We'd left Hamilton heading for the Naki but with a special detour planned on the way. Growing up I'd driven the road between Auckland and Taranaki almost every school holidays past the Waitomo Caves, which I reckon must have been getting up near 50 trips but I'd never once been to the caves so we thought this trip we'd right that wrong.
I didn't know much about Waitomo other than the tourist hype and the fact we would be going in a dark cave and there would likely be lots of glow worms. I certainly didn't realise that there are actually a series of caves, and although the main cave is of course the most famous and set up for tourists to see thousands of glow worms up close, there are actually two other equally stunning caves plus black water rafting you can do too - if that's your thing!
You aren't allowed to take any photos in the main cave so these are all taken inside the Aranui cave which we visited afterward. It was equally impressive in a much more rustic, and natural way.
I've never seen limestone formations quite like this - there must have been thousands if not hundreds of thousands of stalagmites and stalactites inside the cave. We were in sheer wonder at the size and scale of this place.
This particular formation is meant to look a little like a witch on a broomstick - what do you think?
It is incredible to think that just one centimetre of stalactite takes 100 years to grow - there's an epic sense of thousands of year of history right here within these cold, white walls.
I thought these rocks looked a bit like giant hands reaching down to grab us - enough to send shivers down the spine.
Just outside the cave was an abundance of these gorgeous plants - I had no idea what they were but our guide explained they are called parataniwha - personally I can't think of a cooler name to be called if I were a plant - enough to put the fear of God in the other plants around you.
I'm so glad we made the detour and that I have now experienced what is one of NZ's iconic experiences.
Pukekura Park lights
No Christmas holiday would be complete for us without our annual pilgrimage to the Festival of the Lights. This year was the 60th anniversary (isn't that hard to believe!) of the Festival, and they'd gone all out, even lighting up inside the fernery greenhouses.
Noah had been so desperate to get a Fedora hat for Christmas. I ended up getting him one at the $2 shop and it hadn't left his head since Christmas Day, so you can imagine his chagrin when Grimace the Gorilla (who is on show some nights at the park goofing around and making a general nuisance of himself) snuck the fedora right off Noah's head and tried it on for himself.
Luckily he was savvy enough to return it quick smart when he saw the look on Noah's face!
The next shot has no editing whatsoever - this is really how blue the lights were down at the water wheel.
And for our swan song, we found the black (ultraviolet) light section. It's always a winner with the kids - especially fun to look at each other's clothing to spot what is glowing and what's not. I always hate how yellow my teeth look under the lights!
Unfortunately the weather wasn't particularly kind to us while in New Plymouth - we had a fair amount of rain in the 2 days we were there. Mark took the boys to the pool one morning while I hung out with my gran and showed her our trip pics from the UK and then we all met up for a cafe lunch. Mylo was more than ready for his hot chocolate after swimming like a fish all morning at the pool.
After that, with a break in the weather we high-tailed it back to Pukekura Park - the park has been completely overhauled in the past year and is now a first-rate playground - I actually thought it was pretty good before in all honesty. But now it's raised its coolness stakes even further - I mean come on - where else do you know a park that has an in-ground trampoline?!
Or a mighty cool climbing frame like this one!
The next morning was even wetter (if that was possible) so we caught up with some of Mark's friends over from Melbourne at Joe's Garage - boy they do great coffee and food. I loved the old style Ford truck carrying all the condiments - yep that's our other thirsty boy tucking into his hot chocolate in the background - and did I mention James Franklin (the cricketer) was also sitting at the other table in the background too?!
We were at a bit of a loss to know what to do come the afternoon (as it was STILL raining!) so after a bit of a Google search we came up with the idea of black light mini golf - aka an indoor course under ultraviolet lights.
It was fun playing with glow in the dark balls, clubs and well some of us had pretty glow in the dark attire too as it turned out!
All that rain and humidity even turned my hair (or it also could have had something to do with the incessant twirling) into ringlets - I felt a bit like a mermaid trying to kiss Captain Hook on the chops!
By this stage it'd stopped raining so we headed up to the free (how cool is that!) zoo at Brooklands - it's not particularly big or spectacular as far as animals go - a few monkeys, otters, birds, meerkats and farm animals - but hey for free we definitely weren't complaining.
Don't you think that alpacas just look ridiculously skinny once they've been shorn?!
Just as entertaining as the animals were these 2 trying to turn themselves into bats and butterflies!
And that my friends was that - and wouldn't you know it the sun came out the next morning as we were packing up to leave and shone brilliantly for the whole journey back to Wellington on New Years Eve - bah typical!