on January 8, 2012
I've enjoyed many wonderful caves over the years, but the Waitomo Glowworm Caves stand out as one of the most memorable and unique caves I've visited. Of course, here it isn't the size of the cavern or the beautiful drip-stone formations that are the attraction. Instead, it is the tiny light-emitting larvae which make these caves a natural wonder you won't want to miss.In the Waitomo region in the west of New Zealand's north island, there are a few of these glow worm caves and you have several options for your visit, including many more adventurous choices, such as rappelling down into the cave, or floating through on an inner tube or raft. These sounded like a lot of fun, but a family of four could really drop a lot of money on such adventures and that wasn't really in our budget. So we opted for the more traditional tour on foot into the cave at the "original" Waitomo glowworm cavern. But we weren't disappointed at all and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.The very modern visitor's center where you buy your tickets is set in a very scenic spot. The pleasant views and cafe and gift shop make the wait for your tour time go fairly quickly. There's a good-sized parking lot across the road.Your guided tour begins by walking down into the cave. It's actually a surprisingly big cavern and there are of course some stalactites and stalagmites that were nice to see, but honestly, I barely remember them. That's not why you're here. As you walk along, the guide will describe the lifecycle of the glowworms, and you'll come across a few of them. The larvae hang short, translucent mucus threads down from the ceiling, and the little light that they emit illuminates this thread to attract other bugs for food. So seeing a few of them here and there is pretty cool and there are quite a few on the ceiling by the time you get to the far end of the cavern. But the highlight comes at the end of the tour, where you enter another little side cavern and your group rides along in a big rowboat into near total darkness. But it isn't completely dark because there are thousands of little glowworms on the ceiling, looking like a sky full of stars. It's truly an unforgettable sight.So we all chased lightning bugs as kids, so the idea that insects can produce light wasn't really new to us, and we've known the little "glow little glow worm" tune since we were little, so I guess in theory I knew such creatures existed, but I definitely had never seen one. And seeing thousands of them lighting up the ceiling of a pitch black flooded cavern was a great introduction to this phenomenon.
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