The next morning started our last full day in New Zealand. I hadn’t planned anything definite for the day, just scribbled down a few ideas in my notebook, none of which came to pass. The only thing we had decided to do was drive to McLaren Falls that night to see if we could find any glow worms. We spent the daylight hours wandering around the streets of Matamata.
First it was breakfast at Robert Harris. I sat and enjoyed some people watching while I ate my bagel and sipped my chai. It isn’t often I have days like that one. Usually there was something planned, somewhere to be. But today we moved at whatever pace we felt like. When we finished breakfast, Dad and I crossed the street to the iSite. We had walked around it last night after dinner, but Dad wanted to check out the inside, too.
I enjoyed seeing the inside as well. Last time I was in this building was over three years ago. It hadn’t changed much, still lots of souvenirs and travel brochures and Hobbiton stuff. I picked up a few more postcards before we left the iSite and took a short walk up and down Broadway. I pointed out all the places I frequented during my time in Matamata: Redoubt, Horse and Jockey, Eat., even Tracs got an honorable mention.
When we’d finished our tour it was back to the car. Now that we were somewhere I knew the roads, I decided it was finally time for Dad to do a bit of driving. Which turned into a bit more of a trial than I expected. I drove him out to see the first housed I’d lived at, then pulled off at the next street and told him to get in the driver seat. He did so with minimal grumbling. Once he was all adjusted, we turned back onto the main road.
We’d driven maybe 100m when we noticed the cop car up the road from us and the officer standing in the street next to it. Now, Dad would’ve been legal, you can drive on a foreign license for a year in NZ (at least that was the case for a US license, not sure about any place else) but we both still thought it was best to pull over, switch back, and let me drive through the stop. After that Dad finally got the chance to get the car up to speed and take us on a drive through the countryside.
I had a few things to pick up from my old place, so that was our next stop. My former landlady, Dee, invited us in for a cup of tea, and we spent a while there talking with her and her husband before we said our goodbyes and loaded up my car. Most of the day had passed by the time we left, and though it would still be a while till it was dark enough for glow worms, we left for McLaren Falls.
Lucky Mark 2 pulled herself over the Kaimais one more time like a champ. Forty minutes later I was turning her off the highway and onto the narrow road through McLaren Falls park. But before we made it into the actual park, I pulled over into a small lot by the river. When I’d come here with my friend Emily some time ago, we’d seen on our way out that there was a large area of stones you could walk across to get better views of the river. I’d wanted to do this since that first trip, and now would likely be the last chance I got.
We crossed the road and took the few steps down to the river. The rocks were pretty easy to traverse, most of them being fairly flat. The only difficulty was finding the best path across the pockets of river that poured through the maze they made. In front of us, the river stretched back into the bush, and off to the left, it continued its journey by cascading down over the cliff and beneath the bridge we’d soon be crossing into the park.
Dad and I were the only ones out. The occasional car drove out of or into the park, but we were too far away to take much notice of them. It made me feel a bit like a kid again, clambering over the rocks. I guess I was feeling a bit too confident in my kid-like state. Because when we came to a particularly steep drop, I looked at it and thought ‘That ground is flat enough, I can jump that.’ And I could, but not without slipping and slamming both of my knees right into the rocks. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt much when they made contact, but they sure started to throb a bit later.
After Dad had sufficiently made me worry about him by venturing down to the lower rocks, we found our way back to the road and finished the drive into the park. We still had plenty of time before it got properly dark, so we pulled off again to take a short walk along the lake before heading to the falls. The view was picturesque. A perfect autumn afternoon. The trees on the far bank were a wonderful collage of red and yellow and green. The water was still. A few ducks swam across the surface, making gentle ripples. And there were just a handful of clouds in a pale blue sky, some bearing a golden kiss from the last of the sun’s rays.
We left the lake behind and drove the last bit of road to the lot at the end. There were a couple other cars there, which I took as a sign that we were in the right place. I’d been here once before, so I felt confident I knew what falls Amelia had been referring to when she told us about the glow worms back in Tauranga. Dad’s survival instincts kicked in as we made our way down the path. He was feeling anxious about being on an unfamiliar path (to him anyway) at night with no torch. I assured him there was nothing to worry about.
No one else was at the falls when we arrived, and we were the only two people there for a while. We took a seat on the bench at the base of the steps leading to the upper viewing area. There we passed the time talking and taking horribly lit selfies. We were both reassured when more people began to show up. One, because we were no longer alone in the bush at night, and two, it seemed we were indeed in the right place.
At last it started to go dark. But it still took a while for the glow worms to final show themselves, or at least, their light. For a while, our minds just seemed to play tricks on us. A dot or two of light would seem to be showing through the leaves, but we couldn’t be sure it was a glow worm. After a little while, more of the little wormies started to come out. At this point I’d like to say, if you ever have a chance for a glow worm experience, take it!
I’d seen glow worms a couple times before this night. I definitely still enjoyed seeing them, but I think I enjoyed seeing Dad see them for the first time even more. We kept our spot on the bench for a while as small clusters of pale blue light started to glow around us. But then I stood up to get a better look and realized what we were missing.
The glow worms were hidden amongst the vegetation lining the path. More glowed in the bush across the stream, which gurgled softly in the dark. They were everywhere. It was very much like the kayaking trip I’d taken earlier in the year. Dad and I decided to slowly make our way back to the car while we enjoyed the bioluminescent light show. We let the glow worms light the way (mostly). Sadly I can’t do much more justice to the glow worms than that. It is definitely something you have to see with your own eyes.
As the concentration of glow worms began to thin, and we came closer to the end of the path, I took out my phone to help light the rest of our way back to the car. The lot was now full with the cars of the people we’d left back at the falls. After the dark walk back, the headlights of my car felt that much brighter as we began our drive back to Matamata.
The next day had that melancholy feel that always lingers over the last day of a trip. Dad and I lounged for a while in our room before loading up the car and driving into town. We went to a cafe, one I would often get vegan treats from, for breakfast, and while we were there we saw a couple of my mates from work. When we’d finished eating we killed a bit of time by wandering around before making a stop at Sen Sushi. Dad had mentioned to me he wanted to get sushi while he was in NZ, and now was our last chance. It made for a nice light meal before our drive to Hamilton.
In my effort to avoid going to Auckland, I was putting Dad back on a bus to the airport. We were there with a bit of time before his bus left, so we took a seat in the lobby. Most of the time was passed with Dad making jokes about how hot the guy at the next table was and that I should ask him out and me rolling my eyes and shaking my head at him. Then it was time to go.
Dad stowed his bag in the belly of the bus then came to say goodbye. He tried to make me get all emotional in public by saying how proud of me he was and it was good to see me and all that (I think he might have been getting a little emotional too), but I kept it together! I gave him a big hug and got one last kiss on the cheek before he took a seat on the bus. I stood on the sidewalk and waited until the bus pulled out of the station, waving goodbye as I watched Dad get smaller and smaller. The bus left the parking lot and disappeared around the corner.