Today's destination, Waitomo, is a couple of hours from last night's motel, but we left ourselves the whole day to get here. Last night's motel was on the edge of Lake Taupo-- the biggest lake in New Zealand-- so we wanted a little extra time to explore. We found a small, swerving road on the map called "Volcanic Loop," and decided to check it out.
The brush was relatively barren by New Zealand standards, but the volcanoes were gorgeously snow-capped and active, with visible steam fumaroles near their summits. NZ landscapes change quickly, though. One turn, and we found ourselves amid rolling green hills terraced by sheep. Everywhere, sheep.
You're never far from a picnic table in NZ, so we picked up some Brie, crusty bread, and apples, and pulled off the highway for lunch.
We rolled into Waitomo with one purpose: to descend into a cave, board a small boat atop a black subterranean river inhabited by eels, and sail into a damp grotto illuminated by nothing but worms.
It probably doesn't sound anywhere near as beautiful as it was. Glowworms live on cave ceilings, where they use bioluminescence to attract their prey-- bugs-- into their sticky, threaded snares. In a calm, quiet, black cave, they look like stars.
That picture was taken by a professional, and with a long exposure time. To my iPhone's camera, this cave is pure black.
Before we climbed into our boat, our guide walked us through a section of the cave where the stalactites and stalagmites have formed a natural cathedral-- so beautiful, both visually and acoustically-- that they occasionally hold Christmas concerts underground here. Daniel wished that we'd had the cave to ourselves so he could sing his heart out, but realistically, our group of twelve was as small as it ever gets here. Our guide told us that in the summer, there are usually two hundred people in the cathedral at a time, and over two thousand pass through the caves each day. This is why we travel off-season.