New Zealand Part 6 – Underground

Our final stop in New Zealand was to visit the Waitomo glow worm caves. The site is a series of limestone caves discovered in the 1880s that are home to millions of glowing bugs, filling the roof of the caverns with tiny, starry lights. This was special enough that we decided to make a special 3-hour drive each way just to visit it (well, that was also partly due to poor planning on our part, but still worth it!).

The main cave is the most famous, and thus the most packed. About 20 of us were shepherded through at a time, stopping to check out a few underground sights – a couple of huge stalactites, some watery pools, and more notably, the cathedral chamber: a section of the caves that have particularly clear and perfect acoustics. I almost broke out in song, but I managed to hold myself back.

Soon it was time to see the glow worms. We were bundled down a set of steps toward a boat dock, where we would take turns being floated through the glowing abyss. Of course, this all took place in the dark, in the quiet, so we wouldn’t disturb the worms and turn off their lights.

Unfortunately, J, being a particularly uncoordinated four-year-old, tripped and scraped her knee about 5 minutes before we headed for the boats. For whatever reason, even the tiniest bit of blood makes her panic beyond control. So of course, there we are, in the dark, in the quiet, packed tightly with a group of strangers, and J is freaking out. We calmed her down enough to get onto the boat, and while we floated along in the dark, experiencing one of life’s beautiful, magical, almost spiritual wonders, a tiny voice spent the whole time whimpering about “something something band-aid.” Sorry, everyone else in the glow worm cave that day.

Luckily we had a second cave to visit, and second time’s a charm. This one came with a personalized 2-hour walking tour. We traveled down into the mouth of the cave, stopping to wash our hands at a rock in a special Maori ritual. The cave started with a walkway of stalactites and special curtain-shaped limestone buildups. Then we dug deeper underground to see some more glow worms. We had a close-up look at them this time. And it turns out they are ugly little suckers. Apparently they’re these rather disgusting maggots that hang on the wall, dangling a bunch of gooey mucus strings from their body in the hopes of catching flies or something. I can’t imagine how many flies these dudes are catching, because, seriously, it’s the middle of a cave in the middle of nowhere, but hey, there must be something for them to eat otherwise they wouldn’t all be there. Anyway, there’s something beautiful about them even though you’re looking at glowing worm colons and snot strings.

Moving along, we came to an area of the cave known as ‘The Pretties’ – so named because it is so darn pretty. It looks exactly the way you think limestone caves should look: beautiful white and yellow spirals hanging from every surface, small springs of clear water dripping musical water droplets onto pyramids of velvety crystals at your feet, dark secret spaces in the back of the walls hiding mysteries. Apparently the Queen (Elizabeth II) was meant to visit some years back but didn’t make it for some reason or another. Her loss!

In the oldest part of the cave, we learned about the history of the site. How a local land owner stood his ground against the government – literally, stood by the entrance with his shotgun until they finally settled the ownership.

That afternoon, we drove back to Auckland for a last night together with my parents before they set off the next day for home (via Hawaii – don’t feel too bad for them!). Unfortunately, we stayed in and ordered room service for dinner and I later stayed up all night with the worst case of food poisoning ever. So that was fun. At least we went out of NZ with a bang. Thanks for all the memories!

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