Editor at large: Glowworm caves and bus trouble in Waitomo

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    Photography was not allowed inside the glowworm caves but here is one courtesy of www.waitomo.com.
    Photography was not allowed inside the glowworm caves but here is one courtesy of www.waitomo.com.

    Barry the bus driver had a bad day.

    We had just finished black-water rafting through the Waitomo glowworm caves on Saturday, a few hours before 4 p.m. The water was cold, but the experience was unlike any other. A group of about a dozen of us walked down a short bush walk to the mouth of a cave wearing wetsuits and a caving helmet with a light while carrying inner tubes. Inside the caves, a very cold river meandered through. We climbed over rocks beneath the flowing river and jumped down two waterfalls. Once we approached the slow-moving part of the river, we linked up into a chain formation, turned off our headlamps and looked up. The cave was lined with what looked like stars as little glowworm maggots shined the way to the exit, more than 200 feet below ground.

    After we finished the rafting trip and warmed up with hot showers and cups of tomato soup, a group of five of us waited for the bus to Rotorua. It was supposed to depart Waitomo at 4 p.m. We had a couple of hours before then, which we used to have lunch and walk around the surrounding areas. We returned by 3:45 p.m. and saw a bus parked. We assumed the bus was waiting for us, so we asked the driver, who told us our bus would be about 30 minutes late.

    Our bus was driven by Barry.

    He showed up, as promised, right around 4:30 p.m. He walked up to the area where we were waiting and announced the bus to Rotorua would be departing in about 10 minutes, once he rounded up the rest of the passengers.

    We boarded, and everything seemed to be normal. As we drove, Barry apologized for the tardiness and explained that the group before this one had taken a bit too long at Hobbiton, which put him behind schedule. He huffed, but then continued as normal, explaining New Zealand’s farming industries as the bus meandered through rolling green hills dotted with cows, sheep and red deer, farmed for their venison.

    We began climbing a hill when there was a loud pop from the back of the bus.

    “Going from bad to worse,” Barry muttered into the microphone as he pulled over. He hopped out of the bus to check the tires.

    A few minutes later he hopped back on the bus, announced the tires were fine and we started moving again.

    But something was still wrong.

    We couldn’t seem to go faster than about 15 miles per hour or so up the hill. Barry pulled the bus over again and hopped out, this time bringing his cell phone with him.

    Passengers wait patiently while Barry the driver checked out the bus.
    Passengers wait patiently while Barry the driver checked out the bus.

    We watched him pace on the phone as he checked various parts of the bus. We heard him say over the phone that he has a full load of passengers, luggage and one big hill to climb.

    When he returned to the bus, he announced the problem.

    “We seem to have blown our turbo line,” he said. Then, he explained we would be taking a slightly longer route, which is a bit flatter, and we may be further delayed.

    However, this route still included three hills. The second, he said, would be smaller than the first, and the third was the biggest.

    About a half hour later, we approached the first hill. Barry picked up speed on the approach, and we all watched out the window as the bus slowed to a crawl about halfway up the hill, maybe 10 miles per hour at most — but the bus managed to crest the hill a few minutes later, and cruised at a normal speed down the other side. Chris and I joked that we would have to volunteer to walk to the top of the next hills to keep the load off the bus and the wheels turning.

    Most of the drive between Waitomo and Rotorua meanders through green, hilly farmland.
    Most of the drive between Waitomo and Rotorua meanders through green, hilly farmland.

    Every passenger held his or her breath over hills two and three, but even at its slowest, the bus never stopped moving. After the third hill, everyone, including Barry, finally relaxed.

    It’s only supposed to take about an hour and a half to two hours to reach Rotorua. On Saturday, it took a nervous three and a half hours, long enough that everyone on board missed the highly anticipated All Blacks rugby game.

    But the whole bus full of travelers arrived intact, without anyone having to walk.

    We stepped off the bus and immediately smelled rotten eggs. Rotorua is in a volcanic valley, and the geothermal activity leaves a sulphur scent hanging on the air, along with areas where steam vents through the ground and bubbles up through clay mud pools.

    The town was mostly abandoned, except for one street where most of the restaurants and cafes are concentrated, known as Eat Street. We headed there for dinner before heading back to our hostel for the night.

    –By Natalie Covate

    Just-married Natalie Covate, editor of MLTnews, is writing about her honeymoon adventures.

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