Glowing Worms and Deep Dark Caves

8:00pm 23rd October

Another fantastic day in the land of the Kiwi. After a bit of trouble with the waste water system in the camper van this morning at the waste site (oops) we left rather later than we’d hoped for the journey to the caves of Waitomo. Luckily, despite the driving rain (which persisted all day) the roads were pretty clear. Not that New Zealand is famed for traffic problems; there just aren’t enough people here to cause jams! We made good progress and reached the caves at about 1pm.

The first cave we went into was the glow worm cave. Glow worms it turns out aren’t worms at all. They’re the grub of a fly. They start out as eggs, live as grubs on cave ceilings for most of their lives (about 11 months), then pupate into the adult fly. The poor fly only lives for a day or so, it has no mouth parts so it can’t survive any longer. Really makes you appreciate the wonder of nature. But that’s not all — in the grub stage they live on cave ceilings as I say, and there they glow eerily to attract their prey — other flies and moths. They catch the prey on sticky lines they dangle below them, pulling them up to eat their hapless dinner.

The cave was beautiful. Carved out of the limestone rocks by the passage of waters through it, it has some stunning stalagmites and stalactites, and was nicely lit by some well-placed artificial lights. We were guided through the cave to the near-pitch-black river inside where we were herded into a boat. Quite disconcerting, being in a pitch black cave on a boat on 2 metre deep icy waters…not something you’d want to fall out of! The (perceived!) risk was well worth it though, the boat gently floated in the darkness and we saw what we’d come for — the glow worms. It was a truly awesome sight — thousands upon thousands of tiny eldritch lights up in the cave ceiling. It looked like the starriest night ever; Ness likened it to looking up at the sunlight through a dense forest canopy. Amazing; these little insects all nestling up in the contoured ceiling of a beautiful cave. No pictures I’m afraid — the flashes disturb the glow worms.

Blinking, we alighted in the bright daylight. Or rather, continued grey rainy daylight, but I digress. From there a short drive to another cave, the Arunui cave. There, a charismatic Kiwi guide led us into another world of stalagmites and stalactites and amazing rock formations. We spent a good hour ambling around in the natural theme park carved out by ages-gone rivers and the continuing drip-drip of rainwater. Apparently stalagmites grow only one centimetre ever hundred years — the largest stalagmite had been carbon-dated to being 400,000 years old. Pretty impressive stuff. We got chatting to our guide and he was telling us of his love of caving, though at his age (59 I think he said) he didn’t get down into caves much anymore. He had some great stories to tell though, and we ended up chatting to him about visiting the UK. He said like Muslims making pilgrimages to Mecca all Kiwis have to make a trip to the UK at some point. He also blamed the influx of ‘lifestyle’ farmers in NZ on the impressionable watching re-runs of ‘The Good Life’! I can’t quite see it myself, but there you go!

After waving the caves goodbye, we set off to Rotorua, where we’ve just camped and had dinner. Rotorua is very much a volcanic town, the distinctive sulphur smell is everywhere and there are fascinating white plumes of smoke pouring out of the ground all over the place. One park we passed on the drive in looked for all the world like a standard children’s park…except for the occasional roped- off area with billows of sulphurous smoke pouring out! Quite something. We plan on investigating more tomorrow.

So now, happily tucked into the van for the night; rain pattering on the roof; cosy and warm; we’re going to have our pudding then turn in for an early start tomorrow! Well, in theory. So far every ‘early morning’ hasn’t worked so far — the curtains in the van make it so dark we just can’t wake up!

8:45pm — Addendum

Bloody computers! We bought a pre-paid 20 minute “hotlink” wireless web access from the front desk…and it doesn’t work. Aargh! Their login machine (192.168.0.254 apparently) redirects me to https://secure.hotlink.net.nz but is refusing DNS requests, and when I used my mobile phone to look up the IP it was 192.168.0.254. Putting that in my hosts file didn’t help — now I can communicate with the machine but it shuts the https connection before any meaningful stuff can get through. Pain in the bum, will have to wait til tomorrow now.

Filed under: New Zealand Trip
Posted at 20:38:48 BST on 23rd October 2006.

About Matt Godbolt

Matt Godbolt is a C++ developer working in Chicago in the finance industry.