Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Waitomo, NZ

March 16, 2013 in New Zealand, Oceania, Travelogue

Family Travel New Zealand

New Zealand is a fairy world of ferns.

The magnificent ferns of Hawaii are a cheap imitation.

Every forest tramp feels like hiking through a forgotten world, or the Jurassic Park movie set. What would normally be a rainbow of chocolate and black in some other place is fairly dripping with green here. Ferns so big that the unaccustomed eye could be forgiven for mistaking them for palm trees dominate the upper under layer of the canopy. Numerous variety of bracken, knee deep, struggle for dominance in the black-green layer closest to the forest floor. Scraggly, grey green tendrils, like the remains of an old man’s beard drip from craggy chins that are the bends of old branches. Long locks, almost white compared to the other greens tumble like a maiden’s hair from the tips of twigs just out of reach. Even the trunks of the trees are thick with green hair, like the fur of a verdant bear putting on his winter bulk. Other sentinels carry the weight of a thousand crooked crone’s fingers pointing the way down the path, leathery and bent, glistening in the deep wet of a forest six hours into a good rain. Even the dripping wet fronds of Elisha’s tawny hair sticking out in every direction behind his ears as he climbed the muddy hillside up from Marokopa Falls were reminiscent of ferns to me as the big boys slid past in the slick, wet underbelly of the woods with shining eyes and jackets laden with crystal beads from the mist of the falls.

Family Travel New Zealand

Today marks one month that we’ve been on the North Island. It’s also St. Patrick’s Day, the perfect day for a celebration of green. Since all we’ve ever seen of Ireland is the airport in Dublin, this is the country we most associate with Paddy’s colour. We spent the morning sipping tea, and surfing the thin band of stars across the universe as Dave Bowman finally descended through the star gate and Arthur C. Clarke transported us between worlds. Three of the children knit with me while the fourth, Gabriel, periodically shushed anyone who came up for air with a question about a word or concept. “Every question you ask takes time away from the story!” He admonished his little brother. We sucked on maple candies and munched a lunch of macaroni and cheese, sent half way around the world by best friends, relishing a quiet morning with no work, no school, no electricity and no prospect of any of the above, as we’re well off the grid in Waitomo, on the west coast, about half way down.

Family Travel New Zealand

Hannah’s music for her mandolin is a PDF… Irish tunes for St. Patrick’s Day breakfast!

Waitomo is famous for it’s glowworm caves, but in reality, they aren’t confined to the caverns. You can pay fifty bucks a head, hop a raft with twenty of your closest friends to be ferried through the underworld and watch the tiny, resourceful little carnivores sparkle like constellations on the ceiling of a couple of local caves. Or, you can set out on a voyage of nocturnal discovery and find plenty on your own.

Mangapohue Natural Bridge is a good place to start. Essentially, it’s a cave that has fallen in, creating a gorge, except for one section of roof, that is the natural bridge. During the daytime, it’s an adventurous hike with enormous fossilized oysters, approximately 3 million years old, to be discovered along the track lined with blackberries enough to turn fingers and lips a sticky-sweet blue. At night, it is transformed into a secret fairyland as the glowworms fire up their internal flashlights and get on with a good night’s work. Suspended on the swinging bridge over the gorge was like floating weightless among the stars, with tiny points of light illuminating both walls and the New Zealand is the first place we’ve encountered these creatures and to us, they are magical. I don’t think they’ll ever get old.

We were lucky to camp with a few native Kiwis last night and between beers and blackberry-apple cobbler they told us stories, made suggestions as to our route, and were shockingly blase about our new fascination with the worms. “Oh those, yeah… you haven’t seen them before? Go on! Well they’re everywhere in New Zealand. You can pay the big bucks for the tour down the road if ya want, but any overhanging wall like that in the forest will light up with them at night… anywhere in the whole country, pretty much. They’re quite common!” Not to us! There will be many more night walks in our future!

The other big benefit of our local camp-mates came just after dusk as the forest sounds turned towards the nocturnal. Ross, the 78 year old farmer with his wife in the tiny camper van that Tony and I aspire to cocked his big, meaty ear to the side and raised one eyebrow. There it was again, a high pitched whistle of some sort of bird. “Is that what I think it is?” The younger guy with the shepherd-mix puppy asked. “Yep. That there’s a kiwi!” Ross declared. We were all perfectly silent, soon there was a second, on the other side of the river. “They’re talking!” He smiled, “You’re very lucky young people! I’ve been here my whole life and I’ve only ever heard kiwis in the wild twice. You’ve been here three weeks and you’ve already got two!”

Glowworms, kiwis and a kaleidoscope of green ferns, on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re very lucky indeed… almost Irish!

Family Travel New Zealand

The glowworms are kinda hard to capture as a picture… guess you’ll just have to come see for yourself!