The Waitomo Glowworm Caves provided Greg and me with free entry in exchange for our honest review.
When Greg and I made the decision to travel to New Zealand, the first thing on my “to-see” list was the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. I had seen them on TV and read about them on various websites many times previous to our visit; the prospect of experiencing them in person was very exciting. Consequently, visiting the glowworm caves was the first activity we did after arriving in Rotorua, New Zealand.
We took our time along the drive from Rotorua to Waitomo Caves, stopping to take pictures and enjoying the beautiful New Zealand landscape. We were on the 11:00 A.M. tour of the cave, and because it was a summer season Saturday, there were lots of visitors.
History of Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The word “waitomo” means “entering a hole in the ground.” That’s quite appropriate since the Waitomo Caves include a labyrinth of limestone caves and formations which actually began developing about 30 million years ago. After millions of years of earthquake and volcanic activity, the current day caves – with their magnificent stalactites and stalagmites – were formed.
The native Maori first discovered the caves, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were mapped and opened to the public. In fact, more than 80 percent of the staff that work the caves today are direct descendants of the Maori who made the original discovery.
What Exactly Is a Glowworm?
The scientific name for the species of glowworm that thrives in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves is the Arachnocampa Luminosa, meaning spider-like, light-producing larva. This particular species is unique to New Zealand. Like many insects, the glowworm has four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult.
- Stage 1 – The adult female fly lays around 120 small, spherical eggs which hatch in about three weeks.
- Stage 2 – After hatching, the larvae build a nest and excrete a sticky line of silk-like material, similar to a spider. But instead of weaving a web, the glowworm drops several single lines of material straight down from its nest. The light it emits attracts insects which get caught in the sticky threads. At this point the glowworm draws up those threads and feeds on the insect. Glowworms remain in the larval stage for about nine months and are similar in shape and size to a matchstick.
- Stage 3 – After about nine months in the larval stage, a glowworm pupates. It hangs by a thread for about two weeks, when it emerges as an adult fly.
- Stage 4 – The adult glowworm looks a bit like a larval mosquito. It has no mouth so it cannot eat. Its only purpose is to breed and reproduce, and it lives no longer than a few days.
Touring the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Although this series of caves is famous for and even named for the glowworms which are found within, their interior landscape is equally as impressive and renowned. Enormous stalactites and stalagmites – which grow at the painstakingly slow rate of one square centimeter per hundred years – adorn every tunnel, cavern and cathedral.
Greg was enthralled as we walked through the caves, always several meters behind the rest of our group from stopping to admire single formations. There was magnificence at every turn. I started to get truly excited when we came across our first few glowworms. The further we continued into the cave the more glowworms we saw.
The pièce de résistance was our hushed boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto. We had all been asked in advance to please halt our conversations during this portion of the tour, and the silence added a mysterious aura to the overall experience. In the pitch black darkness the only sound you could hear was the slight movement of the water lapping softly against the boat.
Thousands of glowworms lined the grotto walls and ceiling giving the illusion of a star-filled sky on the darkest of nights. It was like having your own private tour through the make believe world of fairies and fairytales.
I highly recommend taking a tour through the Waitomo Glowworm caves. It will appeal to visitors of many interests, including photography, geology, zoology, archaeology, history and many more.
Have you ever visited a cave? What part of cave exploration interests you the most?