. I drove back to Hamilton, thankful for the drive to be over.
The next day, I woke up bright and early and drove down (on typical empty roads) to Waitomo for a full day of Black Water Rafting . Essentially, black water rafting, is floating down a river inside a cave (hence the “Black”). My tour included everything! Abseiling, which was super hard. It’s hard to let your body just drop off a cliff, so unnatural! Flying fox, which is clipping youself to a line and swinging about 20 yards in totally darkness. Jumping off cliffs into freezing water in your inner tube and just rafting around the internal rivers. I did the black abyss tour and while some people say that the 3 hour tour was enough, I loved the 5 hour tour. By the end I was so cold and tried and just wanted it to end and then the next thing I knew, it was over, so perfect timing!! Everything was included, all you have to bring is yourself and a swim costume, perfect!
I love doing these full day tours. They aren’t that much more then the 3 hour tours, plus start later in the day and take up the whole day. The cost of two half day activities in New Zealand ends up costing a lot more. Definitely one of the highlights of my time in New Zealand.
The following day, I just took my time getting back to Auckland, taking advantage that I had a car and stopped at Sylvia Park, the biggest mall in the country to stock up on supplies that I had been putting off for a while. Whenever I had access to a car, I ended up buying like a months worth of groceries instead of just wanted I needed for the week, thanks to this rare luxury. Another “perk” of living abroad!
Moral: I can’t think of anywhere else in the world to go caving like this. I mean, I am sure it exists, but nowhere else in New Zealand or Australia (or North America)!. A must for every tourist, especially those like me who like to keep close to the ground.