Alright, the underground rafting was a blast!!! We arrived in Charlestown (a town of only 150 people) and hopped on a bus to go up a sheep pasture to a mini train. The mini train took us along the Nile river to a path. After putting on a wetsuit bottom, top, socks, booties, hard hats with torches, and carrying our gloves and inner-tubes. We climbed 125 steps up to the mouth of the cave. The cave had been carved out by the flooding of the nile river and is considered a pristine cave. This means that there are no lights, paths, or unauthorized access to this cave. It was incredible climbing around the cave with stalactites and stalagmites! I will post pictures of them when I can connect my computer to the Internet, right now I am posting via my iPod which dies a better job connecting. After the crazy hike through the cave we hopped into the innertubes, put on our webbed gloves, and slowly paddled in complete darkness to see the glow worms. They are incredible little large that spit out bioluminescent strands that they sit above in a hammock to wait for prey to get caught. Later in life, when they are fat enough they spin caccoons (spelling?) and hatch to mate as moth like creatures. Unfortunately they only live for two days and the cycle continues. There were millions of these glow worms in this cave and looked like a wonderfully dotted milky way (in shades of green). After we emerged from the glowworm cave we hopped into the Nile river and floated down to the train station. Afterwards it poured and we stopped in Punakaiki for some Internet and phone calls. We went back to the the Te Nikeu retreat for a really windy night. The trees were whacking the hut and the wind was howling! I didn't sleep that well...but the long car ride the next day saved me. We drove down the coast to Hokitika to do a bit of shopping before we drove into the mountain pass. We spent about 3 hours there looking at Jade carvings and Amelia and Trixie went friggin nuts buying stuff. I didn't spend anything that day except the admission to the Kiwi Center. We went in and saw a lot of marine organisms that are considered endangered here. The best part was going to see the kiwi! I got to see one rummaging around in its habitat cage (very spacious and comfortable for the Kiwi). It was right next to the glass in a dark room and it looked quite happy. It was really cool to see the bird and realize how LARGE they were. They are about the size of a large yorkshire terrier! We weren't allowed to take pictures of the Kiwis so sorry everybody back home. After they are nursed back to health at the center they release them back into the wild. It was so nice to hear that!
After Hokatika, we decided to go through Arthur’s Pass to get back to Christchurch. Arthur’s Pass is a beautiful road that took 3 million NZ dollars to build through the mountains. It is the only man-made thing except for an occasional road and railroad that follows it. The mountains are beautiful, even in the rain. One of the reasons it is so beautiful is that all the mountain sides have huge rock slips and from those slips the bare rock underneath is exposed. This bare rock is millions of years old and when it rains waterfalls drop from them in giant cascades of white. There were probably about 50 of them when we passed through and it was beautiful to see them in their misty glory. These waterfalls were contrasted by the beautiful green trees with many many many epiphytes on them. Some epiphytes were mosses but others were delicate vines and it almost looked like another rainforest.
Even though it looked like rainforest, it wasn’t. It was colder in the mountains and we had to wear windproof or waterproof coats. At the hostel, they provided us with heated blankets and thick down comforters to keep us warm. New Zealand has a problem with housing design, namely the idea that insulation is a great thing to have. I met a girl at a hostel who was an eco-architect that explained all of this in detail to me in Kaikoura. Anyways, we took these last few days a lot easier with only two 1.5 hour hikes, and a lot of reading. I read the entirety of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Played With Fire”. It was good. But now I’m hungry for more. It rained on and off during the day so we got outside when we could. On the drive home we went through the most beautiful mountain valley I have ever seen. There were foothills with vegetation that made it look like the hill was covered in velvet. I wanted to hop out of the car and jump on a horse to ride until the sun set. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time, nor where there horses so I had to admire from the confines of the backseat. I wasn’t able to take any pictures because I had stuffed my camera into a bag that was buried in the back of the car. Trixie took a ton of photos, so maybe I’ll be able to steal them from her.
Now I am in Christchurch and waiting for it to cool off! It is SO hot here! I am in a summer dress in the shade and still sweating! Who could have known March is so darn hot! AHHHHHH! It it coming up on 4 o’clock and I might take a trip down to the shops to see how everything is going. The city is recovering and the damage has been done. Everything you see on the news is true, but that is only the worst of the it. Everything west of Christchurch city central area is fine. It is amazing to not see any damage on the road...you couldn’t have guessed there was an earthquake. I am very lucky to be where I am. The school was west of Christchurch city central as well. Unfortuantely they have to wait to get EVERY building on campus approved before they can reopen. The reopen date is March 14, so Amelia and I might take another little trip. We are for sure going back to Kaikoura because we are taking a field trip for the Marine Biology class. This is scheduled for March 19-22. We don’t know if we’re going to miss other classes due to this, but it is encouraging that SOMEONE is making plans to move forward with their class. Since we missed two weeks of school, the teachers have decided to cut some content instead of trying to make us play catchup. This is really nice for everyone, because most people don’t even have textbooks. We never had time. Anyways, it is beautiful outside and I need to be out there. Adios.