Our planet is full of beautiful and extreme species and places. It doesn’t matter how much we’ve explored, how much we’ve seen the world, Earth continues to present us with further fascinating discoveries. However, from ancient times we have been mesmerized by creatures such as fireflies that generate their own light and natural structures, so it is not a surprise to see thousands of people from the world are visiting the caves of New Zealand annually to see a location that houses both. Except 2020, of course, it’s a year people resist talking about.
Facts about Waitomo Glowworm Caves
If you are planning to visit New Zealand and you are driven by adventure, it is essential that you visit this place. As one enters this surreal underground cave, one is greeted by stalactites that appear like they are made out of wax. As the cave itself is covered in darkness, a mesmerizing show is presented by glowworms resembling the constellations in the night sky. It is one of the must-visit for nature lovers.
1. Discovery of the Caves: It was discovered in the year 1887, and undoubtedly much of the world was unexplored at the time. So you can imagine the reactions of two individuals, Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and British surveyor Fred Mace the first people who came across this astonishing place and were starstruck by its unparalleled beauty and nature. Upon finding the location, these two visited these caves several times, and shortly afterward it was opened to sightseers for a small fee escorted by Maori Chief Tane Tinorau.
2. Two Layers: When we think of caves, we simply think of a den-like structure. But unlike other places, these comprise of two separate layers, while the bottom part is flooded and is only accessible by boat, the upper layer is dry and houses beautiful rock formations and each of the areas within this layer is given specific names and guided tours ensure to tell visitors about them.
3. Glowworms: These caves got their names because of their residents, glowworms. The illuminating strings that are so attractive are actually larvas of the fungus gnats, an insect that resembles a mosquito, so technically these are not really worms. A chemical known as luciferase is responsible for their light, as these glowworms are bioluminescent and they produce light as this chemical reacts with oxygen and the reason behind this is to attract a mate. These insects are actually carnivores, meaning they eat other smaller insects by setting up mucus traps, however, it is observed that they can go for several weeks without eating. Still, not a worm.
4. Restrictions: Obviously these caves are made naturally over the course of millions of years and underwent many changes during those times and these are national treasures as well. Therefore, it is not a surprise that people are strictly prohibited from touching the interior walls. Additionally, smoking is banned as well for obvious reasons and photography is only limited to certain areas. Overall it is a great initiative to protect such relics.
5. Formation: As these are millions of years old, these caves were not formed on the surface but deep in the ocean. According to experts, the wax-like limestone stalactites are actually the bones and shells of marine life that died and fossilized on the seabed, slowly tuning into rock over the course of millions of years. Then Earth’s tectonic activity pushed New Zealand to the surface and after many years of rain, the area got exposed creating these mesmerizing caves.
6. Close Monitoring: These caves being of such significance are monitored on a daily basis. In this, humidity and temperatures are checked on set intervals, depending on these conditions a set number of visitors are allowed. Along with the main concerns of scientists are the carbon dioxide levels and they are monitored constantly and depending on the circumstances, the airflow is also changed within the caves.
7. Bookings: Though some may have never heard about these caves, these are some of the most popular tourist destinations in the entirety of New Zealand. Mostly it is overbooked and if one thinks to visit these places without booking they might have to return without seeing them. During the summers, these caves are crowded with school children and many tourists even at 9 AM at the opening time for this location.
8. Troglobites: The name given to the inhabitants of the caves, as glowworms are not the only ones that exist here, there are over 70 species living here. Among these are one of the heaviest insects on the planet known as the giant weta and it is endemic to New Zealand. Interestingly, these insects have been around longer than the dinosaurs and they also survived the asteroid, so if you want to ask any questions about the Earth’s history, these are your best option.
Ultimately, it is one of a kind experience and everyone must visit these caves at least once in their lifetime. As for the accommodation, sadly, you cannot live overnight in these caves but many hotels and guesthouses are available nearby that are more than happy to cater to visitors.