Glow Worms

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, December 8, 2013

We woke up this morning and drove the very short drive through Waitomo village to the office of the tour company we've booked with to see the glow worm caves. We were supposed to be on the 10am tour, but when we got there we were told that our names weren't written down. No worries! We signed up for the 11am tour and went for a short hike along the nearby bush walk track.

This half hour walk is named as one of New Zealand's top short walks and it's understandable why. There's a powerful stream of rushing water flowing below many parts of the path. There are beautiful scenic lookouts along the way and natural tunnels to walk through as well. As we walked we saw people black water rafting and what looked like canyoning. We really enjoyed this walk and it's something we probably wouldn't have made time for if we took the 10am glow worm tour.

Finally it was time for our glow worm caves tour. It started with a half hour drive to the caves area. During this ride the tour guide provided a lot of information about Waitomo's beautiful landscape. The entire village consists of about 4/5 stores, restaurants, and bars. That's it, but that's all you really need with only 41 people living in the village! Waitomo is named from two Maori words: wai, meaning water and tomo, meaning hole. It's a very fitting name as water through limestone is what causes caves and there are thousands of holes all around Waitomo. On our way to the caves we saw "pancake" rocks lined up horizontally on a natural fault line as well as lined up vertically, which is what makes them look like pancakes. Of course we saw tons of cattle and sheep. The tour guide pointed out one farm that has 2500 sheep. We have no idea how these farmers keep track of all these animals. At the Agrodome the other day we learned that NZ has 40 million sheep. Today we learned the country also has 6.5 million cattle. Obviously they produce a ton of dairy here. More than they can consume in fact, making NZ the largest exporter of dairy in the world. The country makes up 1/3 of the world's exported dairy.

We got out of the van and took a beautiful 5 minute walk down to the cave. Here we got geared up in hard hats with lights and got ready to enter the first cave. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness of the cave. At one point we turned off all of our lights and cameras and we couldn't see anything; not even our own fingers in front if our faces. The guide showed us the maggots on the ceiling of the cave and explained that these are what actually glow, but attracting tourists to Waitomo Glowing Maggots wouldn't work as well as glow worms.

We were able to see their spider web like techniques to catching insects, the cocoons they are in for a couple of weeks, and the fly like creatures these maggots become as adults. Once the female reproduces, she dies immediately. The male continues to reproduce with other females for a few days and then dies as well. It was interesting to be able to see each stage of this process in its natural habitat. At this point we could only see a few of the worms glowing above our heads.

Next, we got into a raft and after quick pictures, we were told to turn of our helmet lights, camera lights, and to stay as quiet as possible for the boat ride. By doing this we were able to get the full sense of the cave with many senses. We heard the water moving slowly at first and as we continued through the cave we heard the louder waterfall. It felt cool and damp in the cave with lots of water dripping down on us. And everywhere above us were glow worms! It was a spectacular sight. There were thousands of them all above us and to the sides as well. The only light we could see anywhere was coming from the glow worms and their light was bright enough to create a beautiful reflection on the water as the raft turned around and headed back in the direction we came in. The water is the reason why the glow worms live in a cave like this. The running water attracts insects and that's exactly what the glow worms catch to eat in their sticky hanging silk-like strings. Once we were out of the raft we retraced our steps in the cave only by this time our eyes had adjusted to the darkness and we were able to see hundreds of glow worms where before we could only see a few. This first cave experience today was marvellous.

After the first cave we had a break with some coffee, hot chocolate, and delicious cookies! We each ate four of them and could have had many more, but we didn't want to seem like pigs! Then it was another short, but scenic walk to the second cave for the day. This one was very different from the first one. Our guide was one of four men to originally walk through this cave and build the path through it nine years ago, so we felt confident in him sharing it with us. This cave has developed quite a bit of calcium from the limestone and water. It was many shades of white and brown. We learned that it was originally all white and then at one point there was a large flood through the cave with dirty water. The water stained the stone so it was all brown. Now the rebuilding of newer areas of the rock formation are coming in as white again. It's really pretty.

This second cave followed through underneath the fracture line of stones we saw on the outside of the cave and we were able to see the way the rocks on either side of the fracture could fit together. Right before this fracture there is a large cathedral in the cave. This was formed as a result of two other openings in this area of the cave, in addition to the large one we came through. These ones were much smaller but at one time water came through all three, making a powerful cyclone on its way to continuing to move through the cave. This powerful water is what created the fracture. Another interesting aspect of this cave is the bones that have been identified. We saw the bones of a goat and a cow, each of which are considered to have fallen through one of the holes famous in Waitomo and they couldn't escape again. Along with these two animals, we also saw the skeleton of a Moa; a large bird native to NZ. This bird is now extinct but was similar to an ostrich or an emu, so obviously it was a large skeleton we saw. Archeologists believe that this particular Moa has been there for 20 000 years as a result of the sedimentary rock they discovered there and knowing about a volcano around that time. This cave only had a few glow worms, as it doesn't have the water the first cave does to bring in food for them.

While both caves were different from one another, they were both interesting and fun to explore. On the ride back we learned that Lake Taupo, a large lake in the North Island, is actually a super volcano. It is apparently 900 years overdue for an eruption and when it does erupt it will be enormous. Its last eruption was discovered by Italy and China because the volcanic dust reached all the way to those countries from the last eruption 1800 years ago. We are going to hope that it stays dormant for another 900 years or so, just to be safe!
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David on

A little different from your first experience with maggots, eh Jason? I just don't remember you telling us they glowed (lol). Anyway have a blast guys!

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