Tag Archives: New Zealand

Glow Worm Stars

The unmarked entrance to one of the three Abbey Caves.
The unmarked entrance to one of the three Abbey Caves.

One popular attraction in New Zealand is the glow worm caves. In Whangarei, where we were cow-sitting, there was a free, city-owned reserve with three caves (zoom the map below for the exact location). The trails leading to the caves are well marked but the caves themselves are off the beaten path and undeveloped. It’s even a bit of a challenge to find the entrances to the caves since they’re not signed and are somewhat hidden.

The hundreds of fine rock layers paint beautiful walls.
The hundreds of fine rock layers paint beautiful walls.

We climbed down into the Organ Cave over huge boulders and followed the stream of water into the belly of the cave. The interior of the cave was striped with many fine layers of limestone rock. The rich color of the layers fascinated us. As another travel author described the orange layered stone, it was like being on the inside of a Bengal tiger. Wading through the water, we came to a cavernous space which gave the cave its name. Large stalactites hung from the ceiling and walls like an old church pipe organ. When we turned off our headlamps and our eyes adjusted to the dark, we were mesmerized by the stars of pale blue bioluminescence, the glow worms twinkling above us.

Glow worm stars in the Abbey Caves.
Glow worm stars in the Abbey Caves.

Glow worms are not actually worms. They’re the larvae of a particular fly that loves damp places. The popular fire fly is its cousin.

Distinct stone outcroppings make the Abbey Caves hike interesting.
Distinct stone outcroppings make the Abbey Caves hike interesting.

The nice thing about the Abbey Caves reserve is that the trails are a nice nature walk void of any crowds. There are hammocks of native bush and large outcroppings of stone. There are rock chimney remains of the original settler’s home on the property; a pioneer family in the late 1800’s.

Or you can visit the famous Waitomo Glow Worm caves, a standard tourist attraction teeming with tour buses, entrance fees, souvenir shops and groomed trails.


Magical Castlepoint

Castle RockCastlepoint, New Zealand, located on the eastern shore of the north island was actually named by Captain Cook himself, because the rock at the southern end of the bay resembles a castle.

We spotted the Whakataki Hotel just outside the ridge of hills that hides the beach. Unbelievably, this hotel offered free camping in their back yard for RVs, or a mere NZ$5 per night if you wanted to use the well-equipped kitchen and hot showers. This was an absolutely brilliant alternative compared to the sterile option of the postage-sized camping spot for ten times the price at the ugly Castlepoint Holiday Park down the road.DSC02628

The Whakataki Hotel is not just close to the action; it is the action in this little town of less than 2000 folks! Their lively, neighborhood bar and restaurant is the busiest local bar scene in town. We enjoyed the fresh draft beer and (unlimited) fast internet. (Very few places in New Zealand have free, let alone unlimited, internet.) We met the rowdy sheep shearers drinking away the money they just earned, the regulars eager to explain the nuances of rugby and cricket, and the friendly locals wanting to know who we were and what we thought of their quaint town.

Coincidentally, the Castlepointers were having a fishing tournament for ladies only. What entertainment!DSC02631

On Saturday night, the award ceremonies were attended by the fisher-women and their cross-dressing cohorts. Yes, really! The local tradition for the Battle of the Babes fishing tournament is for the men to cross-dress at the awards night celebration! A rock band played oldies all evening. We danced the night away even though Ivan didn’t have a dress for the event.

We walked around the lighthouse and hiked the manicured trails on the hills that surround the bay. We explored the wide expanse of beach alongside the lighthouse where the fishing contestants were wading into the surf in the hopes of reeling in the winning catch. They braved the fierce crashing waves threatening to wash them off their stance and pull them out to sea.DSC02592

At one low tide, we made our way to the rock caves beneath the lighthouse. We were forewarned that the caves are guarded by giant seals. We didn’t want to encroach their personal space because although they look like cute stuffed animals in the photo, they really were fiercely huge  and threatening creatures.

One long-time resident, Jolly, befriended us because we seemed a little different from the average tourists, I guess. He was determined to show off the local products and gifted us some very delicious hogget chops from his freezer and a freshly caught crayfish that was huge. We ate well!

We’ve added this friendly town of Castlepoint to the possible locations to settle if we can’t move one day.DSC02641



Burning Man and the World

DSC02315The Burning Man Festival is, at its core, an arts and music festival, but with a twist. The price of admission only supports the infrastructure. No one is paid to entertain, and there is nothing to buy or sell. The twist is that the festival must be created by the attendees.

Normally, one goes to a music festival to enjoy the paid talent. At Burning Man, artists and musicians do not get paid. Everyone who goes is expected to be a participant, not a spectator. The audience and the performers are one and the same. Everyone is encouraged to bring “something” to the festival, and it can be almost anything. In a temporary city of 60,000 inhabitants, it really is almost anything.

DSC02353We have seen art of all kinds, great musical performances, circus acts to rival the Cirque du Soleil, magicians, poetry slams, interactive kinetic sculptures and “art cars” (vehicles that have been mutated into art). Groups of people come together to create bars and food stalls, some of them pop-up. Imagine someone giving you a freshly made Smore in the middle of the night in the open desert. We’ve had homemade mead and pizza fired in a mobile wood oven, all of which was brought on site and gifted.

Anyone who attends must take an active role in the festival, or the festival just doesn’t exist. From personal experience, the act of creating for others’ enjoyment and entertainment is supremely rewarding. It’s a stage with immediate response and appreciation. Even volunteering for the infrastructure is both necessary, appreciated and personally enjoyed.

DSC02331One incredible aspect of Burning Man is that it has spawned “regional” events all over the world. A regional event is a smaller, local festival based on the same principals as the original. This tends to create a “community” without national boundaries. On our travels, we have found “Burners” (people who have attended a Burning Man style festival) everywhere. It’s a common ground that makes for instant friendship.

Sometimes, our random travel brings us near a regional event. We intentionally veered south after Bali, not just for the warm weather, but also to attend New Zealand’s regional event – KiwiBurn.

The twelfth annual KiwiBurn, held on the North Island, burned a pretty amazing  woven bamboo effigy. We  enjoyed the proximity to the Rangitiki River for swimming, skinny dipping and mud baths, and forest camping with the occasional sheep passing right through our campsite. Best of all though, are the Burners themselves. We were among other international visitors and friends. We volunteered (participated) for greeter shifts, where we welcomed people “home” and explained the principles of the event to those who hadn’t been to a Burn-style event.

(click on picture for larger image)