With its dramatic topography and landscape made world-famous by the epic high fantasy movies “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (December 2001, 2003 & 2004) and “The Hobbit”, the island country of New Zealand, called the “Paradise of the Pacific”, abounds in natural wonders from spectacular geysers to active volcanoes and mystic fjords to miles of coastlines with sandy beaches.
Natural wonders are always the best wonders. New Zealand’s “Waitomo Glowworm Caves”, located south of Auckland by driving two hours along the lush rolling farmlands, has been a magnet for its locals and overseas visitors for more than a century making it almost everyone’s New Zealand vacation wish-list. Quite impressive is the attraction’s modern visitor centre at the entrance, largely designed in wood with a criss-crossed roof.
“Waitomo”, meaning “water entering a hole in the ground”, is home to awesome underground scenery, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, a labyrinth of limestone caves lit by a galaxy of tiny luminous glowworms and crystal layers accumulating over times as they grow longer and thicker – stalactites hanging down from the cave ceilings and stalagmites growing up from the caves floor. It is believed that the these cave limestone formations occurred when the region was still under the ocean about 30 million years ago.
The Waitomo glowworm species, scientifically named “arachnocampa luminosa” (“arachno” means spider-like, “campa” is larva, and “luminosa” means light-producing), is unique and found exclusively in New Zealand. Like any other insect the glowworm undergoes a life cycle from egg to larva, then to pupa until it becomes an adult. The adult glowworm is around the size of an average mosquito. It is the larval stage in the life cycle of this two-winged creature that gives off and radiates the luminescent light coming from its tail to attract food in the form of other flying insects like moths and flies brought into the caves via the underground river.
The only way to explore the caves and the underground river is though a 45-minute tour with a guide providing informative and entertaining commentary on the caves’ historical and geological significance.
Beginning at the top level of the cave, the tour proceeds along a narrow passage to the deep limestone shaft known as the “Tomo” and the Cathedral cavern, an enclosed area about 18 meters high giving it excellent acoustics. Acclaimed New Zealand’s opera diva Kiri Te Kanawa and a number of famous singers and choirs have performed here.
The tour concludes with a paddled boat ride meandering silently in the dark through the subterranean Waitomo River where the only light comes from these brilliant blue radiating insects that cling beneath the cave ceilings creating a sky of living lights.
Everyone of us is so mesmerized by this quite memorable experience.