Seeing the glowworms in the caves of Waitomo was an amazing experience. There are many tours to chose from but we chose the Spellbound tour because they allow you to take photos in the caves. It was a wonderful tour. We saw lots of glowworms and I highly recommend this company.
The tour leaves from the Waitomo town center. The Spellbound tour company can’t be missed because the office is a huge cone shaped building on the main road. We boarded a large van with about 6 other people and drove through the country side to our cave location. There are lots of different caves with glowworms in the area, but we liked the smaller group and length of time spent in the cave advertised by Spellbound. The main caves are in the center of town and we saw huge tour buses parked along the entrance. I spoke to a person just after exiting the tour and she said it was nice, but hectic. Our tour was peaceful and we were welcome to stop at anytime to take pictures or just look, but this lady said she was herded through like sheep. LOL She was a Kiwi from the North part of the island.
Our tour guide, Ross, was a funny local guy, who seemed to know everything about the history of New Zealand, Scotland and the Maori people. He made the drive fun and informative by telling personal stories about the people who lived in the houses we passed and noting the species of birds and plants along the road. He was even kind enough to stop for a couple of bird watchers to snap a picture of a hawk they had been trying to photograph for weeks.
To reach the caves, which are located on private property, you take a short, downhill walk through the rolling green hills and end at the stream going into the cave. Prior to entering the cave, Ross dropped some food into the stream to attract a longfin eel we spotted. Apparently they constantly feed the local eel because another swam up while we were feeding the first one. Since Ross was petting and holding the longfin eel like he was his favorite pet, I asked if I could touch it too. A few of the girls from the tour joined me at the water edge to get a picture with the eels. They were very friendly except to each other. Apparently eels are territorial, so we saw them snip at each others tails a few times.
Everyone put on hard hats with lights before we entered the cave, and a good thing too, because the guy in front of me hit his head at a low crossing point. The front part of the cave didn’t have any glowworms, to see them you had to go through a narrow passage-way to the main part of the cave. The stream opens up at that point and becomes more like small river. There is a large inflatable boat waiting to take you deep into the cave so you can enjoy the glowworms without walking through bumping your head or having people turn on their flashlights.
For the first 20 minutes Ross asks everyone to turn off their cameras and just get accustomed to the dark. As your eyes dilate and your night vision kicks in you are rewarded by a starry night sky, only it’s just the cave ceiling. Glowworms hang from every inch of the roof surface and their light reflects off the river creating a very bright tunnel. I was shocked to see more and more little blue lights the longer we spent in the cave. Once we reach the end of the cave you are allowed to take pictures for about 10 minutes before returning to the cave entrance. We were probably in the cave for about 45 minutes.
Before the boat ride Ross explained that the glowworms were not worms at all, but the larvae of a fly. It isn’t anything like the flies we are accustomed too, so don’t try to create glowworms in your closet. The fly looks more like a mosquito, and I found a few websites which called it a fungus gnat. The glow is caused by their waste being burned off their body. Although, I’ve also read that the glow is controlled by the worm and they use it to attract insects which get caught in their sticky strings (shown below) much like an insect gets caught in a spiderweb.
The glowworms strings can grow to about 4 inches in length, and the glowworm travels up and down it to eat food. The glowworm lives in this stage for 8-9 months, most of its life, before forming a cocoon of mucus. Much like a butterfly, the glowworms comes out of the cocoon as a fly (or mosquito thingy) where it only lives for a few days with the sole purpose of mating and laying more eggs. The female will lay over a hundred eggs and then die without even eating anything as an adult.
After the glowworm cave, you have a short break with tea and cookies then you go to another cave. The second cave is much like my other caving experiences (Mariana Caverns in Florida). There are beautiful draping stalactites and castles coming out of the ground (the stalagmites).
The coolest thing in the second cave were some Moa bones which is an extinct bird that looked like a dinosaur to me!