|Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001|
Tuesday, June 5, 2001.
After a tough night, we got going around 8am - Richard took a long bath to try and clear his head a bit. It did appear that the worst was over. Unfortunately we didn't get packed up and off to breakfast until after 9am, and the breakfast service at the hotel had closed. We managed to get tea and scones at the other "good" restaurant in Taumanunui - they may have been closed for dinner last night, but they were open for tea that morning. It was time for the last push of long range driving to get back to Auckland.
But before racing back to Auckland, we thought we'd do a bit more touristing and explore the glow worm caves in Waitomo. They were just off the road on the way to Hamilton, well worth a quick stop.
Glow worms are cool creatures - they are the larval form of an insect. The adult flying insects lay eggs in dark caves. When the eggs hatch into larva, the larva hang down sticky tendrils almost like spider silk. They also glow - the hungrier they are, the brighter they glow. The glowing attracts the insects, who fly into the tendrils (its dark, right?) and the larva wind them in and eat them. When they've grown enough, they pupate and emerge a few days later as the adult insects. The adults have a very short lifespan - about two or three days. They just have enough time to mate and lay eggs before dying. The reason for the short lifespan? No mouth parts! They can't eat!
The Waitomo Caves are quite amazing - classic limestone caves, they were discovered in 1883. Within a very few years there were regular tours through the caves, showing off the caves themselves, and the glow worms. There has been some serious conservation efforts in the caves, after all, there's been over a hundred years of tours going through there, I'm sure at some point the caves were a bit worse for wear.
Today they are dimly lit (too much light causes fungus to grow on the limestone), with solid tile flooring and stairways to make it easy to move around. No photographs were allow to be taken inside the caves, presumably to limit light exposure. Also, the glow worms hate light, and flashes would make them stop glowing.
The first part of the tour was walking through the caves. Our tour guide Thomas told us about the history of the caves, how they were formed and how they came to be in this organized tourist state. There were a number of large rooms in the caves, one called the Banquet Room was used as an eating area. Tours through Waitomo Caves before all of the modernization took an entire day, and the first big room was where the guide would start a fire and cook a meal for everyone. The largest room in the caves was a little farther on and is called the Cathedral. Its traditional in caving to name the largest room in the cave system "cathedral", but this room really was very cathedral-like, with columns growing on the sides of the room and quite excellent acoustics. A group ahead of us did a little singing just to prove it.
After exploring the large chambers of the caves we were led to an area known as the Jetty - where we boarded boats. The glow worms actually live in the caves above a river, and the only way to see them is from a boat. Ropes have been strung up along the walls of the caves and the guides pull the boats through the caves and around corners using these ropes.
The main glow worm caves was huge - and very dark. It was hard to tell how high the roof was, at least twenty feet up. It looked like a city at night, with thousands of green glowing dots over the ceiling. Finally we passed throught he glow worm cave and toward the exit.
Thomas told us toward the end of the tour that the primary insect that the glow worms catch is... the adult glow worms. They're the ones constantly flying into the caves to lay more eggs, and they're going to die anyway. Still it seemed pretty cannibalistic.
We considered eating at the caves but it was still a bit early, so putting more road behind us seemed like a smarter idea and besides, we'd had our fill of eating in little shops in the middle of nowhere - we were on the lookout for a nice place to eat.
The next town north from the Waitomo Caves was Otorahanga which had a lovely little cafe in it that served nice pasties and tea. There was also an amazing pair of carved totem-like poles of Maori chiefs.
From Otorahanga we pressed on through Hamilton and eventually on to Manukua, where Totara Lodge is. We arrived ahead of Graeme and Jeanette and took advantage of the time to relax (it was a long drive) and work on the web site.
The evening was spent over drinks, telling stories and eating pizza.
After a most relaxing evening, we went to bed for the last time in New Zealand. The next day we would have some time in Auckland before heading home.