I get Zod to the shop early this soggy morning, happy to note no leaks. I walk to the local cafe and grab some coffee and a paper while they are working on him.
After a few hours, Zod is ready. In addition to the left front bearing repair/gasket replacement, the oil pan had to be dropped and cleaned out and the fuel filter had to be replaced. All in all, a bit more than expected, but still keeps it well under the cost of the other van (that had 100,000 more kilometers). I am set back NZ$450.
Zod is driving well, however. Erik, Kris, and I manage to easily cram all of our gear (which includes my bike, their tandem bike, all of my equipment, their equipment, and 18 feet, four inches of people) leaving plenty of room for breathing. This is an accomplishment given Erik's 6'10" frame.
Soon enough, we are off to Te Anau. We'll be at the 8:15PM glowworm cave tour, something Kris and Erik had really been wanting to see. I saw glowworms during the black water rafting, but am always keen to go spelunking and check out glowing larvae poop. Biology majors are really fun at parties.
The sky soon opens up, leaving the clouds behind. It takes several hours of driving, but I don't have to worry about a single hill the whole way. I have to admit, though, that Zod pants like an asthmatic in a chalk factory getting up some of them. (No offense meant to asthmatics.) He does make it up eventually, to the relief of the somewhat quicker 1986 Ford Tempo-like cars behind us.
We set up camp in a little holiday park in Te Anau, then race over to the dock for the boat ride to the cave.
Te Anau, looking over the lake. The clouds felt like a blanket fresh from the dryer caught in mid-toss over the mountains. . . Oh, damn. There I go again.
It's quite a crowd waiting to board with us. I was almost permanently blinded at one point when they all flashed their AARP cards in the sun at the same time. (This is a total lie. However, it is true that the heat generated by the combined birthday candles from this group could have powered Tokyo for a year.) (No, that was another lie.) It was a geriatric crowd.
We boarded the sleek-hulled ship and started the trip across the lake, about 17km, to the mouth of the cave. Despite the wind, it was fantastic up on top.
Must. . . refrain. . . from. . . overdescribing. . . clouds. . .
No, I am NOT wearing earmuffs. That silhouette is just my ears.
As the dark took over, we finally arrived. A very nice walkway led to a big room where we watched a quick video about glowworms and were divided into groups.
Into the cave we headed. No photos were allowed in the cave, but they didn't reckon Erik and I falling back on our spy training and skillfully securing the cameras exactly where they wouldn't expect. In our pockets.
We were allowed to take pictures out here. The entrance was at about belly-button level, so Kris was able to walk through unobstructed.
The cave is actually quite beautiful. Missouri caves, though pretty vast and full of stalactites and stalagmites, tend to hold a lot of mud. This one looked like it had been kept up by the Swiss. The walls were light and clean, and the river running through it was clear enough so that, in low depth areas, it was hard to tell that it was even there. The waterfalls made it clear, however.
This waterfall drops about 20 feet to the pool below. Though my '80s movie watching had me ready, I did not find a single poison dart trap or giant rolling boulder. Must have cleared it out for the tourists.
After about a 15 minute stroll, we reached a boat that fit all 15 of us. The guide for the trip turned off the lights and pulled the boat into a remote part of the cave.
Everyone was completely silent, adding to the mystery. As our eyes adjusted, the glowworms became very obvious. In parts of the cave, it was like looking up into a starry night, except that the bluish glow of the worms could, at times, dimly light the faces of the people in the boat. I know it was a totally tourist thing to do, but this part of the tour really put the three of us in a very contemplative and relaxed mood that lasted for the rest of the evening (for me, anyway). I was very disappointed when we returned to the lighted portion of the cave and had to get out.
Not bad for a bunch of slimy, inch-long larvae who secrete sticky strings of spit covered in paralyzing poison to catch bugs and whose glow comes from a reaction between a protein and their poop.
A couple of glowworms in the roof of the lighted portion of the cave. The picture was taken on the sly when the guides were preoccupied with helping another person make it down the stairs.
The boat ride back, though cool, helped to continue that contemplative mood. The partly-cloudy sky framed patches of stars, and a bright moon rose just above the horizon.
OK, so this doesn't exactly stimulate the feeling of wonder and well-being that we felt. That's a half of a moon, scrambled by the coarse vibrations of the boat. For fun, you can draw in a horizon and stars on your screen with white-out.
We returned to the campsite and crashed out. Tomorrow will be a pretty big day - we're driving to Milford Sound and taking a little cruise of the bay. Supposed to be some of the most amazing scenery in New Zealand.