A small group of us Stray travelers broke off to do the Waves & Caves excursion. This trip went west to Raglan stopping at Waitomo and then looping back to Rotorua. Waitomo has about 50 residents, but lots of tourism pouring in daily to visit the underground caves in the area. When planning my trip to New Zealand (“NZ”) going to the Waitomo Caves was highly recommended to me. The pictures looked stunning and this seemed like a once in a lifetime experience. I went with a caving adventure that included tubing called Tumu Tumu Toobing. Beyond knowing I would see glowworms I didn’t know what to expect.
We had a very small group: me, a female Kiwi guide, and four german boys (and yes I mean boys they were 18-19 years old). We drove from the main building/check in center over to the cave site and had to get geared up. Thick wetsuits with knee and butt pads, jackets, rain boots, and helmets with lights created a very stylish ensemble. We looked legit, but how cold was it down there if we needed all of this? Eek!
We walked along the rolling greens and our guide, Deni, gave us a bit of history. She said that Waitomo is covered with thousands of caves and they were usually discovered when an animal or person fell into one. They really became a nuisance and farmers wanted the NZ government to fill them, but this turned out to be way too costly so instead the government gave the farmers the ownership. Now a handful (about twelve) are commercialized, which is great for those farmers, but the rest just have these “annoying” formations on their land that they may not even know about. You would never be able to tell that caves existed under the green land. In my head caves were reserved to cliffs, rocks, and around oceans not in the middle of a green field with sheep.
When we got to the cave opening we had to climb down 10ish meters – well here goes nothing. Of course as soon as we were all down and waiting for Deni one of the boys had to say, “if there was an earthquake right now we would all die.” Eye roll and thanks for that. Okay literally no turning back now and we start right away by crawling through tight spaces in a couple of inches of water. The cave ranged in width, height, water level, etc. every second there was a change. At some points we had to crawl on our hands and knees, others we could stroll easily, then we would have to balance while walking on sharp, thin rocks. The scenery was changing every step of the way which was cool and because we were a small group Deni let us do extra squeezes/tunnels.
Without a doubt my favorite part were the glowworms. They were so pretty and really glowed like crazy. It was like millions of a pretty blue pinprick lights. Of course we didn’t have our phones on us and because it’s so dark a normal camera wouldn’t be able to actually capture what we were seeing. Glowworms are actually pretty wild. They let thin strings down (similar to a spider web) which paralyzes insects that accidentally fly into them. They then go down and eat them. After nine months they bring the string back up and make a cocoon for two weeks. Once they emerge as an adult gnat they won’t feed any more and only live 2-3 days with the only purpose being to mate and lay eggs. They are also pretty much cannibals and will also eat another glowworm if it gets trapped in the string. Seems like a lot of work to only be a gnat for 3 days. So what makes them glow? Well not to be gross, but that beautiful bioluminescence is essentially glowing poo. TMI I know.
We were in the cave for 2ish hours. So it was a long time to be in the pitch black, cold water, and tight spaces. Don’t get me wrong it was totally awesome, but I was happy to finally see sunlight at the end of the tunnel.
If you’ve never been in a cave I highly recommend checking it out. It’s cool seeing our world from below knowing there’s a whole system just below our feet.