We want to bring you closer to a fantastic corner of New Zealand: Waitomo Caves. Known as one of the most magical places in the world, these caves are home to a kind of luminous worm that gives this underground world of volcanic origin a special glow.
The history of the Waitomo caves
The Waitomo Caves are an underground cave system that is located in the southern Waikato region, in the North Island of New Zealand. Its formation depends, to a large extent, on the Waitomo River. Although currently only three kilometers of its galleries and rooms can be visited, almost 10 km² still remain unexplored.
The origin of these caves is due to the strong geological and volcanic activity in the area. Waitomo’s name, of Maori origin, is made up of two words: ‘wai’, which means water, and ‘tome’, which means hole or cavity. These were discovered by a Maori named Ruruka Aranui while he was hunting near the area.
A well kept secret
Despite their discovery, the Maori people preferred to keep them secret until 1887, when Fred Mace, an English surveyor, persuaded Chief Tane Tinorau to let him explore the caves.
The expedition was carried out following the course of the river until they were surprised by the glowworms or luminous worms. This fact, together with the following expeditions that allowed us to discover the spectacular limestone formations, made the Waitomo Caves world famous.
Maps of the caves were drawn over the years. They were finally opened to the public in 1889. A curious fact is that a large part of the personnel employed today in the care of the caves are direct descendants of Chief Tane Tinorau.
Years later other caves were discovered within the underground system. Among them, in addition to the Glowworms Caves, the Ruakuri Cave and the Aranui Cave stand out. The latter is a geological rarity, since it has a large formation of pink stalactites of great beauty.
The glowworms of Waitomo caves
Without a doubt, the greatest tourist attraction of the Waitomo Caves are their glow worms. This type of worm is typical of New Zealand and, although we can find it in other locations, it is in Glowworms Caves where it is easier to enjoy its particular color.
These worms are the larvae of the Arachnocampa luminosa insect , which during its first phase are bioluminescent. These are placed on the walls of the cave in groups that hang from the ceilings. The light created by these organisms is their hunting method, since with it they attract prey so that, finally, they are trapped in their viscous web.
Their brightness intensifies the hungrier they are, to attract even more the attention of their prey. Likewise, for their survival they need strict humidity and temperature conditions. Their supervision and conservation is part of the job of those in charge of the caves.
The worms are only three millimeters in size at birth and grow to a maximum length of five centimeters. These, after passing the larval phase, have the appearance of a large mosquito. Adults of this species of insect are only one day old.
Information of interest to enjoy the visit
The best option if we want to get to the Waitomo Caves is to travel from Auckland. From here, either through a travel agency or on our own, we can get there without major problems using both the bus and any other vehicle. It is important to remember that the entrance fee is around 30 euros and that the visit takes just over half an hour.
The tour is done by boat, from which the guide will comment on curious details and narrate the history of these spectacular caves. We must remember that it is forbidden to take photographs during the visit.
Although the most striking part of the visit is to visit the Glowworms Cave, for that almost fantasy spectacle produced by the light emitted by these worms, we can also visit the rest of the caves. In the Ruakuri Cave we will see a large formation of pink stalagmites and several waterfalls that give the place a unique acoustics.
The visit also includes a walk through the Aranui Cave, which is located within the Ruakuri nature reserve, and which has an impressive collection of stalactites and stalagmites with all kinds of shapes.