Grottos and glowworms

I was excited about returning to the Waitomo Caves because I remembered them as a highlight of my trip to New Zealand’s north island 23 years ago.  That time, I totally splurged and paid $90 for a full-day “Blackwater Rafting” trip that involved innertubing through a cave.  I loved it!  Well, 23 years later, it seems that the number and type of cave adventures one can choose from have multiplied (there is now abseiling, bouldering, climbing, and whizzing down a flying fox) and the prices have increased by about 500%.  So… we opted for a more sedate “dry feet” family package that allowed us to tour the Glowworm and Ruakuri Caves.

Looking down the spiral man-made entrance to Ruakuri cave.

The artificial entrance was dug to gain access to the cave following the resolution of a land dispute between the government and the Holden family.  Due to a Maori gravesite being close to the natural entrance, it could not be used for tours.

Land ownership extends underground!
Underground in Waitomo (wai = water, tomo = hole)
some delicate 'drinking straw' stalactites
a deep "tomo" in Waitomo
There are some pretty cool fossils in the cave, too!
Here is Kaia in Ruakuri cave.

Besides the beautiful flowstone formations, the main attractions are the glowworms.  We learned all about these critters at the wonderful cave interpretive centre.  They are the larval stage of a fly that spends most or all of its lifecycle underground.  As larvae, these little worms (actually maggots, but “glowing maggot” doesn’t have the same appeal as “glowworm”) spin sticky threads to catch prey, which often tends to be adult members of their same species.  To attract prey, they can make their rear ends glow green.  When there are thousands of these little guys on the roof of a cave, the effect is quite spectacular — it looks like a star-filled sky.  The last part of the Glowworm Cave tour was in a boat; we glided along silently in the dark, under glowing green constellations.

This is a photo of a postcard -- there was no photography allowed on the tour.

Some days later, we saw this poem painted on the side of a rental van:

I wish I were a glowworm, for they are never glum.
It’s hard to be unhappy when the sun shines out your bum!


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