When it is time for vacation and you go online to research ideas, it often happens that small things can make a big difference in choosing your destination.
Take, for instance, the tiny glowworm. The unusual creature is only about the size of a small mosquito. But when gathered in a large group, the glimmering effect the glowworms create can be worth traversing the globe for.
And you likely will have to traverse a large portion of the globe to experience the glow of the glowworm, unless you happen to live Down Under. That’s where the majority of glowworm habitats are located.
The very best place to go glowworm gazing? That’s inside the appropriately-named Glowworm Cave in Waitomo, New Zealand.
The cave is pitch black dark inside — except for the bio-luminescence of hundreds of thousands of glowworms. They appear on the cave’s ceiling like stars in the night sky. Taken together with reflection in the water, floating through the cave in a boat is as close as you are likely to get to traveling by spaceship without leaving the ground.
(The starry-sky effect the glowworms create isn’t a coincidence — its key to their survival. More on that in a bit….)
Adding to allure of the Glowworm Cave is how ancient and, well, primal, the place is. The cave, and its tiny shining inhabitants, have existed almost exactly how you’d find them today for over 30 million years!
For much of the last three centuries, Europeans living in New Zealand have dismissed stories of the Glowworm Cave as Maori myth. So it was until 1948 when the cave was “discovered” by New Zealand explorer Lawson Burrows. He also came to learn that the Glowworm Cave was part an underground system around Waitomo that includes Ruakuri Cave, Aranui Cave and Gardner’s Gut — each of which are worth a visit in their own right.
As for the glowworms, their name is a misnomer. They aren’t worms but fly larvae. And it isn’t their bodies that glow but their waste and snot†. That excrement drips down creating a glowy feeding line (as seen in the last pic, below). Small flies and midges who accidentally fly into the cave are tricked into thinking they are flying around on a cloudless night, get caught in the feeding lines and become the glowworm’s food.
That’s absolutely amazing if you think about it! For 30 million years, in the same cave, tiny growing creatures who have never been above ground have survived by mimicking the look of celestial bodies shining from light years away. If that’s not evidence of the existence of God and/or the beauty of the planet that we live on then it is, at the very least, proof that small things can add up to make one big vacation experience.
† Exploring the caves looses some of its romance if you dwell on this fact too much.
Planning your trip to the Waitomo Glowworm Cave
When: The Glowworm Cave is open 365 days a year.
How: There are multiple ways to visit the caves. The easiest is on a 45 minute boat tour. More time consuming — but cooler — options include rafting and tubing through the caves.
If you go: Dress warmly. It’s chilly in them thar cave even when it’s warm outside.
Family friendly? The boat tours of the caves are great for children. Note that the boats are rather small and the cave is narrow in spots. The Glowwarm Cave is thus not for extreme claustrophobes or landlubbers, though adults are more likely to fall into those groups than kids.
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