post

Te Kuiti & Waitomo Caves

Nov 3, 2010 – Wednesday -Rotorua to Te Kuiti, New Zealand

We drive from Rotorua to Te Kuiti today.

We are staying in Simply the Best B&B, a farm stay located in small community of Te Kuiti, which is located just a few minutes’ drive from Waitomo and the famous caves. This B&B offers pretty basic accommodation, so I’m not sure I agree with the name! We knew it was a farm stay (our first on this trip), but we were unprepared for our rooms having no closets or dressers, and having to share a bathroom. Their website states “3 double rooms with private bathrooms”, however only one of the three rooms has an en suite, and that room was not offered despite us requesting it. Also, there is no wireless Internet. The back bedroom my friends are staying in is very small – essentially only having room for the double bed, with nowhere to sit and relax. My room is a bit bigger with two single beds, a sofa, and two chairs, however it appears to be a converted TV or family room. It has a sliding door instead of a real door, which means I have limited privacy and no security.

Despite these negatives, Margaret, the B&B operator is a real gem. She is exceedingly helpful, and makes our stay in this part of the North Island rewarding. Margaret recommends two restaurants in town, so we pick the first one and give it a try for dinner this evening. The Riverside Lodge is in a lovely location right by the river; however it is basically a bar that serves food. There are smokers all around, so we sit outside on the patio. Everyone looks at us as though we are from outer space and the service is exceedingly slow (we wait an hour). The food is good once it arrives.

Nov 4, 2010 – Thursday – Te Kuiti

The day starts badly, since Margaret makes us instant coffee this morning. She also serves us a continental breakfast instead of the full English cooked breakfast we have had at all the other B&Bs so far. The fresh fruit and rhubarb compote for the cereal is nice, and the endless toast and homemade preserves are appreciated, however the instant coffee is dreadful.

Marokopa Falls

Marokopa Falls

At Margaret’s urging, we drive out to the coast on Highway 37 to Marokopa, where there is a black iron sand beach. The beach and estuary area is quite spectacular. On the way out on the highway, we also stop to see Marokopa Falls, which is 15-20 metres high…an amazing sight. On the return trip, we see Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a land bridge caused by a river eroding limestone to punch a gorge through the rock. These are both great sights, and they are no cost. On our way home, we checkout the Waitomo Caves, but don’t go in since Margaret has booked us into the competing outfit Spellbound, which she promises is a better glow worm cave experience. We check out the competition while we are here, and find the rates are significantly more expensive than Spellbound. After we return home, Margaret makes us tea, which is very much appreciated.

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

Pavlova at Kai Cafe

We go out to a nice restaurant tonight called Kai Cafe, which is run by a local young man and his French wife (who does the cooking). The meals are a blend of French cooking and local tastes. I have the Filet steak, which is a “Scotch” cut (unlike any filet I’ve had in Canada), however it is a very nice steak cooked to order, topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and accompanied by roasted potatoes, fresh steamed green beans, and a grilled tomato. My friends rave about their main course selections as well.

Pavlova is offered for dessert, which we all agree is better than the Cherries Jubilee we were served aboard ship in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a Cappuccino, which is nicely made. The young man who runs the place is thrilled that we are happy with our experience. I add my favourable rating after returning home. Now called: Bosco Cafe on TripAdvisor

Nov 5, 2010 – Friday – Waitomo Caves

JoeTourist: Glowworm Caves &emdash; Exit to caveToday after breakfast, we leave for a 10am booking at Spellbound, the glow worm cave and dry cave tour located in Waitomo. It only takes us 10 minutes to drive from Te Kuiti, and the tour starts promptly at 10am – ending around 2pm. Our guide Norm gives us a terrific experience along the way. First he drives us about 20 minutes west of Waitomo to the entrance to a private cave which has a stream running through it. We don a hardhat with a light, get in a zodiac boat and slowly go into the cave to see the glow worms. We learn these are actually maggots, however they are tiny. They do indeed glow, and glow brightly enough to light the inside of the cave once we turn off our headlamps and become dark adapted. The glow reflects off the water, and I can see the other 12 people in the boat.

