Waitomo Caves
Ben, February 23, 2013
(This post was also written by Pam)

We started our road trip with a stop about two hours south of Auckland in Waitomo. This area has over thirty limestone caves, with 7 or 8 open to the public. We were specifically going there because the caves included the well known glow worms.

To give a little background about the glow worms: there are two types and one of the types only exists in NZ. They live in cool, dark places and have an interesting life. First, the mother lays about 120 eggs on the cool, dark surface of the cave ceiling before dying. When the babies hatch, they have no mother so their first meal are their brothers and sisters in the eggs around them. Then, they proceed to drop about 50 of these sticky, fish line-looking traps. They also glow a neon-like light from their backsides. What this effectively does is make the roof of the cave look like the night sky. Little flys and other insects will come into the cave and fly up towards the glow worms thinking they're the sky. They will be caught in the worm's lines and eaten for dinner. After 9 months of this existence, the worms go into cocoons for 13 or so days. When they come out, they look very similar to mosquitos, but they have no mouth. They are actually like 60% reproductive organs. So, for 2-5 days, I think we all know what the flies do... :) They then lay their eggs, die, and the process continues.

The caves were found by the local Maori people, who later shared them with English surveyors in 1887. The caves were all mapped and opened to the public in 1889. The descendants of the Maori Chief, Tane Tinorau, that first shared the caves, still work in the caves today. We went on two of the tours. The first was this cave called Ruakuri Cave (I.e. \"two dogs\" cave), named for the two dogs that led the Maori people to the cave. The Maoris killed the two dogs and the rest of their pack and claimed the cave, making it a sacred location where one of their chiefs was buried. The cave itself was very similar to the caves I've seen in the past with limestone, stalactites, stalagmites and pillars, but it also had some glow worms. The glow worm lines I previously mentioned were kinda gross looking. We unfortunately could not nab a picture of them due to the darkness and minimal light given off when they glow.

Then, we went to the well known Waitomo Glow Worm cave. We were led by a Maori girl whose great great great great grandfather was the chief I mentioned previously. The cave itself was pretty similar to the one prior, but it did have this huge cavern where weddings, children's chorus performances, and other \"musical\" events take place. Then, we took a canoe ride through the last portion which was pitch black. However, we saw a ton of the glow worms. They did definitely look like the night sky. It was pretty cool.

Following our pit stop, we moved on to Tongariro National Park where a 16 mile hike awaited us the next day...
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