Hi Folks. I’m a post behind, so the next two posts might be slightly shorter than what I usually write. It isn’t that I don’t love you all, it’s just that biking all day is hard work people 🙂 Yesterday was sort of a long day due to not just the biking, but the activities and excitement that followed the push to Whangarei. There were some interesting attempts at getting lodging, and some impromptu hill-climbing feats that I hadn’t inteded in order to finally secure a place to lay my head for the evening. However, as always, everything worked out for the best for me, in spite of extra physical effort. You’ll read all about that in a few paragraphs. As usual, I’ve put together a little map with some pictures that you should probably check out, and after that, come on back for the stories of the day.
Leaving Paihia sort of early on the 21st of December, my destination was picked out to be Whangarei, which is the largest city in the Northland of New Zealand, with a booming population of 45,000. That may not sound like a lot to you, but let me tell you, when I finally landed there, it sure seemed like a massive metropolis. After all, I hadn’t seen traffic lights for the better part of a week, so finally having to stop and wait at a light seemed incredibly annoying. So did all the traffic and the ‘hustle and bustle’, which makes up a city. The actual bike ride between Paihia and Whangarei was really uneventful in every sense of the word. Of course, you’ve probably already realized that from the map, right?
There were two sights off the road I was on that might have been interesting, but I just didn’t have the legs to do the extra distances. Those would have been some caves, and some famous toilet place. I kid you not. Toilets. Some fellow designs them, and they are world-famous. Now, this thing I did want to find, and in fact did go off the main road and followed the signs, but couldn’t find the place, and got tired of searching, and just returned to the main road. I’ve noticed that in NZ, it’s sometimes quite hard to find your way around little towns, particularly when you don’t have a decent road map. I only have tourist maps, and they lack the detail. Of course, my computer has highly detailed maps, but it’s really not worth booting up to use. I just asks local if I’m really looking for something.
Anyway, back to Whangarei. I reached it in pretty good time, and it was still relatively early in the afternoon. Somewhere around 2:30 in the afternoon. I went right away to the big hostel in town, which is four floors of residence-like accomodation. I didn’t particularly want to stay there, so I used their phone to call a few other hostels. Sadly, they were all booked. So, I tried to get a room with the Mural, the major hostel. First, they tell me the prices are up from what is listed in the 2008 guide! Ok, $23 instead of $20 isn’t a big deal. That was the listed price for ‘share rooms’ which have only up to 4 beds.However, they tried to stick me in a 16 bed dorm. Oh yeah, and did I mention this place is also a bar? It was Saturday night, and directly below this room would be a DJ till very late. You can just imagine what that would be like, trying to get up early the next morning, or even sleeping for that matter. So I went back, and asked for a true share room. They informed me the price for those was $45! What? I argued, showing them the listing in the book, and they countered with the fact that it was under new ownership. That’s the second new owner since the last guide. Not a very encouraging thing. I finally asked for my money back as politely as possible, and secretly vowed to spread the word to all never to book at the Mural BBH Hostel in Whangarei. Did you get the message? Don’t do it! Unless you want the look and feel of a drunken frat house, complete with a bar below you. If that’s your bag, then by all means, but their attitude was pretty shite too.
So, what’s a guy to do now? All the other hostels were booked! Well, one of them also had listed a tent site, and was located close to glow-worm caves. I decided to roll the dice and head that way. The problem was that I didn’t realize it was 10km out of town up a crazy set of mountain roads. That’s not to mention the insane driveway leading to it, which was downhill, meaning I’d have to somehow get back up it. Another mistake I made was not getting food. On my way out of town, I figured I’d just head back after checking in for some chow. Well, after all the crazy climbs, and an hour of extra biking, I nixed the idea of food. When I finally got there, the owners were more than happy to let me set up my tent for only $15, letting me use all the facilities. Sweet. After all, it was great weather at this time, and I truly did get the best view of everyone. Also, they sold me a can of beans and 3 pieces of bread for $2. Not too bad eh? Along with that, they gave me a laminated map of the Abbey Caves, where there are glo-worms, and is directly beside the property, with a walking trail leading to it. Not only that, but they provided helmets, aqua-socks, and headlamps if you needed it free of charge! I was truly excited.
