© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Waitomo Road Trip: Epic Cave Formations and Waterfalls (for Free)!

© NZPocketGuide.com

29 Days on the Road

Rain pelts down in force, pitter-patting on the roof of our campervan. It rocks from side to side in the high winds and makes for a long and noisy night… so Robin says. Laura slept through the whole thing being snug as a bug in the Jucy camper.

Once 5am rolls around, Laura will have to face the showers and run from the camper to the hostel. It’s insane out there! Nevertheless, today we really want to check out those free attractions in the Waitomo area, whatever the weather. So after a few hours of working in the cosy Juno Hall hostel, we head out on State Highway 37 (Te Anga Road) in search of the Mangapohue Natural Bridge!

Why you should always prepare food in your hostel

First things first, we are desperate to pick up a quick lunch because we worked for way too long and forgot to eat back at the hostel (like sensible backpackers who should be saving money). But when we got to Waitomo Village, the general store is closed, the i-SITE doesn’t sell food, the Huhu Cafe makes food to take away but it would take too long as we are running out of daylight here… Laura just remembers there was a cafe at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves where we were yesterday, so she runs in there, $20 in hand, hoping to pick up some cabinet food. However, $20 was a bit optimistic since all the cabinet food was $12 each. One panini to share it is! All in all, if you are a backpacker on a budget, just prepare your own food in your hostel instead of grabbing food from big attractions. It’s perhaps not the most cost-effective way of eating. (Get some more money-saving tips from 11 Backpacker Tips to Save Money on Food).

Bush drive on Te Anga Road

Nevertheless, we are shovelling the panini down in the camper then sitting back and enjoying the drive. Te Anga Road is a beautiful drive! (Do we say that too often for drives in New Zealand?) On the left side of the road are huge rolling hills covered in sheep and cows, while the other side is a literally a cliff wall covered in vegetation. It looks like a bush walk by camper!

Although Mangapohue Natural Bridge is our main stop for today, we were advised by Dave, our knowledgeable hostel host, that we should visit Marokopa Falls first. (Plus, after all this rain, we know any waterfall around here is going to be epic). This is just a couple of kilometres further down the road from the natural bridge, but this keeps the parking areas for both attractions on the left side of the road making it easier for drivers. (We always appreciate these types of driving tips. Check out How to Drive in New Zealand for more tips).

New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year: Waterfall #3

It looks like we are having the Marokopa Falls to ourselves, as there is no one in the parking area. We take a short albeit stunning rainforest walk down to the falls. About 5 minutes into the 15-minute walk we hear the thundering roar of the waterfall. It’s going to be a big one…

Oh nothing prepares us for just how big this waterfall is (except for the knowledge that we just experienced a crazy amount of rainfall, duh!) The trees around us are dripping like mad, as if it is still raining. Then, as we find an opening to a viewing platform, we are absolutely sprayed to sh*t with water! All of it is coming from the 35-metre high waterfall about 200-300 metres away from the viewing platform. OHH MYYY GAAWWWDDD! We are getting drenched! This is extreme waterfall viewing right here! It’s an awesome sight. Marokopa Falls is often described as one of the most “beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand”, but today she is not beautiful. This bi*tch is FIERCE!

For some bizarre reason, Robin is compelled to get a closer look by taking a very short side track below the viewing platform, resulting in him slipping and coating his hiking shoes in thick mud. (What is with this guy and destroying his hiking shoes every two seconds?!) Within seconds, the guy is soaked through, but he just don’t give a sh*t.

That was pretty insane, but we quickly need to march back up the hill and drive back along Te Anga Road to see the mysterious natural bridge.

Bridges be natural

They say merino wool keeps you warmer when you’re wet, so Robin is super thankful he is wearing his merino wool base layer under his hiking pants right now (thanks again, Topedo7!) However, the same cannot be said for his hiking shoes (something we have already established was a purchasing mistake from long ago) which have gained an extra few pounds of mud.

You can’t miss the signs for the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, so we pull in and take on another short walk into the forest. Across a wooden bridge, a sign is erected just in front of some layers of karst rock – a sign of what we are in for.

“Wow… wow… woooow,” Laura repeats as we follow a boardwalk alongside a river between sheer cliff walls covered in lush green plants. It’s a bit of an understatement, but this is a cool little spot. We cross about three different wooden bridges, making the same joke: “Is this the natural bridge?” over each one. Until, we see it: the huge archway crossing the river. (A bit like a natural bridge, some might say). Just as we get under the arch, the rain returns, but we are kept relatively sheltered under the arch except for a few drops that must be seeping through some cracks somewhere. Under the arch is a set of steps taking you to another lookout. We’re getting some awesome perspectives right here!

The moisture around us creates a haze on either side of the arch giving a real atmospheric vibe. We are so glad we didn’t let the rain stop us from coming out today. Not only do we hardly bump into any people (ew, people!), but seeing the forest and dramatic rock formations in the rain made for a pretty epic day!

Grabbing the bargains from Countdown

As we have learned our lesson about paying too much for cafe food, we make a pit stop in Otorohanga’s Countdown supermarket to stock up on groceries. We are so surprised by the prices in here compared to the other supermarkets so far! Plus, shopping late into the evening means there are a lot more reduced items that need shifting!

We head back to the hostel and heat up our $1.75 reduced pizza, and share some pleasant bantery with a few hostel dwellers. Hunter, who works at Black Water Rafting and we have played a few card games with on a night, tells us how he abseiled down the Natural Bridge (far out!) and we also chat with a girl from Australia about things we are afraid of. (Reminiscing on that time Robin scared Laura sh*tless in Ruakuri Cave). We love those random conversations with random people.

If the rain stops at any point, we may just get back in the caves tomorrow for some more black water rafting! Join us tomorrow!

Take a look around the majestic Mangapohue Natural Bridge

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See you tomorrow, travellers!