Norm hand propels the boat using an overhead cable, taking us within a few metres of a small waterfall before returning us to the landing. We then walk back to the entrance, leave our hardhats, and walk a few metres to the “coffee shop” where Norm makes us instant coffee, tea, or hot chocolate made from hot water stored in thermos. Biscuits to dunk complete the offerings. Toilets are also available nearby. There are wild Turkeys roaming in the pasture as we walk for five minutes to the dry cave, where Norm tells us he was one of the founders.

It is a superb cave with a walkway that goes for perhaps 300 metres or so. There is a large gallery, some air shafts, other entrances to see, and of course lots of stalagmites and stalactites. There are also some animal bones: some you would expect such as farm animals and possums; however there is also a skeleton of a Moa, an extinct bird which had a trachea, hip bones and big thigh bones. After exiting the dry cave, Norm takes us on a drive over some farmland along the ridgelines, and finally returns us to the starting point.

This evening we return to Kai (now called the Bosco Cafe) for our last dinner in New Zealand (and of the trip). I have the fish of the day (Snapper), which comes with oven roasted potatoes, green beans, and a very nice pesto topping, as well as some salad around the plate: a quite novel presentation with the salad. When we return to the B&B I get serious about packing – tossing out heavy paper and other stuff that is now useless. We settle our accounts with Margaret for our stay, however she only accepts cash, so that makes it a bit inconvenient. All the other B&Bs accept credit card payments.

Nov 6, 2010 – Saturday – New Zealand to Canada

We have breakfast a bit earlier this morning, say our goodbyes to Margaret and her husband Graham, and leave for the Auckland airport by 8:30am.

Hilo, Hawai’i

October 20-24, 2009 – Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii

Hilo is on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. which is the wet side of the island. Although the temperatures are nice and warm, it rains in Hilo virtually every day, and the area has the tropical vegetation to prove it. Hilo is a contrast to Kailua-Kona on the other side of the Big Island, since it is less tourist-oriented, giving the visitor a glimpse of the Old Hawaii.

Kilauea Volcano is less than one hour’s drive south from Hilo, so I made several trips to see the sights in Volcanoes National Park and nearby areas in my rental car.

The North Coast of the Big Island is rugged, tropical, and mostly inaccessible, however the road along the coastline north from Hilo provides easy access to some of the gulches and valleys, rivers and streams, spectacular waterfalls, and of course the coastline itself before the road veers off to Waimea. Stopping along the way will provide you with a glimpse of how Hawaiians live day-to-day.

The Imiloa Astronomy Center is located in Hilo, and presents astronomy to visitors using interactive displays, a planetarium, special exhibits, and ties astronomy to Hawaiian customs and culture. Imiloa is run by the University of Hawaii on behalf of the big multi-national observatories located atop Mauna Kea. Worth a half day visit. Admission charged.

Hilo Bay & the shoreline along Kalanianaole Avenue presents fascinating vistas of the geography surrounding Hilo, so it is a good idea for visitors to familiarize themselves with the bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. There are numerous civic parks along Kalanianaole Avenue, and all are only a few minutes drive from anywhere in Hilo. Tidal ponds provide safe and easy access for everyone to play in the ocean, while just a few metres away are rocks and surf to challenge even the most capable swimmers and surfers. Coconut Island, Banyan Drive and Liluokalani Gardens are all interesting destinations worth spending some time at…in fact, take a picnic lunch (“sack lunch” in Hawaiian), and plan to spend the day exploring Hilo Bay.

Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots Pools are both located right in Hilo on the Wailuku River, which flows into Hilo Bay. Although not as spectacular as other falls and rivers you might find on the Big Island, they are easy to get to, and certainly worth a look.

Despite being an amateur astronomer, I didn’t manage to visit the Mauna Kea Visitor Center. It is a fairly easy drive from Hilo, and offers free nightly star gazing from this station located at the 9,500′ level on Mauna Kea. Please note, the big observatories are not located here – they are near the summit at the 14,500′ level! If you plan to go to the Visitor Centre, take a winter coat and check their website to ensure the weather will be clear. It may be raining in Hilo, but it could easily be clear on the mountain (or vice versa). I did visit the top of Mauna Kea and the observatories a few years later in 2014.


