Birkenhead

Birkenhead is a suburb of Auckland, located on the north shore of the Waitemata Harbour.

To travel to Birkenhead, I took the 9:10am service, which is the first weekend morning service departing Downtown. The ferry service is operated by Fullers and departs from Pier 1. Adults are $5.50 one way, $10.10 return. Child $3.30 one way, $5.20 return. Discount fares are available for AT Hop cardholders.

Fullers' ferry boarding at Pier 1, Downtown Ferry Terminal

Fullers’ ferry boarding at Pier 1, Downtown Ferry Terminal

It is approximately a 15 minute ferry ride to Birkenhead Wharf via Bayswater and Northcote Point.

The ferry travels underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge to reach Northcote Point and Birkenhead. The Harbour Bridge is 1,020 metres long, rising 43.27 metres above high water level. I had never travelled under the harbour bridge before, which was one of the reasons for choosing ferry travel.

The ferry travels underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge

The ferry travels underneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge

The ferry docks at Birkenhead Wharf at the bottom of Hinemoa Street. The original entry point to Birkenhead Village was via ferry, making Hinemoa Street one of the oldest streets in Birkenhead. It is just under a 2km walk past many historic buildings from the Wharf to Birkenhead Village.

Birkenhead Wharf

Birkenhead Wharf

A few notable points on this heritage walk:

On the corner of Hinemoa St and Rugby St stands the Marinovic Building (94 – 98 Hinemoa St). This two storey masonry building is in Edwardian style, and was constructed in 1912. The old Hellaby butcher’s occupied this site until 1911 when it moved to the rear of the building. The old butcher’s shop is now Ravenhill café. I tried the raspberry and frangipani slab ($4.50) from their cabinet.

Ravenhill cafe, a former butchery. Building constructed 1912

Ravenhill cafe, a former butchery. Building constructed 1912

At 128-130 Hinemoa St is Gumdiggers Restaurant, which is open for dinner from 6:30pm Tuesday to Saturday. The building that was built in 1910 was originally a drapers shop.

Gumdiggers Restaurant, originally a drapers shop. Building built 1910

Gumdiggers Restaurant, originally a drapers shop. Built 1910

Next to each other at 243 and 245 Hinemoa St are the Royal Thai Restaurant and Bambina (a baby clothing and toy store).  243 Hinemoa Street was the Samuel Roberts General Store established in 1910 and 245 Hinemoa St was Henry Hawkins Grocer established in 1927.

At Highbury Corner stands the Oborn Buildings, which was originally named Payne’s Building, and was constructed between 1927 and 1928 for local businessman and council member W. H. Payne.

Oborn Building, formerly Payne Buildings, built 1927-8

Oborn Building, formerly Payne Buildings, built 1927-8

On the corner of Hinemoa Street and Rawene Road is Nell Fisher Reserve.  Situated in the reserve is the Birkenhead War Memorial monument, which was unveiled in 1927 to remember the soldiers killed in WWI.

Birkenhead War Memorial, Nell Fisher Reserve

Birkenhead War Memorial, Nell Fisher Reserve

Located behind the War Memorial is the Birkenhead Public Library. It is worth going up to the mezzanine floor for a moments rest and to admire the views.

Views of Auckland city from mezzanine floor, Birkenhead Public Library

Views of Auckland city from mezzanine floor, Birkenhead Public Library

It is here that the Sugar Workers Walk begins. Click here to download a map.

After visiting the library and Nell Fisher Reserve make your way along Rawene Road. There are several residential houses here with historical significance. At number 51 is the former home of Bert Stanley, who was the mayor of Birkenhead from 1968-77.

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51 Rawene Rd. Former home of Bert Stanley, Birkenhead mayor, 1968-77

There are several sugar workers cottages on Rawene Road. 35 cottages were built in the 1880s in an area at the bottom of Colonial Road. In 1905 these cottages were sold for 5 pounds each and relocated to sunnier sites. 44 Rawene Road is an example of one of these original cottages.

44 Rawene Road, early sugar workers cottage

44 Rawene Rd, early sugar workers cottage

At the end of Rawene Road is an entrance to Chelsea Estate Heritage Park. Follow the track down and where the track forks turn to the right and follow the track across the dam to the Sugar Refinery grounds.

