First up, name that movie quote. No clues. Answer at the end of the post. 😉
There’s not a lot in Waitomo, and by ‘not a lot’ I mean nothing! One shop, a cafe (same building), a tourist information centre, and a resident population you can count on one hand. What they do have though is lots and lots of hostels, hotels and B&Bs; because the other thing they have in abundance are glowworm caves!
Getting to Waitomo from National Park proved to be a bit of a mission. We had to abandon the Naked Bus, since their inexplicable routing system meant we’d be three days getting there almost, and instead booked the Intercity coach, which only took three hours or so yet proved to be an ordeal in and of itself. It stank, it made us both feel a travel sick, and some mumbly stole our seats during the rest stop and refused to move when we got back on which really made me mad. So all told, I didn’t arrive in Waitomo in a very good mood.
Actually, we didn’t even arrive in Waitomo. We arrived in Otorohanga, the town nearest Waitomo, and had to get a shuttle to our final destination. Here is where our luck changed a little at least. Our driver, Bill, was this lovely old guy who took us on a wee tour of the surrounding area on the way to our hostel, giving us lots of interesting facts along the way at no extra charge (he grew up in Waitomo). I’ll be honest, after the journey we’d had I’d just wanted to get to the hostel, but I’m glad we took him up on his offer (actually, we didn’t really have much choice, lol) as it really lifted my spirits enjoying such a warm and friendly welcome.
Sadly, his business is struggling thanks to the Naked Bus, which drops off at Waitomo itself, thereby removing a large part of his past customer base, so if you’re in Otorohanga and need to get to Waitomo, give Bill of Waitomo Shuttles a call. You won’t regret it. (NB: He even refused to take the tip offered, which still confuses me a little, but so be it. That’s why the big plug here, by way of a thank you for his kindness.)
We’d booked into the YHA in Waitomo, which proved to be nearly 2km outside of the ‘village’. It was also a bit cold and had a strange atmosphere to it. I can’t say it was the most comfortable, but we were there for just two nights, with one thing to do, so it wasn’t too much hassle. Thankfully we’d brought food with us for the duration of our stay, so we didn’t have to walk into Waitomo that day (not that we’d have been able to buy anything if we had).
Anyway, enough of all the ‘travel warnings’, time to get down to business: Glowworms!
Going there I’d originally thought there was just one cave with glowworms in it. Turns out there’s dozens, with as many different operators offers different tours and experiences. There is one big glowworm centre you can go to, which is in Waitomo itself, but a bit of comparison showed it to be expensive for the five minutes you get in the boat, no photos allowed.
We instead opted to go for the twenty minute, take as many photos as you like, offered by Spellbound Glowworm & Cave Tours.
I’ll be honest, one of the deciding factors in choosing this tour is that this is the cave the BBC used when they were shooting one of the Sir David Attenborough Life In The Undergrowth series. As far as I was concerned, any cave good enough for the BBC Wildlife Unit is good enough for me. There is a video on youTube which you can watch, and which I will embed for you to enjoy, but at the end of this post rather than now as I don’t want them showing me up, lol.
Our tour was a twenty minute drive out of town (me, the driver, and seven Germans – including my own sweet Deutsche Frau, lol) on a road that went from tarmac to gravel to a progressively worse mud track, until we were basically on some farm track out into the wilds. We ended up in a hollow, with a small shack off to the side, some lean-to toilets, and two tracks leading from it. Our tour was to take in two caves, the glowworms being in the last one.
The first cave we went into was just a cave really. After all the caves I’ve been in on this trip it wasn’t very impressive. But our guide told us a nice tale of how the cave was found, by this errant cow,
and it was in looking for this cow that the farmer who owned the land (and by extension, the cave below) found his own little ‘cash cow’.
He tried to market it himself, bringing in engineers to build a path for visitors to use, but soon got sick of that and farmed the job out to someone else. Now he’s retired, selling his whole farm except for the cave and the access road, and he’s sitting pretty, collection his percentage and living the dream.
Here’s a few pics from the cave, including some more bones an archaeologist discovered, and a roof stalactite that looks like a penguin.
After we’d been round that cave, and after we’d had a cup of tea and been fascinated by the crazy wee birds in the hollow who liked to leap and jump about chasing flies (I include the following picture as it was so hard to get a clear shot of one of them standing still that I’m quite pleased with how this came out),
it was time for us to get serious! We donned our ‘serious’ caving headgear,
and then we were off!
The first half of our experience was a walk into the cave to a point where the ceiling was quite close to the ground. Here we could see the glowworms up close, and get a few nice shots of these ‘beautiful’ creatures eye to eye.
I’ll leave the explanations of what they’re doing, how they’re do it, and what those dangling lines (snare lines they’re called) to Sir David. Suffice to say that if you’re a mayfly in that cave you should stay away from the pretty pretty lights.
For the last part of our trip we had to jump in a big rubber dinghy for a wee trip down river. That was an experience in itself, as we had our lights off to help our night vision develop, so we had to board by one muted light held by our guide. Far off we could hear the sound of rushing water, and let me tell you, when you don’t know where you’re going, can’t see what’s going on, and don’t know what’s coming next, well it all just adds to the fun. 😀
It takes about twenty minutes for your night vision to be come fully acute after the lights go out, so what started off as a few small lights on the ceiling,
soon became a lot of lights on the ceiling,
eventually becoming a vast array of lights spread out above you that could only be compared to the stars in the sky on a crystal clear night.
It was truly amazing, and my camera doesn’t even do it justice, so I’ll have to borrow a few pics from Spellbound (which they graciously provided for just such a purpose) to show you just what I mean.
By the time our eyes had fully adjusted it was as bright as a moonlit night in that cave, and I for one could have spent hours in there just gazing up at the ‘stars’.
The boat ride went up and down the cave a few times, our guide pulling us along on a rope system they had rigged up, then he pulled it in to the side to steady her a bit so we could take the photos you see above. Then, far too soon, it was time to go.
The trip back seemed quicker than the one on the way there, and soon we were in the local cafe having a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake.
It was a bit of an ordeal getting to Waitomo, but I’m glad we stuck it out and made it there. The caves are a fascinating natural wonder and I’m so very glad I saw them (and had someone’s hand to hold while doing it :)). I thoroughly recommend giving them a go if you’re in the area. You won’t be disappointed.
So, did you figure out which movie the title of the post if from? It’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey. A movie it took me a long time to appreciate, but which I now think is a master work. Something else for you to give a go if you get the chance, and a lot nearer than New Zealand for most of you, lol.
And finally, here’s the Naturalist Sage Sir David Attenborough explaining how a glowworm works. Enjoy! 😀