JoeTourist: Hilo &emdash; Breakfast at the B&BOctober 20-23, 2009 – I stayed at the Old Hawaiian Bed & Breakfast for four nights. The place is situated in a nice part of town near the Wailuku River, and is owned and operated by Lory & Stewart Hunter. Lory’s superb breakfasts are served on the lanai (patio), and include fresh fruit smoothies, fresh baked pastries, cooked eggs, tropical fruit cocktail, and of course, Kona coffee. There are three rooms to choose from, and all guests share access to the large lanai, telephone, fridge, microwave, and high speed wireless Internet. There are no televisions in the rooms, so bring a notebook computer if watching videos or the news is important to you. JoeTourist recommended.

Helicopter tour of Kaua’i, Hawaii

January 19, 2001 Helicopter Tour – Lihu’e, Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, Hanalei, Kawaihau

Jack Harter Helicopter Tours

Jack Harter Helicopter Tours

Jack Harter Helicopters started the helicopter tour business in Kaua’i, and they came recommended by the B&B I was staying with. They use six passenger Eurocopter AStars custom-equipped with the largest windows and a unique cabin layout, giving passengers the best views possible. They also offer doors-off flights with their Hughes four passenger helicopters for those who want an extra thrill, or for dedicated photographers who want to avoid window reflections in their photos. I learned from my trip to the Grand Canyon that helicopters are an excellent way to see the country, so I decided to spend the money on this tour.

Jack Harter Helicopter tour map

Jack Harter Helicopter tour map

The tours start at the Lihue heliport, which is adjacent to the main airport, but you need to check in at the Jack Harter Helicopter office, which is located very close to the airport. You will be briefed on safety procedures and then driven to the heliport. Takeoff was smooth – an indication of the rest of the flight. We flew around Kaua’i in a clockwise direction.

South Coast

Looking over Ha’upu (Hoary Head) Ridge from the air offers a gorgeous view towards Kipu Kai, Kawai Point, and the Menehune Fishpond. The spectacular Mana Waipuna Falls is next on the itinerary, and as we proceed toward Waimea Canyon, we fly over Olokele Canyon and can see the irrigation ditch which supplies the fields in this normally arid area with water for the sugar cane crops.

Waimea Canyon

Driving to Waimea Canyon by car presents some spectacular vistas, but seeing this canyon from a helicopter is a whole new experience. As we approach the canyon from the south, we catch glimpses of the colors and water courses that make this canyon so interesting. The red rock and soil that makes up so much of Kaua’i is laid bare in this area of high erosion. The vistas from the head of the canyon looking back south show the way the layers of mountain ranges fades into the sea, and we get an excellent view of Barking Sands from high atop the ridge just before we dip over the top and catch our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast.

Na Pali Coast

Our first glimpse of the Na Pali coast as we clear the ridge line wows us with the view of the Kalepa Ridge cones on the  Na Pali coast. Streaming sunlight over the mountains is simply magical; the high surf makes the Na Pali coastline stand out. This is simply awe-inspiring. There is no substitute for seeing the Na Pali coast from a helicopter.

Hanalei & Central Mountains

Maniholo Bay & Ha'ena Pt looking toward Hanalei

Maniholo Bay & Ha’ena Pt looking toward Hanalei

As we leave the Na Pali coast and head past Ha’ena Point, the beautiful Hanalei Bay comes into view. Maniholo Bay & Ha’ena Point frame pretty Hanalei Bay, with Princeville further down the coast. We fly close to falls in the mountains behind the valley, which are the source of the Hanalei River. In quick succession as we cruise down the coast towards Lihue: the Makaleha Mountains, fantastic Keana’awi Falls shrouded in cloud , beautiful Kohalalele Falls, showing us the wettest place on earth are the central peaks of Kaua’i – Wai’ale’ale and Kawaikini.

East Coast & Lihue

As we approach Lihue and the end of our tour, we see Wailua Falls and look north along the east coastline over Hanama’ulu Bay, productive farmlands, the upper Wailua River, and glimpse the Sleeping Giant. We float down on the helicopter pad and reluctantly return to our land-based existence.

What was the highlight of the helicopter tour? The Na Pali Coast was a clear winner, although seeing the Waimea Canyon from the air was interesting after having driven there the day before. The Hanalei Valley is even more beautiful from the air. Incidentally, the narration from the helicopter pilot was amazing. He had facts, figures, answered our questions, and had some very interesting stories to tell the whole time we were airborne. He even knew when to be quiet, and let us enjoy the amazing views!

I enjoyed this helicopter tour immensely – this is a vacation highlight you should not miss!