Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Glow, worm, glow

Day 2 (Mon, 21 Nov 2011)

Auckland to Waitomo: 196km
Waitomo to Rotorua: 146km

After a quick breakfast of pizza (bought from Countdown yesterday) and a goodbye to Mac, the resident dog of Grange Lodge Motel, we got ready to head off to the famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

This is the first long drive of our trip and it was pretty manageable, thanks to Karen, our GPS. She's a little flighty - yesterday she sent us on a roundabout route to Countdown and at times, tells us to turn right at a left-turn only junction but other than that, she's pretty useful.

We quickly learnt that 75km is a good time to make a pitstop, after about an hour's drive. We stopped at Pirongia, a little town. Many of NZ's towns are quaint, teeny places with perhaps just a couple of cafes, a grocer's and a few motels.

We ordered some hot chocolate (everything is supersized here!)

Waitomo is pretty amazing. The external centre and entrance is welcoming and very well designed.

The tour itself starts with a walk into the limstone caves, before the highlight of the trip -a ride in a boat to see the Glowworm Grotto. It's spectacular in a slightly surreal and eerie way. It's dark and silent so the slightest sound echos across the walls.

The lights of the glowworm larvae glitter on the roof, with the magic only broken by the thought that preoccupied us scaredy cats, "do the glowworms drop on people in the boat?" (No, they don't. At least not when we were there, although Andre kept spooking Lesley-Anne by whispering, "I think there's something crawling up my leg.")

We're not allowed to take photos in the caves. Apparently a flash can cause the glowworms to stop lighting up for a week. Hence, I can only show you a pic of a boat exiting the cave.

After that pretty sight, we set down at a bench in the park opposite to have a simple picnic lunch - our leftover pack of fried rice! A little cold but still fine. With the weather this dry and cool, food stays fresh for a long time.

Andre is never too old for playgrounds. Especially one with a slide this high!

Then it was off to Rotorua, our stop for the night. We encountered some rain but nothing like Singapore's tropical storms. The drive was long but very scenic. I hear it gets even more picturesque in the South Island.

We made a pit-stop at Whakamaru where we ordered a Fluffy at a cafe. It was supposed to be milk but we got this! My kids went, "Now, THIS is milk!"

For those who don't know, Rotorua is a major tourist destination, known for its geothermal activity, with geysers and hot mud pools. It has the nickname Sulphur City and we could smell the “rotten eggs” scent as we entered the city.

We stayed at Rydges Rotorua which supposedly has the largest hotel rooms in Rotorua. When booking, we found that NZ accommodation is extremely affordable and great for families. Rooms are usually large and motels often offer 2-bedroom units which can fit four comfortably without breaking the bank. The hotel is on Fenton Street which we discovered was the main street in Rotorua - it is lined with motels and restaurants.

For dinner, went to Pig & Whistle - a nearby pub. This was a place I found on the Internet with good reviews. I love how nowadays, you can research eating places before arriving in the country. You can even see menus beforehand!

It was a worthy recommendation, exceeded all expectations. We ordered the lamb hot pot, the braised beef cheek and the kids's size macaroni and cheese.

The lamb and the beef were divine - unbelievably tender and with fantastic flavour. You can't really tell from the pictures but the portions are gigantic. When ordering food in NZ, be prepared that they're usually about double the portions back in Singapore. Prices are also very reasonable. I would come back here in a heartbeat, if I had the chance.

The signs on the exit doors say it all!

A well-fed family is a happy family.

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