This was one of my favorite short walks in all of NZ.
The Waitomo Walkway winds through karst landscape--over rolling green hills scattered with limestone outcroppings and through a forest--leading to Ruakuri Natural Bridge, the scenic highlight of the hike, where waterfalls cascading over mossy rocks and limestone caves beg to be explored.
The trail starts across the Information Center and takes a minimum of three hours round trip. Just allow plenty of time, and bring torches. It gets very dark at night, scary for hiking back, but perfect for seeing hundreds of blue-green glowworms twinkling for free.
My husband, David, and I started out at 5:30pm on a sunny summer day in February. We followed the narrow dirt path up open grassy hills, crossing stiles when walking through pastures. At times it was difficult to tell if we were on the trail or one created by sheep. But orange poles periodically mark the way.
Once we lost the trail. Our apparent horse trail dead-ended at the road. Back on track, we climbed and descended another hill, crossed the road, and rambled into the forest. A sign read: "25 minutes to Ruakuri Natural Bridge." David had had enough. He was hot, thirsty, and tired of hiking. So he turned back, while I continued on.
The sunlight was quickly fading in the shaded canopy of trees, making me suddenly cognizant of time and the realization that I didn't have a torch to find my way back in the dark. So I decided to jog. The trail opened into pastures. Puzzled sheep stared at me as I whizzed by.
I crossed a swing bridge, and came face to face with a cow. The hilly trail seemed to go on and on. Tired from jogging, I slowed down to enter a magical canopy. Colorful finches fluttered beside me as I wandered through dramatic shoulder-high flax plants and fern trees.
I reached the Anuruni Cave carpark at 7pm. Empty. As desolate as the trail. (So much for hitching a ride.) A sign read: "Ruakuri Natural Bridge 45-minute loop ahead." And dusk was definitely darkening.
I hurried through the loop in twenty minutes, passing numerous limestone formations, a beautiful river, waterfalls, caves, hanging mosses and ferns, a swing bridge, and mysterious tunnels. But where was the Natural Bridge? I popped my head into a dark cave--SURPRISE! Two college-aged girls taking photographs of each other screamed when I entered, scaring me in return.
I spent the next hour with Sylvia and Charlotte exploring caves, finding the elusive Natural Bridge and taking their photo. They wanted to pose for photos every five steps . . . against ferns, inside every cave . . . but they were fun, and I enjoyed their companionship.
When we left, people were arriving with torches heading in to see the glowworms. I realized what they were up to but didn't tell the girls. It was late, and David would be downright mad.