On Monday, January 18th, day 15 of the trip, we traveled with Stu to Waitomo to see the famous glow worm caves. I decided to pay the $99 to go black water rafting, and it was absolutely worth it. We had to put on wet suits (which was an event in itself) then boarded a truck that drove us to the field where the caves were. Apparently, Waitomo is made up of many caves which underlie the green pastures we see. Inside, there are natural rivers and waterfalls that flow through the caves which you can float through. So, we got to the cave, picked out our tube, and begun our descent into the depths of the earth. We were traveling 150 feet underground, and it was awesome.
Once we made it into the caves, it was like a completely different world. If it wasn't for the lights on our helmets, the caves would be pitch black. We made our way through the shallow waters, being careful not to slip on the rocks and keeping our hands off the stalagmites and stalactites growing within the caves. They take 100 years to grow 1 cm, and if we touch them the oils from our hands will affect their growth. So, we continued until we reached a wooden platform, where the guides told us to switch off our lights and look up. It was incredible. The ceiling was glowing, with what looked like a thousand little shining stars. Those were the glow worms. Some were brighter than others, some bigger, some slightly different colors. We learned that they are like maggots, living within the limestone ceilings of the caves. They dangle strings of spider-like webs to catch their prey, which will fly into the strings and get stuck there. When we turned our headlamps back on we could see these and the maggot like worm hanging out from the ceiling. It was really cool.
We traveled through more of the cave and got to a clearing. We were told that we had to get on our hands and knees and crawl through a cave tunnel to get to a waterfall. So, down we went and on the way Natalie got bit by and eel. Yes, there are eels swimming in the waters, along with spiders and giant crickets in the caves. Luckily, Natalie was alright, and we continued to crawl through the tunnel, passing a rather larger spider on the wall. When we got to the waterfall it was pretty cool; the water was falling out so quickly and it was pretty cold. Then we turned around and crawled back out of the cave, grabbed our tubes and were on our way.
From here we saw bones of cows and dogs, which were the remains of animals from land that fell through holes in the ground into the caves and died. We made our way through the cave and finally got to sit back into our tube and drop into the water. From here, we got to turn off our lights, put our tubes on, put our left hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, and our right hand on the wall of the cave. Then we traveled together through the rising water in the pitch black cave. Finally we got to a place where we all started to float in our tubes and hook our feet onto the tube of the person in front of us. With our lights off, we black water rafted through the cave like it was a lazy river. The only things guiding us were the endless trail of glow worms above our heads. It was such a cool experience. At the end of the float, we got to slide down a water slide. We then made our way out of the cave and hiked up to the van to travel back to the center.
The glow worm caves at Waitomo were one of the coolest things I've ever done. It was so amazing to see the massive amounts of glow worms above us in the caves. They literally looked like hundreds of stars in the night sky. The other biology of the caves were the spiders, crickets, and eels that I luckily didn't get in direct contact with. The caves themselves were a geological wonder. They were made of limestone and filled with stalagmites and stalactites. Culturally, New Zealanders are some of the nicest people ever. They are always willing to help and are just so kind. Although a lot of the people I come in contact with are supposed to be nice (it's their job: guides, bus drivers) it just comes off so genuine. Even the New Zealanders on the streets are kind. One time I was on a bus and a kiwi came up to my group and told us how to get to our destination once we got off the bus. No one in New York would do that for complete strangers.
I never thought that I would do something like black water rafting in underground caves filled with glow worms in my life, and I am SO happy that I did. It was definitely an experience that I will not forget and will tell everyone about when I get back home. These outdoor, extreme experiences are not something that I usually do at home. Being in New Zealand has made me fearless, adventurous, and eager to try new things that I NEVER thought I would do.
(Photos compliments of Rina)