In 2005, I left a job that was toxic to my soul. This is one of the rules of the Life Bus – under no circumstance is it ever acceptable to stay at a job that nearly pushes you to the brink of insanity. As part of the healing process from this ordeal, I decided to go on a 3 week solo road trip around New Zealand (NZ). One thing to note, I was not a photographer back then, so the only photo I could find to attach to this post is one of Jersey cows meandering on the side of the road. Jersey cows = glow worms.
Lexi had been to NZ a few times to visit an old boyfriend and mentioned the Waitomo Glow Worm caves…sounded interesting to me so I looked into it. Waitomo is about a 3 hour drive South of Auckland and is known for the infamous Glow Worm caves. Visually it looks like something out of the Lord of the Rings – very ‘shire-like’. The tour Lexi took included a repelling component – I happily skipped that part and found an option less terrifying. I booked a tour with the Blackwater Rafting Company and buckled my seatbelt for a pretty cool adventure via the Black Labryinth Tour.
Once my comrades (4 other tourists) and I paid the fees and filled out the necessary legal paperwork, we took a small bus to a shack to gear up. And by that, I mean don some VERY heavy wetsuits with extra padding on the knees, butt and elbows. I made the mistake of not pulling up my wetsuit appropriately and had a saggy crotch for several hours – not recommended. We were also given some very attractive white booties and a hard hat with a headlamp attached.
We then all lined up like ducks, walked across ‘the shire’ in our getups to a mysterious crack in the earth and climbed down into the darkness. Once we were situated in the cave, our guide Nikki tested our ability to handle the adventure – i.e., were we claustrophobic and going to have a panic attack? We were asked to crawl, twist and turn through a VERY small ‘test’ cave – I think we had our photo taken – perhaps to see the potential terror (or not) on our faces.
I am proud to say, we all passed with flying colors and moved on to start the tour. The first thing we saw was a 3 foot eel – it had to have been a plant (at least that is what I told myself). The next 2 to 3 hours were spent swimming, climbing, and tubing through the immense cave system under the earth. The water was about 10 degrees Celsius so it was definitely chilly at times.
After what felt like eternity, we stopped on a large rock and turned off our headlamps – we finally got to see what we came for – the glow-worms – they literally covered the roof of the cave. Contrary to their name, they are not really worms but larvae that grow long, sticky tendrils. Insects get trapped in the tendrils and are subsequently eaten. When the glow-worms are excreting toxins, their light shines from an organ which is the equivalent of a human kidney. The light is what ultimately attracts the insects as they believe it is the light shining at the end of the tunnel and is perhaps, a chance to escape from the cave.
I have to say the caves were cool, but I was 100% ready to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was pretty evident I was a little stressed down under as my wetsuit reeked of B.O. when I stripped it off. All in all, the experience was truly amazing and I am glad I did it. The world we live in is an incredible place with new adventures around every corner in the most unexpected places.
If the thought of crawling down into a crack in the earth makes your skin crawl, then this trip is not for you. I believe they have boat tours that may suit you better and would still be amazing. If you are remotely excited about the thought, jump on the Life Bus and give it a go, you will not be sorry!