Going Underground to the Glowworm Caves
10.05.2015 - 11.05.2015
Leaving Hot Water Beach behind us, we rose early for a stop at the Karangahake Scenic Reserve. Our driver directed us around the stunning bush-clad gorge. Walking over two swing bridges, we could feel the old gold mining history of that place. With gold mining relics still scattered along the trail, we followed the Ohinemuri River as it tumbles over rocks and boulders. At the end of the loop walk, we passed through a 1,100 meter tunnel.
Back on the bus and on the road, we passed by Mount Te Aroha - the mountain of love. Back in time, the mountain gained its name from a Maori legend.
One story tells how the son of Arawa chief, Kahu-Mata-Momoe was on his way home from visiting a kinsman at Kaipara. As was the habit with this explorer, he ascended to the highest point possible along the way. As he stood on top of the mountain, he was overjoyed to see the familiar landmarks of his tribal home he decided to name it “Aroha ki tai – This shall be called the Mountain of Aroha. Herein shall forever repose the great love of Kahu-Mata-Momoe”.
- Source: tearohanz.co.nz
Next stop on our trip that day was the town of Waitomo - Maori wai for water and tomo meaning sink hole. All around that area are deep caves hidden underground beneath the countryside. They are caved out of limestone by earthquakes and running water. The activity for which thousands of visitors come to this area are cave tours. The most favorite ones are black water rafting and glowworm tours.
I was already excited when I entered the waiting room of the tour operator. We were divided into small groups and took a quick ride with the operators van to a large shack located on a sheep farm in a hilly countryside. There, we changed and got prepared for going underground.
After we were told all guidelines and were introduced to potential risk like getting stuck in a narrow cave section, we took off in our wet suits to the entrance of the caves. What was used as an entrance was a steep latter through a narrow opening in the ground. Then the fun began. Being underground was both fascinating and scary. Without our headlamps it was pitch black. You couldn't even see your hand. One reason we kept them on and also because we didn't want to bump our heads on low hanging stalactites. It was amazing down there. Everywhere you looked limestone formed stunning stalactites, stalagmites and other cool rock formations.
We made our way further down the cave, always cautious not to slip, get stuck or hit our heads. The further down we got the more we heard the water stream running through the caves. Positioned at a more open section of the caves, we picked up our tubes for the black water rafting. Who wanted could do a jump in the water from a higher limestone formation. One guy even did a flip - with the tube! Then we formed a line and let ourselves float down the underground river. For more excitement we turned off our headlamps. Damn that was an experience. But further down the river, we saw something lighting up. We got closer and there they were - glowworms. To the millions they were hanging from the ceiling. No other word could describe the scene we just saw better than a sky full of stars.
The glowworms down there are a unique species only to be found in New Zealand. They are called Arachnocampa luminosa . Arachno' means spider-like, and refers to the way glowworms catch their food like spiders do. 'Campa' means larva and 'luminosa' means light-producing. These insects spend most of their life as larvae, growing to the size of a matchstick. The glow that we saw comes from the insect’s tail, which is bioluminescent – the chemicals it produces react with the oxygen in the air to generate light. This light attracts other insects, which then get trapped in the sticky threads the glowworm spins and hangs down from the roof of the cave. That's how it eats. The river that flows through the caves brings them plenty of insects to catch. After the larve stage, those glowworms turn into flies that haven't developed a mouth. Hence they can't feed and die within a day. Ultimately, their sole purpose during this stage is to reproduce. Years of hanging from the ceiling and then a day of saving the species - what a life.
For me, the cave tour with its narrow passages, the underground river and of course the glowworms was a trip to remember for a lifetime. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any cameras with us so I had to take some pictures from the web. But I can ensure anyone, it looked almost as breathtaking as those pictures!!!