This pink and blue Victorian factory was built from 1883-84 using one million handmade bricks made from clay from the surrounding hills.

Chelsea Sugar Refinery

Chelsea Sugar Refinery

Take a moment to watch the ducks frolic in the large duck pond before crossing the bridge and heading up the hill to four historic Worker’s cottages. These two storied brick cottages were constructed in 1910 and are now private residences.

Four historic Workers' cottages. Constructed 1910

Four historic Workers’ cottages. Constructed 1910

In the large grassy area stands the ‘Ships Grab’ sculpture, which was donated by New Zealand Sugar Company when it sold 37 hectares of its property to the Council in 2008. This property became the Chelsea Estate Heritage Park.

'Ships Grab' sculpture

‘Ships Grab’ sculpture

This area is where the original 35 cottages were located. Opposite the Ships Grab sculpture is a walking track that leads up to Huka Road. Huka is the Māori word for sugar. Alternatively you can walk up past the four historic Worker’s cottages and walk up Colonial Road, just watch out for the sugar trucks.

If you walk up Huka Road, like Rawene Road, there are many cottages of historical significance to the sugar refinery. Number 44 is two sugar workers cottages, which have been joined together. Numbers 22 and 25 are Victorian bay villas and numbers 29 and 33 are Edwardian style houses. These five properties are more examples of the homes that sugar factory workers would have lived in.

45 Huka Road, two sugar workers cottages joined together

45 Huka Road, two sugar workers cottages joined together

Both Huka Road and Colonial Road come out at Mokoia Road. Turn right and walk along Mokoia. There are many cafés located along this strip. At 14-24 Mokoia Road is Highbury Buildings. This retail building was constructed in 1934.

Next I walked back down Hinemoa St and entered Le Roys bush walk. I walked this native bush walk through kauri, nikau palms, totara, past mangroves and out to Little Shoal Bay for more views of the city. I returned from Little Shoal Bay to the exit on Onewa Road (between 210 and 12 Onewa Road).

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Le Roys bush walk

Le Roys Bush walk

Little Shoal Bay

Little Shoal Bay

At the corner of Birkenhead Ave and Onewa Road is Zion Hill Church. It was first church to be built in Birkenhead in 1880. This church was replaced by a new church building around 1886.

Birkenhead Transport has bus services from Onewa Road into and from the city. There are also over 900 free carparks located throughout Birkenhead Village so it is an easy place to visit.

Tiritiri Matangi

Tiritiri Matangi Island is a 220 hectare open wildlife sanctuary situated in the Hauraki Gulf. Tiritiri Matangi means ‘looking into the wind’ or ‘wind tossing about’ in Māori.

The island is managed by the Department of Conservation in partnership with a volunteer community group, Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi. In 1984 a native replanting programme began. Over 280,000 trees were replanted between 1984 and 1994. Many rare birds such as the takahē, North Island saddleback, North Island robin, rifleman, and little spotted kiwi have been re-introduced. Tiritiri Matangi is a bird watcher’s dream.

Takahē

Takahē

360 Discovery Cruises operate ferry services to Tiritiri Matangi five days a week, Wednesday to Sunday, all year round. Over the summer holiday period they operate seven days a week.

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360 Discovery Cruises to Tiritiri Matangi Island depart Pier 4.

The ferry departs from Downtown Pier 4 at 9:00am. Tickets are $69 for adults,  $61.50 for seniors and $37.00 for children. Family passes are also available.

It is a 75 minute journey from Downtown Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi. The ferry stops at Gulf Harbour Marina around 9:50am to pick up passengers. Majority of the passengers boarded here, as there is free parking at Gulf Harbour. Ticket prices are also cheaper for those boarding from Gulf Harbour – $52 for adults, $47 for senior and $31 for children.

Passengers waiting at Gulf Harbour Marina

Passengers waiting at Gulf Harbour Marina

When we arrived at Tiritiri Matangi a Department of Conservation ranger did a briefing on the island, safety and biosecurity.

The Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi offer 1 ½ hour guided walks of the island. It is $5 for an adult and $2.50 for a child. These can be booked through 360 Discovery Cruises. From our ferry group about 90 passengers had booked for a guided walk. Mary-Ann, the guiding manager, quickly allocated guides to larger groups and those with children.

We were given a choice of the Kawerau Track or the Wattle Track. Both guided walks finish at the Visitor’s Centre.

Stitchbird feeding station, Wattle Track

Stitchbird feeding station, Wattle Track

I choose to do the Wattle Track, the shorter of two walks because I was booked for a tour of the Island’s lighthouse at 1:15pm. My small group of six went with volunteer guide Annette. She was very knowledgeable and passionate about the bird life on the island. She also had a small photo album with photos that she and her husband had taken on the Island that she referred to.

Birds at the water trough, Wattle Track

Birds at the water trough, Wattle Track

Also be sure to purchase a map and brochure of the island for $1. Guides will be selling these on the boat on the way over and they are also available from the Visitor’s Centre.

At the Visitor’s Centre there is gift shop, information displays and complimentary tea and coffee. Profits from the gift shop go to support the island and its conservation work. No food is available for sale on the island so bring a packed lunch or order one through 360 Discovery Cruises.

On the hill behind the Visitor’s Centre are the keeper’s houses, which were built in 1918 to replace the original houses. The first keeper’s house at the top of the hill is now used as the Ranger’s residence. The second keeper’s house, at the bottom of the hill is used as a bunkhouse for overnight accommodation. This can be booked in advance through the Department of Conservation. Although availability is limited.

First lightkeeper's cottage, now Ranger's residence

First lightkeeper’s cottage, now Ranger’s residence

At the top of the hill is the island’s 20.5 metre tall lighthouse, which was built in 1864. It was the third lighthouse to be constructed in New Zealand and is now our oldest operating lighthouse.

Access to the interior of the lighthouse is normally closed but was open when I visited as part of a 3-in-1 historic day.  As well as tours of the lighthouse, visitors could visit the recently restored Watchtower and hear the impressive diaphonic foghorn.

Lighthouse built in 1864

Lighthouse built in 1864

As part of a small group of eight I climbed the steep and narrow stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Ray Walter, the last lighthouse keeper on the island, was at the top to explain the history and the change to the automated solar powered system. The view from the top of the lighthouse was amazing and the visit to the lighthouse was the highlight of the day for me.

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Top of the lighthouse

Top of the lighthouse

The diaphonic foghorn was built in 1932 to replace the previous Gun Cotton Explosive signal.  This diaphonic foghorn is only one of two in New Zealand. I went inside the room and when the volunteer sounded the horn I could feel the vibrations in my chest. It is definitely loud.

The original Watchtower was built in 1912 and has been rebuilt to its original condition using Ministry of Transport plans.

After visiting the lighthouse area I went along the East Coast track to Emergency Landing, and then returned back to the Wharf via Hobbs Beach track.

Hobbs Beach is a 10 minute walk from the wharf. This sandy beach is popular with visitors who wish to swim. Many people anchor there boats offshore and come in by dingy to spend a day on the beach, picnicking and swimming.

Hobbs Beach

Hobbs Beach

The ferry departs Tiritiri Matangi at 3:30pm. Although you need to be at the wharf 15 minutes before for boarding. The ferry arrives back at Gulf Harbour at 3:50pm and Downtown Auckland at 4:50pm.

It’s not possible to explore the entire island in the five and bit hours, which is great because like many natural treasures they are there to be revisited.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

Entrance to Auckland Botanic Gardens, Hill Road, Manurewa

Entrance to Auckland Botanic Gardens, Hill Road, Manurewa

The Auckland Botanic Gardens located near the Southern Motorway in the South Auckland suburb of Manurewa cover 64 hectares of land, including 10 hectares of native forest, and are home to over 10,000 plants from around the world.

It is a relatively young botanic garden, opening to the public in 1982 after 9 years of development and planning.

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The gardens open at 8am, and close at 8pm during daylight savings and close 6pm during the non daylight savings period.

There is plenty of parking in visitor’s carpark, and they have an overflow parking area set up. The Howick and Eastern number 466 bus, which departs from Manurewa Interchange, stops outside the Garden gates.

