Have you ever seen a glowworm? It’s a pretty ridiculous little thing. Much like a lightening bug or those creepy flashlight fish, glow worms use bioluminescence attract prey. This is fairly brilliant in the whole circle of life thing, except that in the case of the glowworms (which are larvae that later turn into very non-glowing flies), they frequently “catch” their mature neighbors. In fact, they are incredibly cannibalistic.
Anyhow, enough with the science. Glowworms are particularly famous down here in New Zealand, and there are some pretty amazing places to see them. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, you can definitely see them for free. However, the undisputed best glowworm viewing is at the Waitomo Glowworm Cave on the east side of the North Island.
The Waitomo Glowworms were first found by a Maori chief, and explored via raft. Can you imagine, just willingly floating into pitch black caves… only to find glowworms shimmering by the millions above your head? You’d think you were rich with diamonds… until you touched them and they turned out to be sticky larvae. Bummer.
Anyways, the caves are still run by ancestors of that Maori chief today. They have done a stunning job celebrating the caves with a tasteful visitor’s centre (new, just 2 years old), cafe, and multiple excursions including the glowworm cave tour, black water rafting, and spelunking in other nearby caves.
So the thing about the glowworm caves is that you can’t take any photos because it will freak the little buggers out and that’s bad for business. So to give you an idea of what $49NZD p/p buys you: a walk through a pretty cool upper cave where they have scooped out the middle and put in stairs for the not-so-nimble, a lecture from a Maori descendent that is pretty interesting and informative, and a boat ride through the glowworm cave below the other caves… its pretty neat in there!
Experiencing glowworms for the first time is pretty amazing. Seeing hundreds of thousands is beyond epic. And to give you a better idea, here’s some photos I plagiarized off the inter web:
So the Waitomo Caves are pretty amazing, and I would say that if you are in the area they are not to be missed.
BUT, the next part is actually my favorite.
Just near the Waitomo Caves is the free Ruakuri Cave and Bush Walk. I’m not going to say that this place is better than the glowworm cave, because it’s just totally different. But it’s awesome, and you should go here.
Basically, the Ruakuri Cave and Walk is comprised of an easy pathway that weaves through massive limestone outcroppings, above and through various caves, and over a beautiful river (which is the reason behind it all). This, along with the stunning greenery, makes for super fun explorations.
If you’re a kid at heart like me you’ll love how the path takes you up and down all kinds of neat looking rocks, through small tunnels and into deep caverns. (The photo above was on the far side of a tunnel that was a “mandatory” part of the trail- how cool!).
There’s also lots of non-mandatory nooks and crannies to explore, like this cave that we found a group of Cave Wetas trying to hide in. Not sure what a weta is? … A weta is creepy and spidery and gross. That’s what it is.
Ughhhh… But they won’t harm you. Remember, nothing in NZ really will!
We spent nearly two hours exploring this little part of Waitomo. And the other best part of it is that while the glowworm caves are mega-crowded (50 people on each tour, a tour leaves every 30 minutes for 8 hours/day), there’s practically no one on this walk! The masses drive right past!
Yes, the glowworms are amazing. You need to see them. But then get off the beaten track. Explore a cave on your own! Spot a fantail. And a weta. I implore you to move past the tour buses and see some real New Zealand!
For getting to Raukuri, click here. Bring a picnic, a camera, and a sense of childish adventure… You’ll thank me!