Into the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Main photo from Waitomo.com website.
What kind of experience do you look for when you travel? For me, I prefer experiences that provide me with close encounters with nature, culture, and history. As much as I like big cities, I want to visit natural wonders, such as things and structures nurtured and molded by the elements – earth, fire, water, wind, energy. So, when I heard of the Glowworm Caves of New Zealand, located in Waitomo, which is just over an hour away from Matamata where the Shire is found, I immediately wanted to include this in our Hobbiton tour (READ: A Journey to the Shire: The Land of Hobbits).
Waitomo and its Caves
Waitomo is found in the western middle part of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s about two and a half hours away from Auckland. Here’s a trivia: Waitomo is known to have one of the lowest population densities in the country. Its density is only 2.7 people per square kilometer, way below from New Zealand national average of 14.1.
The name literally means “stream which flows into the hole in the ground” in Maori language. Because of its abundance of natural attractions, Waitomo is among the original tourist destinations in this part of the world. In fact, tourists have been coming to the region since the late 1800s to see its limestone formations and cave systems.
Nowadays, tourists go to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which can be experienced in about 45 minutes or more; the Ruakuri Cave, which has a dramatic spiral entrance that was built to guard a sacred area; and the Aranui Cave, which located within a natural forest reserve. Visitors can just take a guided tour or enjoy some adventure activities. Sadly, it is only in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves where cameras of any form, including non-flash photography and mobile phones, are not permitted.
Although local Maoris already knew the caves in Waitomo, it was in 1887 when Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace explored deeper into the caves with only candles as their source of light. They then discovered the tiny lights inside the caves, which were the glowworms.
The Glowworm Species
I learned through the tour that glowworms are mosquito-like species without a mouth and their only function is to go and multiply, meaning, to reproduce and increase their tribe. They have four life cycles: first, the female lay about 120 small round eggs, where larvae are hatched after 20 days; second, the larvae build a nest, creating lines made of sticky substances to trap insects for consumption; third, they became pupae, cocooned and suspended by thread; then lastly, they become adults.
The longest stage is the larvae, which lasts to about nine months. This is when they emit a light and create those sticky lines hanging by the cave ceiling. The spider-like, light-producing larva is called the Arachnocampa Luminosa, a glowworm species unique to New Zealand.
When we arrived at the Waitomo Visitor Centre from our Hobbiton Tour, we had to take our souvenir shots and wait for a few minutes within this award-winning structure. The design, which is based from the curve in the Waitomo River and the contours of the area, was created by Christopher Kelly from the Architecture Workshop.
After awhile, our guide beckoned us inside the cave, but not before giving an introduction and reminding us of a few rules, which included no smoking and photography inside the cave. Upon entering and seeing how descending was made easier for us, I was quite impressed with how they provided a paved pathway to the interior of the cave while maintaining the cave’s formations.
Inside the cave, we passed through formations like the Catacombs, the Pipe Organ, the Banquet Chamber, and Tomo, which is a 16-meter vertical limestone shaft which marks the course of an ancient waterfall. The most popular is the Cathedral, which remains at a constant 14 degrees Centigrade throughout the year. It is the largest cavern which boasts of acoustic purity. Our guide egged us to try the acoustic and encouraged any of us to sing. But we’ve already heard a good operatic singer from the group before us perform the ceremonial audience interaction of the tour, so we all declined. Obviously, we were more excited to see the glowworms than the cave formations.
We were taken to the demonstration area where we had a peak of the glowworms as they emit light in the dark cave. The guide turned on the light for us to see the strands the larvae have created to trap their prey.
Then, we proceeded to the lower level, which is composed of the river-like passages and the Glowworm Grotto. We had to observe complete silence so as not to disturb the glowworms. Remember, we were not also allowed to take photos. Light and sound and any movement that might cause vibrations to the cave may affect these glowworms.
I must admit that I was a bit underwhelmed. I had to strain my eyes to see the luminous larvae, which were not as bright as how they were depicted in the photos. We traversed the limited length of the river on board a jetty in total silence. We probably stayed there for about five to ten minutes before we moved and exited the cave. It was a bit short and I was hoping for something more, which I cannot fully define.
So, we left Waitomo in a hurry as it was getting late in the afternoon. I was also suffering a very minor headache because I felt sleepy on the way to Waitomo but was not able to doze off. It was dark when we were nearing Auckland, but I was more bent on hitting the bed than having dinner. Still, it was a satisfying tour as I saw New Zealand’s countryside, enjoyed our Hobbiton moments, and witnessed the glowworms of Waitomo.
Watch out for our some of the sights in Auckland, which I’ll be blogging in my succeeding posts. 😀🚗🌛
Note: Photos used that are not owned by this blogger are attributed and linked back to the official site, http://waitomo.com, where the photos were taken.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
585 Waitomo Village Road (formerly Waitomo Caves Road)
Private Bag 501
Waitomo, New Zealand
Telephone: +64 7 878 8228
NZ Freephone: 0800 456 922