Waitomo is the land of caves.  There’s over 400 in the region with about 12 commercially operating.  Nearly every tour is selling the magic of seeing hundreds of glowworms, but Dan, an avid caver, wants to see the beautiful formations.  We opt for St. Benedict’s cave with Waitomo Adventures.  After abseiling 60m into a narrow limestone shaft we emerge into a cavernous dry cave, with gorgeous stalagmites, stalactites and other formations.  There are old shell fossils and even the bones of a giant extinct bird, called a Moa.  We end our expedition flying fox-style over the delicate formations and struggle not to bump into the creepy wetas (aka giant crickets) that line the walls on our way out.

Photo credit Waitomo Adventures

Lodging is a cheap camp spot down the road called The Farm, which houses horses, cows, pigs, and rabbits.  To avoid another hip-bruised night on our crappy foam sleeping mats, we claim the cozy loft bed in the yard’s converted truck/house.  Here we meet some fellow Americans and young Kiwis, as we drink and suck down Tim Tam slams.

Before leaving Waitomo, we’re still drawn in by the lure of seeing the biggest concentration of glowworms in NZ.  We decide to do a tour with Spellbound, one of the cheapest options at $70 NZ, but simply showcases the glowworms in all of their glowing glory.  At the entrance of the wet cave, our guide points out a freshwater eel – about the size of a large moray!  Soon, we’re inside and it takes several minutes for our eyes to adjust to the light.  Gradually, we start to see more and more glowworms.  We’re guided onto a little rowboat and glide through the darkness, the ceiling lit up like a planetarium of stars.  Only these are glowworms, dangling their silky threads and emitting a greenish blue light to attract the bugs flying up from the water.  With thousands of glowworms surrounding us, there’s actually enough light that you can actually see one another and the contours of the cave.  This is truly a magical experience, and everyone is silent in awe as we cruise back and forth.

Photos by Dan & Natalie

Photo Credit Spellbound Tours