Aranui Cave and Waitamo Caves Hotel

The skies were clearing when we left Tongariro National Park. Here are a couple of final pictures of Mt. Ngauruhoe.

Our final touristy destination for the trip was Waitamo - home of the famous Waitomo Caves. We had booked tours of the 3 main caves, and I was hoping being underground would not make me feel claustrophobic.

Our first tour - the shortest and most crowded - was to the Glowworm Cave. It includes a short walk and a boat ride in the dark where you pass under a galaxy of glowworms dangling from the ceiling high above. Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures on this tour so here are some pictures I found on the internet.

The glow from the cave ceiling is impressive, but being crowded into a boat with other tourists keeps the atmosphere from feeling magical.

Our next tour was to Aranui Cave - named after Ruruku Aranui who discovered the cave in 1910 when his hunting dogs chased a pig into it.

Aranui is a dry cave so it has no glowworms, but it is home to the cricket-like weta. We saw one just inside the cave but couldn't get the camera to focus on it so I downloaded a picture of one from the Waitamo Caves website. The cave has a natural cave entrance, pictured on the left below, and plenty of stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones.

This tour was more enjoyable because the group was smaller. The guide had us pose for the picture on the left.

When we came out of the cave, we saw a wood pidgeon sitting in a tree. Our guide explained that because of the absence of predators before man made an appearance in New Zealand, the native birds are generally large and awkward. I have to agree that the bird was quite clumsy.

It's possible to tour the three main caves in one day, but we thought that would be a bit much so we headed for the iconic Waitamo Caves Hotel. The place has clearly seen better days. The curtains were frayed, the carpets were threadbare, and the wallpaper was in need of replacement, but the place has an undeniable sort of charm.

It was built in 1908 to accomodate the throngs of people who were drawn to explore the caves which had recently been opened to the public. It has a reputation for being haunted, but we experienced no evidence of this.

These somewhat creepy looking flowers are on the wall by the main entrance door.

This is the lobby. You can see the flowers in the picture above in the picture on the right.

Love the clashing floral patterns of the curtains and chair.

If you happen to have inherited crocheted doilies like these from grandmothers or elderly aunts, here's one possible use for them.

Best of all were the intriguing Māori portraits on the stairs.

In the late afternoon, when all the tour buses depart, the town suddenly becomes very quiet. The hotel has a rather elegant looking dining room, but it seemed to be booked for a private funcion so we set out to find some dinner. It was about 6:30 on a Friday night when we began our quest, but every place we stopped was closed except a sandwich shop on the main highway. The guy behind the counter agreed to make us something, but we had to promise him we would leave by 8. The only other patrons were backpackers nursing their beers and making use of the WIFI.

Back at the hotel the party was in full swing until midnight when there was a sudden burst of fireworks followed by silence.