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New Zealand - Things to Do and See on the North Island

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Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves on the North Island of New Zealand

Visitors use boats to explore part of the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves on the North Island of New Zealand.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves (c) Linda Garrison
Our 15-hour overnight flight from Los Angeles to Auckland arrived in the early morning. After picking up a rental car at the Auckland Airport, my friend Julie and I headed south, away from Auckland. Since neither of us had ever driven on the left side, we were glad to be leaving the city traffic, preferring to hone our driving skills on more lightly-traveled roads. The countryside was lovely, with very green, rolling hills and many flowering trees. It was the first week of November, which is similar to May in the northern hemisphere, so spring was certainly in bloom everywhere we traveled. I'm not sure that either of us had ever seen such gorgeous farmland. Everything was so green, and we probably saw thousands of sheep and cattle and many baby lambs. We could see high mountains in the distance as we drove south, but our road was just winding and up and down low hills.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

About 3.5 hours and 123 miles (198 km) after leaving the airport, we stopped at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. We bought tickets for the 45-minute tour of the caves, which we had decided would be enough for us since we were very jet lagged. Tours leave about every 30 minutes, so you won't have to wait long. We had originally planned to do the three-hour Black Water Rafting tour through the caves, but were both too tired to brave the (1) change into bathing suit, (2) donning of wet suit, (3) COLD water, and (4) narrow passages with low ceilings in the cave. Energetic adventure travelers should definitely allow time for this tubing tour of the caves, but we really enjoyed our walking/boat ride of the caves. And, we didn't get wet!

There were about 20 in our group, and we walked though the cave for about 30 minutes with a guide. Had to keep going down steps. They had the cave softly lighted, so it was quite lovely, but of course a little eerie too. At one point in the cave, the guide had us peek under a huge rock hanging just about two feet from the floor (had to get down on our knees to look). Thousands of little mono-filament-like lines, each about a foot or so long, were suspended from the rock and glistening in the soft light. It was the glow worms who were fishing with their lines. The glow worms (which are actually larvae) attach themselves to a rock and build this thin line with slimy, sticky secretions. Small bugs get caught in the line (like a web) and the glow worm reels them in and eats them--just like any other fisherman. The guide stressed the need for quiet; evidently the glow worms turn off their bio-luminescence when they are stressed.

The tour ended with the group splitting up into three small boats for the 15-minute boat ride out of the cave. We silently floated through a huge cavern in the cave, our guide standing up in the boat and using a suspended rope to pull us quietly along the route. Soon we left even the soft lights, and we were in complete darkness. We peered up, and there they were high overhead--millions of glowing dots of light. Since it was completely dark, we couldn't see their fishing lines, just the glowing larvae. Looked like the Milky Way, only each light was about the same intensity and size. Julie thought it looked like we were looking through a very dense, large tree on a full moon night. It was quite magical.

After the tour, we left Waitomo and got on an even smaller road for the 2.5-hour drive to Rotorua. A total of 232 miles were driven from Auckland Airport to Rotorua via Waitomo (374 kilometers).

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