I got busy setting up my tent, which kept trying to blow away while I set it up. I ended up putting a ton of extra gear in it to weigh it down. So why was it flying away you ask? Well, simple. Yours truly somehow doesn’t have any tent pegs with him! I have no idea where they are. Perhaps in Madawaska, perhaps in Auckland, perhaps at home. Jody? Are they at home? My hope is that I stuffed them into my running shoes, and they are waiting for me in Auckland. However, that didn’t help me. Again, the owners were quite helpful, they were heading into town, and said they’d look for and pick up some pegs for me at the ‘Warehouse’, a home depot-like place. Lucky me. They came through, and for $5 I now have 10 heavy steel pegs to go with my ultra-light tent. Ha ha. Also, the tent needs 13 to be truly set up. Oh well, at least I was no longer blowing away, and the fly wasn’t touching the tent. Thanks guys!
While they went to town, I convinced a couple of dutch ladies that they should join me in the caves, since we had been advised not to go in alone. It was now 4:30pm, and we needed 2 hours to get through them, which would put us almost at 7 before being done. Luckily, it stays light here till about 9pm right now. They decided they only wanted to do the first cave, which was relatively dry, and skip the longer second cave. I told them it was fine, and that I’d do the other one alone. Later, they offered to wait, but I told them to just let someone know if I was gone over an hour.
So, the caves? They were amazing. I was exhausted from biking all day, but not to the point that I couldn’t get into some serious spelunking. With all our gear on, and me with an extra light, tools, and camera, we headed out. It was literally a 10 minute walk from the hostel to the first cave. We clambered in, and I gave the women a bit of help, but they managed pretty well on their own. They’d never done any caving, and were a little apprehensive. However, after we got in further and turned out the lights, the cave walls and ceiling lit up like stars. It was full of glow-worms! I’ve never seen it before, and was totally blown away. I wish I had a decent picture, but it was impossible to capture, and flashes kill them, so my feeble attempts didn’t yield anything. Just believe me when I say it was pretty special. We all agreed it was a great idea. We made it to the end of the cave, where there was supposed to be a way out. I was able to scramble and push my way out, but there was no way for the other women to do that, so they doubled back, and I circled around outside to meet them back.
We walked along to the second cave (Ivy Cave), and I bid the two ladies goodbye, and took my extra gear with me and headed into the depths. I’d been warned that I’d get wet to my waist in this one, but with all the recent rain, it was more like chest-deep in spots. And quite chilly. I got a free mud-bath, and walked on all sorts of squishy things. I also think several eels brushed up and slithered around my legs, which is what the owner said they probably were. I’ll be honest, it was a bit scary at times, being all alone in there, but I pressed on all the way through this long cave and finally found my way out. I felt like I truly accomplished something, and overcame a fear of sorts. This was confirmed when I got back and the owner assumed I hadn’t got through but turned back. He said most people don’t get all the way through, especially alone. That made me feel pretty good about it. Anyway, it was really a special place, and I’m so glad that the chance string of occurences led me to that place, in spite of all the foibles.
And as far as the food goes? Well, again the Dutch came through for me. They had been cooking for a while, and had way too much food, so they offered me some of their ‘tortilla’ and garlic bread. This type of tortilla is the kind made with potatoes, eggs, herbs, etc. It was awesome, and I was very grateful. To repay them, I did all the dishes. I then worked a bit on my computer while I fought tiredness, then half-watched a movie that others were watching. It was a Woody Allen flick “Match Point”. Kinda weird, and made me angry because I wanted to go to bed, but had to see how it all ended. I finally hit the sack (literally) around 11pm. My early rise might be thwarted. On to the next post to see how that went!