Waitomo Caves: a magical place illuminated by fireflies

Waitomo Caves: a magical place illuminated by fireflies

Very old, mysterious, spectacular. In Waitomo, New Zealand, there is a unique place in the world, where thousands of luminescent insects give life to an underground starry sky.

The Waitomo Caves, in New Zealand, are known because strange creatures inhabit their interior, the glowworms (luminous worms), which produce light to attract their prey and thus be able to feed themselves.

These points of light make the ceiling of the cave look like a starry sky. It is a unique show and one that is worth knowing if you travel with time through the North Island of New Zealand.

«The intensity of the light produced by the larvae depends on their level of nutrition, while the color of the fluorescent glow changes from blue to green in a color spectrum so particular that it is impossible to reproduce it artificially.»

But what are glowworms?

Glowworms are luminescent worms, or rather the larva of an insect called Arachnocampa Luminosa, which is similar to the mosquito.

These insects go through three phases throughout their short life: egg, larva and adult insect. And I say short life because they do not live more than 10-11 months.

During the larval period, which lasts about 9 months, these insects produce a light that attracts other insects and traps them with sticky threads that hang from them.

Seen up close, these larvae are elongated, measure about 2 centimeters, have a luminous point and from them hang a series of almost transparent filaments that are with which they catch their prey.

The habitat of these «glow worms» is any dark place where they can hang. The usual thing is to find them in caves, but they can also live in walls or walls of dark and humid areas.

Waitomo Caves

If you want to see glowworm you can try your luck in other places in the country, such as the Abbey caves, in Whangarei, but if you want to see glowworm for sure and see them by the thousands one of the best known places in New Zealand are the Waitomo caves.

Here you can visit three caves: Waitomo glowworm, Ruakuri and Aranui.

Waitomo glowworm cave

The main claim of the area. Hundreds of glow worms can be seen on the ceiling in this cave. The total visit lasts about 45 minutes, although the boat ride on an underground river only lasts 5-10 minutes.

Visitors ride in boats pulled by cables suspended in the air, in complete silence and darkness. And when looking up at the ceiling, it seems that you are observing a sky full of stars.

Ruakuri Cave

The stalactites and stalagmites in the cave are not spectacular, compared to other caves of these characteristics in other parts of the world, although it has some beautiful parts and the guide’s explanations make the visit more interesting.

In this cave there are also luminous larvae, but in much smaller numbers than in Waitomo. Although it is not as spectacular as the previous one, it is a good place to see these insects hanging from the wall a few inches away.

Aranui Cave

There are no luminous larvae in this cave. It is only visited for its formations. We decided not to enter it since what we were looking for in Waitomo was to see glowworms.

The visit to the caves

A group of geologists monitors the caves and controls the air quality and other parameters necessary for the survival of the insects. To explore all the caves on foot you can take part in one of the many organized tours.

Before getting on board the boat, the last stage of the visit, the area of ​​the Catacombs, the Banqueting Chamber (where historically the first explorers stopped to eat and recover), and finally the Cathedral, a This cavity gets its name from its imposing dimensions (it measures 18 meters): its volume and shape give it exceptional acoustics, so much so that it is sometimes used to host concerts.

There are two types of activities that can be done in the Waitomo area.

One of them is visiting the caves on foot. You can choose to enter only one or buy a combined ticket for 2 or 3 caves. We choose to visit Waitomo-Ruakuri.

The tickets have a reserved time for the visit, and are organized in such a way that if a «combo» is purchased, the visits can be made one after another without time problems.

The other option, for people wanting to get wet, consists of a tour of the underground rivers of the caves.

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