With Rotorua in our rear view window and the sulfur no longer in our nostrils, we were ready for our first real adventure in New Zealand.
The reason for our next location was equally as specific as the last. We drove 2 hours to the town of Waitomo, which is famous for their caves and even more famous for what you see inside of them.
Millions of glow worms are dramatically showcased in the pitch black but can only be seen deep into the water filled caves.
What are glow worms? Below is the not so scientific description.
The glow worms are actually carnivorous maggots that poo a fluorescent blue color to attract the insects they eat. They reside on the ceiling and walls of caves. In the absolute darkness each worm appears like a little blue LED light. If you shine a flashlight on them you can see that they each have a long strand hanging down that works like a spider web to trap the insects attracted to the light.
Okay, back to the town of Waitomo, which means water cave in Maori. This is a one road town with population only measuring in the hundreds. We stayed at the Juno hostel, which was located on the property of a local farmer. It had the pleasant vibe of being in a cabin at summer camp, but unfortunately with wifi quality to match.
In a search for good internet to update the blog we stumbled in to the local bar/cafe/general store with a big free wifi sign. Liz had a cappuccino while I couldn’t resist the advertisement for the beer flight with home made bread and dips combo. It turns out the wifi wasn’t working so we just sat outside, enjoyed our respective vices and the company of the Irish owner.
He gave us a free game of pool before we left and though Liz held her own, I still kicked her butt. Liz drove us to the next town over to pick up dinner to cook. We picked up roadside fruit and some chicken to throw on the grill.
That night a little after 10pm we convinced some of our fellow hostel mates to join us in search of caves and glow worms. We hiked about 15 minutes with a couple head lamps and iPhones to light the way. We learned the next day that there are two caves to access at night and we found the less impressive one. You could get a glimpse of the glow worms for free but it pales in comparison to the experience (and the cost) of our tour.
In summary, the adventure of hiking down a dark trail through the forest and meeting fellow travelers from all over the world was worth the trip. If anybody reading this is attempting to actually see the caves, go straight and not to the right at the fork in the trail. Ignore the sign that says 2 hours, that is an entirely different hike. It should take between 5-7 minutes to walk to either cave from the fork.
The next morning we woke up early for the real reason we came to Waitomo, to go black water rafting. At 8 am we showed up at Black Water Rafting Company for their Black Labyrinth adventure. The tour group of ten zipped up in our wet suits to mitigate the 60 degree cave waters.
Our funny guides gave us a quick training, both to accept the water temperature and our fate of having to to jump backwards off waterfalls. At a nearby river with wooden platforms they yelled 1-2-3 Jump! Cold water engulfs you and we were ready to take on the caves!
The highlights of this 2 hour adventure are intertubing through class one rapids, crawling through cave tunnels (tough if you are claustrophobic) and jumping off waterfalls backwards, all of which is done in the underground darkness with only the light of our headlamps.
The sparkling moment (literally) of the tour was turning off our headlamps which exposes the glow worms in great contrast to the pitch black caves. It was unreal and can only be understood completely by experience.
Our jokester guides made us find our final way out without headlamps and guided only by th glow worms and the slowly appearing natural light as we got closer. It’s a fun game for them and you bump into the walls a bit, but the water is calm so it’s very peaceful.
The sun greeted us with open arms and we peeled off our wet suits to let it dry our chilled bodies. We had hot showers and mediocre bagels and tomato soup waiting our arrival back to base. We learned that not even floating in frigid waters for 2 hours would influence our taste for a good bagel, New York still prevails.
Showered and fed (sort of) we jumped in the car and headed south for the next stop.