Glow Worms Caves & the Best Museum in the World…EVER!
The ferry from Picton to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, left at 7pm on a beautiful but moody night. We waved goodbye to the South Island whilst watching the sun go down over the horizon and looked forward to enjoying our last few days in New Zealand…
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We reached dry land just after 10pm and thought that we would try our luck once again at the Bluebridge ferry terminal to see if we could park there overnight. Unfortunately, on this occasion we weren’t able to, so instead drove along the sea front and found a small car park next to a beach. There were other camper vans already parked there, so we pulled into a gap and settled down for the night.
The next morning we planned our route for the next couple of days and then walked into the city centre to the famous Te Papa Museum. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sea front was bustling with people swimming, lounging on the beach, sailing and jogging along the promenade. Whilst it would have been a great day to stay outside, we were only in Wellington for a day and had been looking forward to visiting Te Papa since we arrived in New Zealand. We set aside most of the day to look around the museum and sure enough, spent about six hours (yes, really, SIX) taking in all of the fascinating exhibits.
By far, one of the most fantastic museum areas was ‘Awesome Forces’ – a huge, interactive section dedicated to the sub-terrainean wonders that make New Zealand unique. There were dynamic and informative displays on tectonic plates, volcanoes, fault lines, weather systems and geological features and we found it hard to tear ourselves away.
We also loved the ‘Mountains and Sea’ section which was all about the land and marine creatures that inhibit New Zealand. The star attraction here was the ‘Colossal Squid’ exhibition, with the world’s only colossal squid on display!
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Also worth a mention is the Waitangi Treaty area. The treaty was signed by both the British Crown and M?ori chiefs in 1840, allowing the British to take control of New Zealand. The display shows both the English and the Maori versions of the Treaty. There are significant differences between the two versions, which were really interesting to see and it’s understandable that nobody really knows what was actually agreed to!
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The Te Papa museum is undoubtedly the best museum we have ever been to and unbelievably, it’s completely free! Well worth a visit from anybody who happens to find themselves in Wellington!
Once we had finally torn ourselves away from the museum we headed up to nearby Mount Victoria, where we got some great views of the city and bay below…
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After making our way back down the steep roads that wind around Mount Victoria it was time to leave Wellington and start our mammoth trip up the west coast towards Taranaki. We only had a day and a half to get to Auckland and still had hundreds of kilometres to do!
It was a long long drive but we eventually reached the town of Strafford in the Taranaki district by about 23.30 and pulled into a rest area at the side of the road. Mount Taranaki was directly in our line of sight and although it was pitch black when we arrived, we managed to see the eerie but amazing outline of the volcano lit up by the night sky during the wee small hours.
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The next morning we continued our routine of having a shower in the nearest town (this time, at the public swimming pools in Stratford) before driving to Waitomo. Waitomo is famous for its underground limestone caves which are believed to have been formed over two million years ago by water erosion! The word Waitomo comes from the M?ori language – “wai” meaning water and “tomo” meaning a sinkhole; so can be translated as ‘water passing through a hole’.
Our plan for the afternoon was to take a tour through the magical ‘glow worm cave’ – home to thousands of sparkling glow worms who have made it their home. First however, we did one of our favourite things…visited the visitor’s centre! Once again, New Zealand provided a great info centre, packed with interesting facts and displays about the geology of the area and the life cycle of the glow worm. We even got to watch a 20 minute film all about these mysterious creatures. The visitor centre also had a section dedicated to caving – a sport that is particularly popular in Waitomo – complete with a caving ‘experience’, i.e. an artificial tunnel that visitors can try out for an idea of what it’s like!
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It was then time to go to the glow worm cave itself! We joined a guided tour where we were taken to see the stalactites and stalagmites that have been forming in the caves for thousands of years. Our guide was great – she definitely knew her stuff, giving us fun and informative explanations on cave formation and the glow worms themselves. She then took us into the glow worm ‘grotto’ where we took a boat trip through the still, dark waters inside the cave and gazed in awe at the thousands of twinkling lights above us!
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The boat trip brought us to the end of our visit to Waitomo. Once we had left the caves we made our way back to Fred and set off again up the West Coast of the North Island. We were heading to where our Kiwi adventure began, Auckland, where we would spend our last night in New Zealand…
The Marlborough region of New Zealand is probably best known for producing great wine – in fact this is where
Today we had the longest driving day of our New Zealand adventure so far – over ten hours from one