Nearly two weeks into our New Zealand stay, so here are a few stand out impressions, in no particular order, as they say on talent shows. The Waitomo caves in central North Island – a series of limestone caves (well actually the surrounds are limestone, the caves themselves consist of air). We visited a couple of them. One is called the glow worm cave, and part of the trip is on a boat guided only by the light of hundreds of glow worms (well, also a rope attached to the cave roof). Our guide described the life cycle of the glow worm, which ends with a brief period as a fly, lasting just 3-4 days for the male. Brief but glorious you might say, as during this brief life he must fertilise as many females as possible. Food is so short for the glow worms (they catch other insects in a web like funnel), that they’ll eat anything, including their own parents. Now that’s what I call the Selfish Gene. Or maybe the nutty gene. Incidentally, our guide was a New Zealander who traced his ancestry to a Scottish carpenter on the Beagle
Leaving the beautiful but cannibalistic worms, we headed for Hamilton - a very genteel sounding place, and a sizeable town by NZ standards. And genteel it is – the high spot proving to be the Gardens, of which the town is justifiably proud. Lying along the river, there are many gardens laid out in different styles – Japanese, Chinese, Italian renaissance, English Arts and crafts, Modernist, etc. The oriental gardens were particularly peaceful – great for getting garden design ideas. There was an added bonus though. All through our tour we keep missing events (“you should be/have been here next/last week/month when we had/have our annual Arts Festival/Carnival/Wine Gala/ …”) you fill in the blank. Well, in Hamilton we actually hit the annual arts festival – too bad we only stayed for two hours. Anyway, in that short time we saw a group of drummers (must take it up – great exercise and make a noise too), and various characters from Alice in Wonderland wandering around.
Just an aside, stalactites (which hang from the ceiling remember) grow about one cm per year (or was that per 100 years?) – anyway – it just beats the speed of traffic on the M25 at rush hour. New Zealand is also moving away from Australia at a few cm per year – can you blame it? (oops sorry Aussie friends). New Zealanders, as well as being annoyingly good at rugby and other sports, are also good at inventing white knuckle experiences like bungy jumping. In the caves they do “black water rafting” which involves floating down an underground river with a large inner tube round your waist. A somewhat unnecessary encumbrance for those of us already with a spare tyre.
We’re back in Auckland now after our whistle stop tour of the North Island. Last night we saw an open air concert at the Villa Maria Winery, featuring Madeleine Peyroux and Diana Krall – bloody marvellous is my critical judgement. I would have gone a long way to see that – though maybe not to the antipodes. Just luck that we caught them and not Ronan Keating (last week) or Tom Jones (today). Though fair play to Tom, he’s a great singer. The only negative comment is that the ambulance (tr: ambience) was a bit bloodless (tr anaemic, insipid), seeing as the front seating areas were occupied by corporate hostility types who were only there for the beer (or champagne).
Sailing lessons begin tomorrow – now where can I buy a cutlass?