The Haukaiwaka Visitor Centre

The Haukaiwaka Visitor Centre

The Haukaiwaka Visitor Centre, which opened in 2005, houses the information desk (pick up a map of the gardens here), displays and Café Miko. The Visitor Centre is open from 8am to 4pm (4:30 pm summer weekdays and 5pm summer weekends). The café is open daily from 8am to 4pm.

A reference library, opened in 1992, is located in a separate building adjacent to the Visitor Centre. It is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11am to 3pm, or by appointment.

Silver fern

Silver fern

Free one hour guided walks of the Gardens depart from the Visitor Centre at 1pm on Wednesdays. The route varies depending on the guide, season, and the interests of those taking the walk. Our small group of six looked at the sculptures at the entrance, found a silver fern, explored the Edible Garden, Perennials, Orchard, and Potter Children’s Garden.

The Potter Children's Garden

The Potter Children’s Garden

On Sundays (and Saturdays and public holidays during the summer) they run the Wiri Rambler ‘Train’, a small tractor, which tows carriages around a 30 minute tour of the gardens. It costs $2 for adults and $1 for children (under 5 is free). The ‘train’ departs from outside the Visitor Centre from midday till 3pm.

Visitors may be surprised to know all roses are grown spray free

Visitors may be surprised to know all roses are grown spray free

Provided the weather is good the botanic gardens is a great place to visit anytime of the year. During the summer and autumn months the perennials and rose gardens provide stunning colour. The magnolias and camellias offer wonderful winter and spring colours, as well as the bulbs in Spring Blossom Valley being well worth a look.

Take a moments rest in the gardens.

Taking a moments rest in the gardens.

Waitomo – Day 3

Welcome to the last blog post from my 3-day weekend to Waitomo.

Monday morning I awoke to the sound of rain on the corrugated iron roof of my chalet. I had planned that morning to walk the Waitomo Walkway to Ruakuri Scenic Reserve. After two days of beautiful blue skies and sun I had not planned on the rain.

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Waitomo Walkway

After waiting for the rain to clear I headed to the entrance for the Waitomo Walkway, which starts in the Waitomo Domain, opposite the Waitomo Discovery Centre (i-Site). The walk takes approximately 1 hr 15 min one way, or 2 hr 30 min return.

From Waitomo Village to the Waitomo Caves carpark it is a 15 minute walk through native bush. There is a 25 minute detour to a lookout point, which gives views of the rolling hills and the Waitomo Caves Hotel on the hill above the township. I had walked up to the lookout on Saturday so I continued on.

Johnson Family Memorial Grove

Johnson Family Memorial Grove

Next to the Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre the path picks up and it is a 5 minute bush walk to a clearing by the main road. An entrance to the path is framed by a sign for The Johnson Memorial Grove. This memorial honours the Johnson’s, a pioneer family who arrived in Waitomo in 1907.

Follow the orange markers across private farmland

Follow the orange markers across private farmland

A large part of the Waitomo Walkway crosses private farmland. Just follow the orange triangle markers as you make you away across the farmland. There are several stiles to cross and there are some electric fences to be aware of.

Suspension bridge

Suspension bridge

The track follows the Waitomo Stream and one point there is a suspension bridge to cross the stream.

The rain was not the only obstacle, as I approached a sign warning of wasp nests and advising to ‘proceed promptly and quietly’. I was wearing a rain jacket so I put up the hood and high tailed it – almost running when I sensed something fly past me – probably a harmless fly.

Warning wasps!

Warning wasps!

The Waitomo Walkway comes out at the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve carpark. There are toilet and picnic facilities at Ruakuri Scenic Reserve. From here I walked The Ruakuri Bushwalk, which is a 30 minute loop track. Every local I meet in Waitomo recommended doing this walk. This walk takes you inside the Ruakuri natural tunnel. Although I walked this during the day this is also a popular walk at night as you can see the glowworms.

Ruakuri Bushwalk

Ruakuri Bushwalk

After completing the Ruakuri Bushwalk I returned to Waitomo Village back via the way I came. After lunch I took the path from village up to Waitomo Caves Hotel, a historic hotel built in Victorian style in 1908, which had an Art deco style wing added in 1928. From here I had views over the township.

