New Zealand Road Trip: Waitomo Caves
This post in part of our New Zealand North Island 9-Day Road Trip series.
After Bay of Island and Rotorua, Waitomo was one of my favorite stops in New Zealand. We started off our adventure with the 1km Ruakuri Walk – definitely a must-do tramp when visiting Waitomo.
There are caves, gorges, and fantastically structured limestone formations.
Then we joined SpellBound Tours (see info below) for an amazing two-cave trip.
Into the cave we go..
Hard hat! Lights! Warm clothing! check, check, check.
We chose this tour because it didn’t require suiting up in a wetsuit and jumping off rocks. And it was known for the incredible glow-worm experience.
I tried my best to photograph the glow worms but it was a miserable failure. There are a few professional shots down at the bottom too, but they simply cannot convey how incredible it was to be in a cave lit entirely by biolumenessence.
Beginning the rafting portion of the cave experience.
How do you tell the difference between stalactites and stalagmites? Stalagmites are ‘mighty’ because they have to grow up from the ground!
Here are a few pro shots, courtesy of Spellbound:
And some glow worm history by Roy Alexander Harrison, D.SC., Senior Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.
The New Zealand glow-worm is one of the most interesting insects of the New Zealand fauna. It occurs throughout the country in limestone caves, unused mining tunnels, along stream banks, in damp bush-clad ravines, in damp shady crevices, and under tree-fern fronds in rain forests. The Glow-worm Grotto in Waitomo Cave has become world famous because of the tens of thousands of glow-worm larvae which live on the walls, ceilings, and stalactites of the grotto.
The New Zealand glowworm is a fly belonging to the gnat family. The larvae, pupae, and adults of both sexes are all luminous. In the larval stage the light attracts prey in the form of other organisms, while in the pupal and adult stages the light attracts the opposite sex.
[Sonja here: “Glow worm” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Much better than “Glow maggot”, which is, in fact, what they are]
The larva prepares a nest in the form of a tunnel of mucous and silk, and suspends from this an array of fishing lines composed of the same materials. Prey is snared in the long sticky fishing lines. The larva hauls up the fishing line on which the prey is entangled and consumes the trapped insect. Up to 70 lines are let down by one larva and, depending on the size of the larva, the lines vary in length from under 1 cm to 50 cm. Each fishing line consists of a long thread of silk which bears at regular intervals a series of mucous droplets giving the appearance of a string of beads. The droplet size is about 1 mm in diameter. Nests and lines can be reconstructed and repaired. Fully grown larvae measure up to 40 mm in length and adult flies average 15 mm in length. The life cycle appears to take 11–12 months, with the larval stage lasting eight or nine months. Breeding shows little evidence of being a seasonal phenomenon
By far the coolest part of the tour was getting into a raft and floating down an underground river that was lit entirely by glow worms. It was light enough to make out the features of the people sitting next to you. Truly spectacular!!!! Seriously, GO DO IT, if you’re ever in New Zealand.
Well, that’s a wrap on New Zealand. Thanks for coming along for the ride, Dear Readers.
Waitomo Lodge Motel – Looks like a ho hum motel from the outside but it’s slick Scandinavian modern inside with great beds and a nice kitchenette (micro, fridge, and plates/cups/utensils). Big grocery store just up the road. From $125 NZ/night. Just fifteen minutes from Waitomo.
Ruakuri Walk – 1 km. This short walk is a ‘must do’ when visiting the Waitomo area. Includes caves and classic limestone outcrops in a pretty river gorge.
Spellbound Cave Tours – a smaller tour company than the regular outfits, you’ll skip the enormously overcrowded caves and enjoy an incredible underground experience, complete with a subterrarium boat ride and a glowing tunnel. Our group of 15 was perfectly suited to exploring two separate caves. Our guide Norm was excellent. Includes a short bush walk and tea/coffee/cocoa. Good for those that aren’t up for the getting wet or have some mobility issues (or are pregnant!).
What We Considered
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Trip – from their website: The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company is New Zealand’s first black water rafting adventure operator. We’ve been sharing thrills and excitement since 1987, and have experienced guides who will take you safely through the stunning underworld of Ruakuri Cave. What began as a special treat for a brave few has developed into a spectacular tourism attraction that gives visitors of all ages the chance to abseil (rappel), weave, jump, climb, and float through a glowworm-studded subterranean wonderland at Waitomo Caves.
Part 9: Planning Your New Zealand Driving Tour
All New Zealand Posts:
Part 1: New Zealand Travel Route: The North Island in 9 Days
Part 2: Auckland: the cosmopolitan heart of the North Island
Part 3: Waipoua Forest: giant trees and pretty views
Part 4: Bay of Islands: Swimming with Dolphins
Part 5: Karangahake Gorge: an abandoned gold mine in a stunningly beautiful valley
Part 6: Rotorua: The Yellowstone of New Zealand
Part 7: Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks
Part 8: Waitomo: Glow Worms Galore!
Part 9: Planning Your New Zealand Driving Tour