When travelling the world, there are many sites to see, in some places nature creates spectacular views to enjoy, and others it produces wondrous, rare and even frightening animals for us to see and admire. But sometimes the two combine to create the spectacular, and whilst most of these have appeared on our TV screens often enough, the Wildebeest migrations across the spectacular Serengeti for instance, they are more often than not on a scale that makes it difficult to experience the effect fully in person.
However on the North Island of New Zealand in Waitomo is a cave system that, whilst not on the grand scale of the vast migrations on the Serengeti plains, is nevertheless a spectacular blending of animal life and environment that one can see and enjoy to its full, up close and personal.
Waitomo, named after the Maori words for water and hole, forms part of an extensive cave system, but the main attraction is the glow worm cave. Arriving at the visitor center I found a lovely looking wooden structure, a modern construction and design with a striking curved profile, inside there are the usual amenities, a gift shop, exhibition and café along with a theatre that shows a short film presenting the back story to the caves and surrounding land, focussing on the Maori traditions and beliefs that still preside over the area to this day, along with the main characters involved in discovering the caves and promoting the area to the public.
Overall, the visitor center proved a very pleasant place to be, with a nice menu comprising a range of dishes and the wonderful dish of the month to try too. There is a kids menu too, including a very good lunch pack to take on the tour should it be needed. The gift shop offered a selection of branded goods and memorabilia, but more interestingly a selection of work from local New Zealand artists, that’s where I couldn’t resist.
The main attraction, despite the pleasant visitor center, is of course, the glow worm cave itself. The tours offered here are well done, they are very frequent, with a boat leaving every half hour or so, and ours took about three quarters of an hour to complete. There are also options to combine this tour with trips into the other cave complexes within the system, not something we sampled but given the quality of the tour we did take, I would say anyone who’s a fan of caving would be very pleased with the longer journey.
The tour involves a trip through a very large cave, onto the boat and into the glow worm cave itself. A guide gave us a very comprehensive and interesting commentary throughout the tour pointing out things that we would likely otherwise have missed, until we eventually entered the cave itself.
The effect is just stunning, deep underground in a boat the whole place illuminated by glow worms, each one about the size of a mosquito, this species are, as the guide informed us, native to New Zealand and unique, found nowhere else in the world. Everyone sat quietly in the boat as we drifted directly underneath the glow worms themselves, just stunned at the beauty of it all, the blue-white light they emit is very soothing, with a view so good they were close enough to touch at times, it’s an experience of really seeing the wonders of nature for oneself as it happens.