Waitomo Caves Hotel

Waitomo Caves Hotel

In the afternoon I took the one hour Footwhistle Glowworm Cave Tour offered by Cave World. The tour cost $49 for adults and $24 for children.

Te Anaroa Cave (Footwhistle Glowworm Cave)

Te Anaroa Cave (Footwhistle Glowworm Cave)

The cave is known to Māori as Te Anaroa Cave but the name footwhistle comes from a formation in the cave that looks like a foot with a whistle at the bottom. The cave has a glowworms and all formations that you would expect to find. One opportunity Caveworld offers that other companies don’t is to see the Te Anaroa cathedral (highest point in a cave) lit up by a magnesium torch, a traditional lighting method.

I caught the 5:30pm service to Hamilton provided by Naked Bus and then switched to the Auckland bus at Hamilton.

I had three fantastic days in Waitomo exploring six caves in the area and completing the Waitomo Walkway and Ruakuri bushwalk. If you are more adventurous than me and don’t mind getting wet there are black water rafting cave tours and adventure tours that involve abseiling into caves.

Waitomo – Day 2

Welcome to day 2 of my 3-day weekend to Waitomo Caves. If you haven’t read Day 1, click here.

I had booked with Spellbound Glowworm Caves for their 11am tour on Sunday morning. They also run tours at 10am, 2pm and 3pm. The tour, which lasts approximately 3 ¼ hours costs $73 for adults and $26 children.

Waitomo General Store, established in 1910

Waitomo General Store, established in 1910

After breakfast I checked in at their office, which is part of the Waitomo General Store building (15 Waitomo Caves Road). If you sign their guest book and leave an email address they will email you photos of glowworms. So if you weren’t able to capture the perfect picture of the glowworms never fear.

Spellbound deliberately keeps their group numbers small, up to 12 people, which creates a more personalised tour. After hoping into the van tour guide Norm made his way out to the private farmland where the two caves, Mangawhitikau Glowworm Cave and Te Ana o te Atua cave are located. Along the scenic drive Norm provided excellent and informative commentary on the area.

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Entrance to Te Ana o te Atua

The first cave we went to was the Te Ana o te Atua (the cave of the Spirit). The gentle 45 minute guided walk through this cave looks at various limestone formations, fossils and bones.

Norm serving tea, coffee and hot chocolate from Spellbound's 'tearooms'.

Norm serving tea, coffee and hot chocolate from Spellbound’s ‘tearooms’.

After exploring the cave we walked to Spellbound’s purpose built ‘tearoom’ where Norm made us coffee, tea and hot chocolate and offered biscuits.

Following our refreshments we made our way to the Mangawhitikau Glowworm Cave. This is the glowworm cave that Sir David Attenborough filmed for the BBC series Planet Earth. After being fitted with hard hats with lights we made our way into the cave.

Boat ride through Mangawhitikau Glowworm Cave

Boat ride through Mangawhitikau Glowworm Cave

A highlight of the tour is the 20 minute boat ride in an inflatable raft through the glowworm caves. This ride was far more impressive than one I took the day before.

Without helmet torchlights we walked back out through the cave guided by Norm. It’s amazing how your eyes can adjust to the darkness.

Walk across farmland, Spellbound Glowworm Caves tour

Walk across farmland, Spellbound Glowworm Caves tour

We finished with a scenic walk across the ridge of the farmland and meet the van and Norm who took a different scenic route back to Waitomo.

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After a late lunch at Florence’s Kitchen, which is part of Waitomo General Store I checked out the Museum of Caves at the Waitomo Discovery Centre (i-Site). Entrance to the museum is $5 but if you have booked with one of the many tour operators you may get discounted entry.  The Discovery Centre is open daily from 9am to 5:30pm and provides excellent unbiased information on all there is to  do in the area. The attached museum is small but has interesting displays on the history of Waitomo, caving, and the geology of caves. I enjoyed taking a moments rest and looking through all the old photo albums.

Waitomo – Day 1

Waitomo is known for its impressive caves with spectacular displays of glowworms and amazing stalactites and stalagmites, and it is this that attracts busloads of tourists to the small town everyday. So last weekend I decided to make Waitomo my 3-day weekend away.

