Have you ever seen glow worms? There’s something utterly magical about seeing a glittering spread of blue-white tiny stars up close. According to one of our knowledgeable and friendly guides, Tom, they aren’t so beautiful in the cold light of day. In fact, the small maggot-like creatures look like a smudge of snot. Nice!
My parents are here from the UK, and their fresh eyes have encouraged us to explore our surrounds so much more. Last week we drove over the Wairoa River just outside Bethlehem, and my mother spotted the bright yellow and blue inflatable ring at Waimarino Adventure Park and googled it. A phone call later and we were booked to join their evening kayaking tour at MacLarens Falls.
We drove out to Waimarino to meet our group, and I could immediately see why my children badger me to book them in for the Waimarino school holiday programme. It looked like a children’s wonderland of things to bounce on, jump off and dive through.
Our group of 14 or so jumped into the bus and set off to MacLarens Falls through the glowing hills parallel to the Wairoa River. When we arrived, a picnic was laid out, and all our kayaks were lined up ready to go at the lake’s edge. As the sun set, we feasted on delicious cheese and crackers, Mills Reef wines, ripe strawberries and pineapple. We got to know our fellow kayakers, and watched the ducks slowly waddle over to us, keen to share our picnic.
We were given a quick and succinct briefing and then kitted out for the kayaks. This was a notable aspect to the tour: everything was tightly organised so that there was no waiting around. There were about five Waimarino guys there, packing and unpacking picnic goodies, kayaks and equipment, so that all we had to do was eat, drink, then sit in our ready prepped kayak. They even hauled us in and out of the lake!
We paddled smoothly through the warm air and still water, following each other into the charcoal dusk. Our four guides all had red pinpricks of light on the backs of their heads, so we knew where to point our own kayaks.
As we paddled, we chatted with Calvin, an 18-year-old guide, who spoke enthusiastically about his employer, and kayaking. He was off to Greymouth after summer to further his training in adventurous sports. Kayaking at night in McLarens Falls is about the most relaxing adventure I’ve ever been on.
After a leisurely half an hour, we stopped at the power station on the lake, looking up at the steep wall of the damn. We were given a biology lesson on glow worms from our guides, and were gently towed through the pitch dark canyon to see glittering black cloths of tiny bioluminescent creatures. I could have sat for hours gazing at them, and listening to the trickles of water down the walls. Then we paddled back to our picnic spot, and our guides had our kayaks out of the water and loaded onto a trailer in quicksmart time.
What a magical, calm experience. It felt like a meditation. An absolutely fantastic option as a night out with friends, or a very special date doing something just a little bit different.
What time: It varies throughout the year. You set off in the kayaks just after the sun has set. We met at 7.30pm, but in winter it could be 4.30pm. We were back in the car just after 10pm.
What to wear: We wore shorts and bare feet. We were given waterproof jackets with our life jackets, so were toasty warm and dry.
Who to take: It’s an adult activity, really. Mid teens would probably be fine, but any younger and they run the risk of hijacking the peaceful evening.
How much: $130 per person