The highlight of my New Zealand holiday was a trip to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We had just arrived in time to buy the tickets for the last guided tour of the day.
Hidden away under the rolling green fields of Waitomo, there is an enormous labyrinth of caves. A magnificent scenery it was as we drove there. These caves have slowly formed over millions of years as underground streams have steadily eroded the limestone.
Waitomo translates to something like “Water flowing into underground holes,” with Wai meaning Water and tomo meaning hole.
With a tour group and a guide we descended down the huge underground structure. The caves were truly spectacular. Limestone display dated to be 6000 years old. I felt like I was taken centuries back in time. The first thing that struck me was the uncanny silence.
I walked slowly keeping right at the end of group. I paused to take in the fascinating limestone formations; sparsely lit.
I felt as if I was standing in a giant Cathedral with arched hallways. The left wall looked like a massive pipe organ. It was perfectly quiet but I was sure I could hear music coming from the walls.
Then we walked on to another cave. The guide paused in this cave. She switched on the lights so we could get better glimpse of the limestone formations. Here she narrated the fascinating history of the caves and how they were first discovered in 1887 by her Maori ancestors.
She talked about the life cycle of the glowworms. These caves were inhabited by thirty thousand glowworms, native only to the island. The eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae produce sticky threads something similar to a spiders web to catch insects for feeding. It is at this stage when they produce light to attract their prey.
After the guide finished she asked if there were any questions.
“When do we see the glowworms” a teenager asked.
The guide said “in a minute. Any other questions”
My Son Yahya (4 years old) had been listening very patiently and attentively (to my surprise) raised his voice and said,
“I have question” his voice loud and echoing in the cave.
The guide surprised, with a smile said, “Yes”
“Mam how do the glowworms come inside the caves”.
All along I assumed and the other people in the tour also that the glowworms lifecycle of egg to larvae to pupa to fly was completed in the cave.
The guide said “good question”
“The adult fly comes in the caves from the opening where the water flows in. She than lays eggs and flies back outside”
Everyone clapped for Yahya who still looked like he was trying to fully understand what the guide had said.
The final part of journey- A boat ride through the underground caves. Totally mesmerising. We walked down in complete darkness by holding hands. We were helped by the guide on a boat.
Gently floating along by boat, we arrived under a vast cave ceiling that glowworms had transformed into a sparkling galaxy of stars on a dark night.
The blue eerie light was bewitching. Dazzling! Breathtaking! My mind was blank. The effect was ethereal.
The boat floated in pitch darkness through a channel of caves. Serene calmness descended as all passengers stared dazzled by the starlight roof.
My kids exclaimed again and again “Mommy this is beautiful”.
No photography was allowed as light and sound can disrupt the glowworms. Hence I didn’t get any pictures from the raft but I took some of the limestone caves above and of the boat once we stepped outside the cave.