The village of Waitomo is about 2 hours drive south of Auckland, 1 hour south of Hamilton and 2 hours west of Rotorua. The name Waitomo comes from the Māori words wai meaning water and tomo meaning to enter, so it can be translated, as a place where water enters the ground.

Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre

Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre

To get to Waitomo from Auckland I booked a seat on a Great Sights tour bus through Intercity for $45. The bus departed the Sky City Coach Terminal at 7:30 Saturday morning and arrived outside Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre just on 10am.  The passengers on the Great Sights tour bus were shepherded inside by a guide, where they did the 45 minute tour of Waitomo Glowworm Caves before travelling onto Rotorua and Hobbiton. On arrival I went to the ticket office to purchase a Triple Cave Combo ticket for $91, which allows entry to the three caves that Waitomo Caves has tourist rights for. It would cost $163 to do these three caves individually so it was a $72 saving.

Waitomo Caves offers a shuttle van to take guests the 10 minute drive from the Visitors’ centre to Ruakuri Cave. Visitors can of course drive themselves to Ruakuri Cave carpark and wait for the guide. I was booked on the 11am tour, which lasts approximately 2 hours. Tours also run daily at 9am, 10am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm and 3:30pm.

Impressive man made spiral entrance to Ruakuri Cave

Impressive man made spiral entrance to Ruakuri Cave

To enter the cave you walk down through an impressive man made spiral entrance way. The guide will then walk you 1.6 km through the cave pointing out all the impressive formations. Unlike the Waitomo Glowworms Cave located behind the Visitor Centre you can take photos in this cave. At certain points, like when the black water rafters pass through below on Huanui River, photography is not permitted for safety reasons.

Ruakuri Cave

Ruakuri Cave

After returning to the Visitors Centre I went on the Waitomo Glowworms Cave tour, which is the tour that bus tour companies take. Your guide will walk you 250 metres through the cave pointing out the formations and talking about the local history. While this cave is not as impressive as Ruakuri, the tour ends with a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto and this is definitely impressive. This 45 minute tour runs every half hour so there is no need to book a specific time.

Entrance to Aranui Cave

Entrance to Aranui Cave

I was booked on the 2:30pm tour of Aranui Cave so I had a quick lunch at the onsite café (Tuna bun and side salad, $12). Visitors to the Aranui Cave drive themselves to Ruakuri Scenic Reserve and meet the guide at the sign posted meeting point. The ticket office staff kindly arranged for the tour guide Mere to take me to the cave in her car. There is a gentle 15 minute guided bush walk to the cave entrance. Mere pointed out native plants and explained some of their medicinal purposes and use by Māori. You won’t see any glowworms in Aranui Caves but if you are lucky you might spot a giant cave weta.

Aranui Cave

Aranui Cave

After returning to Waitomo Visitors Centre I watched a short documentary film in the theatre featuring some people of Waitomo and their stories.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the three caves. Waitomo Caves also offers a combo tour of Waitomo Glowworms Caves and Ruakuri Cave for $83 adult, $30 child, which is one of their most popular combo tours. If you wish to visit either Ruakuri and Aranui Cave I recommend booking prior to arrival in Waitomo.

View from Waitomo Walkway Lookout Point

View from Waitomo Walkway Lookout Point

From Waitomo Caves carpark there is a short bush walk that comes out at Waitomo Caves domain opposite the Waitomo Discovery Centre (i-Site). I definitely recommend taking a stroll through the bush and walking to Waitomo Lookout Point. The walk to the lookout from Waitomo Caves carpark takes approximately 25 minutes return and offers views of Waitomo township and its rolling hills of farmland – glowworms aside the Waitomo district’s main business is farming.

Chalet, Kiwi Paka Waitomo

Chalet, Kiwi Paka Waitomo

After the walk I checked into my accommodation for Saturday and Sunday night Kiwi Paka Waitomo. I had booked a single chalet but had been upgraded to a double chalet. As well as the chalets there is the Lodge which has backpacker accommodation with dorm, twin, double, and single rooms. Both nights I stayed the Lodge had guests from tour bus companies staying. Kiwi Paka has a licensed café onsite, Morepork Café & Pizzeria, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is reasonably priced and there is more than just pizza.