Trip started off well. On short flights (such as Canberra to Melbourne) Qantas now provides everyone with iPads for their personal entertainment. Greg registers his astonishment. US based airlines would never do this.
After changing planes in Melbourne we landed in Auckland and had out first photo opportunity- the entrance was decorated with Maori carvings. Right after this, pretty much every inch of available space was covered with advertisements for "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." Come on guys, it's just a movie, get over it.
We only stayed the night in Auckland to recharge out batteries after a day of flying (and cleaning up Immy's near constant vomit sprays). The next morning it was south to Waitomo, the home of world famous glowworm caves. Our Waitomo walking tour guide’s Great-Great-grandfather was one of the first explorers to discover the caves. Her parents were married in the caves. She was clearly born to be a tour guide at the Waitomo Caves. The main open area within the caves is called the cathedral. It’s frequently used for concerts, ceremonies, and other local events.
Glowworms look like tiny, blue Christmas lights. They group together in large clusters throughout the cave ceilings and walls. In total darkness, they are beautiful and a bit mysterious. There is no breeding season, which means the amazing glowworm experience can be had all year round. The total darkness means it's pretty much impossible to take a picture, so as a substitute here's a picture of the four of us in the cave. Pretend you can see glowworms behind us, becuase they totally were.
Now it’s time for some super fun glowworm facts! Enjoy while checking out these sweet pictures of the caves. Spoiler alert- glowworms are not actually worms. They are in fact flies, which means their larvae, aka the glowworm, are maggots. Gross. The glow is actually a chemical reaction caused during digestion that makes their not yet excreted poop glow. Interesting, but I think we preferred the mystery. As our Ruakuri tour guide pointed out, no one would come if they said, “Come see our glowing maggot poop!” Glowworms lay between 120-250 eggs divided up in small clusters throughout the caves. This is necessary because when the eggs begin to hatch about 20 days later, the first larva to hatch eats his surrounding unhatched siblings. Only 5% of the eggs laid will reach adulthood.
After surviving being eaten by his siblings, the larva finds a nice spot on the cave to make his home. He then makes a single, long web strand that hangs down about 4 inches or so. The web is similar to a spider’s web. Insects are attracted to the larva’s glow, become entangled in the web, and are eaten. After about 90 days of happily glowing and eating, the glowworm makes a cocoon and 2 weeks later emerges as an adult. Life as an adult glowworm is much less enjoyable. They have no mouth or stomach, and all will die of starvation within 3-6 days of emerging from their cocoons. Their only purpose as adults is to breed as much as possible. The really unlucky ones become entangled in the webs of the surrounding larvae and are eaten. It’s a rough life.
Waitomo is a Maori word that means water (wai) hole (tomo). Water was clearly very important to the Maori tribes, because heaps of town names start with wai. We took a boat tour on the river that runs through Waitomo Caves to check out the glowworms. Our boat guide told us the first explorers were not too eager to go trekking through the water since large eels used to live in it. Not as many eels live in the water today about which he seemed disappointed.
Imogen slept through most of it (caves are nice and dark, ideal for sleeping), but thought it was pretty cool, nonetheless.
The second cave we went to was called Ruakuri Cave, which is privately owned. Maori law dictates that when you own the land, you own everything from the core of the earth to the heavens above. As a result, most people in this area own caves. Ruakuri is also a Maori word, which means two (rua) dogs (kuri). It was named after two dogs that used to live in this area. A Maori tribe also lived around these caves. One day the dogs ate the chief’s food. Food was scarce at that time, so the chiefs were very angry. As a result, they ate the dogs. Seriously, that’s the story.
The main selling point for this cave, judging by the brochures, is the man-made spiral ramp that takes you down to the cave entrance. This picture really doesn't do it justice, but it was pretty epic.
Our guide was particularly good on the Ruakuri tour. However, she was very strict about the rules. Touching the cave walls or taking photos in the portions marked as off-limits would result in an automatic $10,000 fine for the offender and end of the tour for the entire group. No second chances. We were all very careful to follow the rules. The only rock we were allowed to touch was at the bottom of the ramp. So we did.
We drove to Rotorua after our cave tours, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our private hot tub. It was a great end to the day.