The Greenwood Guide to New Zealand

Waikato

  • Check out the English-style countryside of Cambridge. The rural village is famous for breeding and training thoroughbred horses. You may even catch a spot of cricket on the green.
  • Take full advantage of the rolling landscapes, country gardens and rich farmland of the Waikato. This is Hobbit country and the most beautiful of shires.
  • Wriggle into a wetsuit, grab a board and catch some impressive waves at Raglan. The chilled-out town is also great if you want to keep dry.
  • Pirongia Mountain on the Waikato horizon. This dramatic landmark's many peaks were created by a series of volcanic eruptions about 2.5 million years ago.
  • Waitomo Caves. There are a whole heap of cave-experiencing options from the dry glowworm trips, to the slightly wet (well, pretty drenched actually) serious adventure caving and black-water rafting.
  • Grab a brochure and explore the private gardens of Te Kuiti, the sheep shearing capital of the world.

Waitomo Caves and its Glowworms

These cave-lurking, occasionally cannibalistic, creatures are another unique feature of New Zealand. They can only survive in dark, damp and still places where their light will shine uninterrupted and no wind will tangle their sticky lines. Waitomo Caves provides the perfect habitat. Glowworms are technically glowing maggots but it was felt that 'glow maggots' didn't have quite the same romantic and tourist-friendly ring. The cyclic worms spend most of their lives feeding; attracting flying insects with their light, catching them in their sticky threads and reeling them in. When they finally pupate and become an adult fly, the fungus gnat, they survive for only a few days, just long enough to mate and lay a batch of eggs. In short glowworms spend their lives fishing, eating and mating. I know quite a few people living in similar fashion.

Vital statistics:

They glow to attract food and burn off waste. Chemicals in their tail react with oxygen to produce light - bioluminescence.

Glowworms are sensitive to vibrations so the more noise you make the brighter they will glow.

The larvae are about the size of a matchstick.

If a fellow worm or glowworm fly gets caught in another's thread they will be eaten (hence they are cannibals).

The adult fungus gnats have no mouth and starve to death after a couple of days.

En masse in the dark glowworms are one of New Zealand's most stunning sights but pick them out with a torch individually and they'll gross you out. Both ways they are utterly incredible and a must-see feature.

The kiwi, a flightless bird

Kiwis are endemic to New Zealand and belong to the family of flightless ratite birds, which includes emus, cassowaries, ostriches, rheas and the now extinct moa. This is a peculiar little bird with shaggy hair-like feathers, cone-shaped body and primitive claws.

Vital Statistics:

Kiwis are nocturnal, hence the fact they are pretty damn hard to spot in the wild (especially when you consider their dwindling numbers).

Their wings are only between 30 - 50mm in length and end in a primitive dinosaur-style claw.

They are the only bird whose nostrils are arranged at the tip of their beak (and a hugely long beak at that).

Their sense of smell is so acute they can sniff out a worm 3cm under ground.

There are 4 species and 6 varieties/taxa of kiwi: the northern brown, okarito brown, southern tokoeka, Haast tokoeka, little spotted and the great spotted.

The females lay eggs proportionally larger to their body than any other bird (roughly ΒΌ of her size!).

They have cat-like whiskers to aid movement in the dark.

Due to the country's isolation New Zealand's lack of predatory mammals has previously allowed for the kiwi's chilled out ground-dwelling lifestyle. Unfortunately, with the relatively recent introductions of rats, possums, dogs and cats the kiwi has had a bit of a hard time trying (and usually failing) to hide or outrun his new aggressors, and their eggs have made many a possum breakfast. Their noisy rummagings also make them easy prey. Many conservation schemes are now set in place and areas are pest-proofed to save New Zealand's heritage bird.

Surfing at Raglan

The Raglan coast is one of the world's surfing hot spots and, although I'm not actually into surfing, I'll attempt to direct you in the right direction from what I've been informed.

Word on the street has it that Manu Bay has the longest, most consistent "left-hand break" in the world which means, if you catch a colossus of a wave, you can cruise for a massive distance with "guaranteed nice lines and perfect peelers", according to one surfer in the know. This surf spot is also known as 'The Point' and was featured in the 1966 cult surfing film 'Endless Summer.' Whale Bay, renowned for an "awesome left point break", offers great surfing on all tides. It's particularly good if you're after a hollow wave - sounds a little scary to me!

Be warned. Raglan may excel in its surf conditions but rocky ledges and reefs command respect and require a certain level of skill to overcome. "This is not grommet territory", i.e you need to know what you're doing in the water.

Raglan has attracted the likes of musical surf lover Jack Johnson to its wave-washed shores and has a fantastic laid-back vibe. If you're not up for floating on a board, boogie-, surf- or otherwise. you'll love the tiny seaside town and can happily frolic in the action-packed waters.

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