To make up for the length of the previous post, this one will be much shorter – helped by the fact that I was not allowed to take pictures on the tour. Tour of what, you say? We’re visiting the Waitomo Caves. Now, I’m not a big fan of caves anymore. I’ve done some really stupid things exploring caves as a youth, luckily surviving, and I’ve seen some major caves later in life, and for me there’s a certain sameness to them now. Is this Old Fartdom happening? Does one get increasingly jaded in life as one “sees it all”? Boy I hope not, but let’s keep an eye on this attitude. Anyway, we are not here to see the caves but to see the glowworms. We will do that by going on a boat ride on an underground river.
The Waitomo area is limestone, the weather rainy. Whole streams disappear down funnel-shaped sinkholes. The rocks are often fluted. Caves abound, as do tour companies helping you explore them. Some tours look really cool, such as one involving an abseil (“to rope down”) 300 feet down a yawning, spectacular vertical-sided fern-draped pothole (cave exploring follows). Others are a wet-suit-clad inner tube ride through an underground river and over small waterfalls. We’re doing the short 45 min tour that doesn’t allow for pictures; we’re taking it because Ginger is not feeling her best and the longer (and more expensive) trips that allow photos are quite a bit longer, 3+ hours. And really, in all cases the major attraction of these tours is the glowworms, which we’ll get. We start by walking into a cave, then hopping in a boat for a short drift through the glowworm region. Cave exit is shown in the picture (which I’m allowed to take).
Glowworms exist throughout NZ, mostly in caves (where we can see them in daytime). Glowworms, in the adult form, look like large mosquitos; they live for 3 days, not eating but having lots and lots of sex, finally dying of exhaustion but with big smiles. The female multi-tasks and finds time to lay eggs during the orgies, the eggs hatch, and the small 3mm larvae attach themselves to the cave roof. They then lower 20-30 basically invisible mucus-and-silk threads (like fishing lines – more later). The picture to the left shows them, illuminated from the side. How did I take this photo? Alas, I took it directly from the brochure, but it might as well be my “live” picture. It looks like this, folks! Without side lighting, however, they are invisible. Caves, you may know, are dark. Normally. But glowworms are bioluminescent, producing a mostly blue, greenish-tinged glow. When your eyes adjust to the dark, there they are, everywhere, shining like blue stars. Pretty cool. The brochure picture to the left gives you the idea of what you would see, but it is much better in the flesh in the cave with the shining stars just a few feet over your head. So what is the story here? The bioluminescence attracts flying insects in the dark cave. They encounter the hanging mucus threads and get stuck. The larvae pulls up the line, eats the ensnared prey, and drops down another line. The larvae grow from a few mm to the size and shape of a matchstick, so this process works pretty well. It’s scary out there, folks! It’s The Blob of the insect world (old SF movie to you newbies). But for us, these Blue Meanies are just really, really fairy-like magical. Sorry I don’t have better pictures to show you, but it probably would have been hard to capture them without a tripod.