Waitomo Glow-Worm Caves
Located in the southern Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island, the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves are 12 km northwest of Te Kuiti and about 2 hours south of Auckland, an hour south of Hamilton and 2 hours west of Rotorua by car. The local caves are made of limestone and hidden beneath the countryside. Apart from glow-worms you may also see stalactites, stalagmites, cave coral, fossilised oysters, and whalebones.
Despite local Maori people knowing the existence of this beautiful network of caves it was not until 1887 when a local Maori chief Tane Tinorau and an English surveyor called Fred Mace first decided to explore the cave network in greater depth. It was quite an adventure and voyage into the unknown and with only candlelight they ventured into the cave where the stream flows underground. Upon entering the gave they witnessed the beauty of the Glow-worm Grotto with thousands of twinkling lights which of course are the Glow-worms themselves. Tane Tinorau opened the cave to tourists in 1889 with his wife Huti. Although the government took over the running of the cave in 1906, in 1989 the land and the cave were returned to the ancestors of Tane Tinorau and his wife with many still working there today.
Ruakuri cave has a turbulent history and since being discovered over 400 years ago it has been a popular tourist attraction. However, in the 1980s it was closed due to a land dispute. Opening again in 2005 after a £4m redevelopment the ‘den of dogs’ as it is known began to draw back in tourists and adventure seekers. The Ruakuri cave is known as the ‘den of dogs’ from a Maori legend. Around 400-500 years ago when a young Maori warrior first entered the cave, spearing birds for food, a pack of wild dogs inhabited the entrance to the cave. It was subsequently named Ruakuri (‘rua’ meaning den and ‘kuri’ meaning dogs). A spiral entrance has been constructed to protect a Maori burial ground (wahi tapu) which is a sacred area at the cave entrance.
Whilst the rest of my tour group had an amazing time Black Water Rafting, I had a free tour of the Waitomo Glow-worm cave included in my tour. Whilst everyone was enjoying their crazy caving adventures my tour was a bit underwhelming, but it was free. First if all there were what felt like a thousand people on my little tour and people were quite noisy as they talked over the tour guide almost the whole way round. I shushed them a few times. The cave was very commercialised and touristy. I thought it was funny when the guide switched on the lights in the cave and light from spotlights illuminated the cave. The glow worms looked like clusters of stars, so they were beautiful, but you were not allowed to take photos just in case you harmed them! When we were all rounded up in the ‘cathedral’ cave the guide decided to sing an operatic Maori song to highlight the acoustics of the cave. At first it was quite random but as I looked up at the glow worms (the lights had been turned off), the combination of her lovely voice and the glow worm stars was actually quite beautiful! The next random part of the tour was to look at the strings coming from the glow worms. She switched on the lights again so we could see them! After that it was the boat ride. She pleaded for silence again, but people still kept on talking. I had shushed them about three times too! The boat ride was funny too. We all had to be carefully loaded into this rickety wooden boat one by one. The guide pulled us along using a rope which was above her head. I had managed to get on a quiet boat with no noisy people. The glow worms looked amazing but after only five minutes we were out the cave! It was the shortest boat ride ever! Suddenly she said ‘we’re finished. Thanks!’ It was a beautiful tour, but I think I expected it be a bit longer, especially the boat ride and there were far too many people on my tour too. After my tour I checked out the Visitor Centre with its innovative weaved roof design based on a hinake, a Maori eel catcher that was used in the area.
Before departing Waitomo, we enjoyed a half hour bush walk in the Ruakuri reserve. The walk provided us with a great introduction to the abundance of limestone, rock formations, caves and native forest and the river systems in the area. We also had time to marvel at Marokopa Falls which is a beautiful waterfall hidden within the native Tawa and Nikau forest. At 35 metres high the waterfall divides the Marokopa River into two amazing fishing spots which are full of fish including trout. It really was a beautiful walk and an amazing waterfall!