Home of mystical blue glowworms and Black Water Rafting
24.03.2013 19 °C
On the advice of nearly every New Zealand guidebook I have seen, I still had Waitomo Caves near the top of my "To Do List" despite it being just 10 days since I visited the impressive Lake Cave near Margaret River in Western Australia. What makes them special and different from other caves are their glowworms; which also makes this particular blog entry a bit of challenge as they are almost impossible to photograph!
Waitomo is 125 miles (202 km) south of Auckland and there over 300 caves mapped in the area. I visited the two most popular, starting with a 2 hour tour of Ruakuri Cave, the longest guided cave tour in Australasia. As seems to be the way in New Zealand there was a dispute over ownership of the original entrance and it was also a Maori burial ground so the cave is now accessed via a spectacular new 49 feet (15 metre) spiral staircase that felt like something out an old Doctor Who set.
Like all show caves Ruakuri has easily damaged cave formations and there is monitoring equipment by the entrance to ensure CO2 brought into the cave by tree roots or the breathing of visitors is kept within manageable levels. The path then meanders around cave formations and through fissures in the limestone deeper and deeper into the cave.
So far so good, Ruakuri Cave although extensive has been very similar to any other show cave this far. Then comes the mystical bit when we reach the glowworms and the lights are turned out to see them - photos aren't allowed (even if my camera was up to it!) so I have provided a link. Each glowworm is a the larvae of small mosquito like fly that has attached itself to top of the cave with 3-5 inch (10-20 cm) silk fishing lines dangling beneath it with a blue almost light at the end to attract larvae prey from the underground river flowing below.
The underground river is also where you can go Black Water Rafting and can get up close to the glowworms and this is suppose to be the ultimate cave experience and something I am sure I might have been tempted to have a go at if I had more time in New Zealand.
We then returned to the Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre and went on the more commercial feeling 45 minute tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave itself. Again we passed impressive stalactites and stalagmites as we made our way down to a large cavern known as The Cathedral which has such good natural acoustics that it has been used for concerts Dame Kiri Te Kanaawa and the Vienna Boys Choir amongst others.
However again it was the glowworms who stloe the show except this time we boarded a boat and floated down the underground river in the pitch black admiring the milky way of blue glowworm lights that adorned the cave's ceiling. Eventually we emerged from the cave and exited using a jetty.