The whole drive from Auckland to Waitomo, and then Waitomo to Turangi
Black water rafting in the glowworm caves
Unfortunately, we had to relearn that we are on an island and the weather is unpredictable—putting any outside activity in danger of being cancelled.
Day 2 got us out on the open road.
After waking up entirely too early and discovering that New Zealand 'large coffees' are America's small coffees, we went to get the car—the only consistent thing in our lives for the next 15 days. It's not the prettiest thing and it makes a lot of strange sounds, but as long as she (Caitlin decided it's an old feisty lady) gets us from point A to point B safely, then mission accomplished.
Once we picked up the car, we were off and away to Waitomo, where we had a black water (in caves) rafting tour set up. Caitlin jumped at the chance for driving duty, which I commend her for because for those of you who don't know, you drive on the right hand side of the car and the left hand side of the road. It's the only thing thus far that I've seen literally slow Caitlin down behind the wheel.
It only took about 15 minutes of getting outside Auckland to remember why we decided to come to New Zealand. The landscape was absolutely breathtaking with "hills" (pretty much grass-covered mountains) as far as the eye could see and covered with dairy cows and sheep.
Two hours into the drive we arrived at Waitomo, and suited up for our black water rafting adventure. this has most definitely been the highlight of the trip up to this point (for all of the two days that we've been here). We, along with nine others, got into wetsuits, boots, and helmets, then were transported to an entrance to the caves. To enter the caves, we jumped off the first of two waterfalls into pitch darkness (with the exception of our headlamps). After everyone jumped in, our guide told us to turn our headlights off and look up. Sure enough, the roof of the cave was illuminated by glowworms.
Unfortunately, we couldn't bring a camera since we were submerged in water the whole time, so you'll have to take our word for it that this was an incredible (and really cold) experience. It was a bit more intense than I thought it'd be, but in a good way. We saw a finned water eel the guides had named Cecile, there were low ceilinged parts of the cave that you had to submerge your entire body underwater to get through, and underwater holes to avoid where our guides told us if you stepped into them 'they may never spit you back out.'
Following the caves, we still had a couple of hours to drive to make it to our next destination in Turangi. However, this was the best part of the drive because the massive grassy hills started to transform into real mountains.
For someone who usually loves to fly a little too fast, Caitlin complained the whole way about how the speed limit should be slower because it felt like the minimum speed limit around tight mountain curves was still fast enough to flip a car. I wouldn't disagree, and halfway through our journey we did in fact see a large truck flipped over. (Parents, don't worry—we're pissing off all the locals by driving so cautiously).
The best view we have seen yet came only about five minutes away from our destination where we could see New Zealand's largest lake (Lake Taupo) with mountains as the backdrop.
What we learned from Day 1 at the War Museum was that this lake actually lies in the caldera of the Taupo volcano—and that the next time it erupts the whole world is basically screwed. It's the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, and I guess is a world-renowned fishing spot. It's just over 521 feet deep.
Sadly, we had our first bad break of the trip when we arrived and got an email saying that the weather on top of the mountains is too bad for the shuttle to take us to the Alpine Crossing today, which is a 9 hour hike over 3 active volcanoes that we were really looking forward to.
However, we're already up and on to something else.