Last weekend I went on my first excursion outside of the Auckland area to a region called as Waitomo. It’s a place with beautiful scenery and much to do and see. I was drawn to this part of New Zealand mainly by the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, a network of underground streams and rock formations home to bio luminescent fly larvae (they produce light and a sticky hanging substance in order to attract insects to eat). I found out about this area while doing my pre-departure research back in the United States, and after learning more about the caves through videos and local tour websites, I was determined to see the glowworms with my own eyes.
I found a few friends who were interested and from there we organized the trip. We left on Saturday morning to drive about three hours down south to a holiday park in Waitomo where we set up a tent and ate a quick lunch at a nearby cafe. The holiday park was very nice, complete with a communal kitchen, bathrooms, a pool and hot tub and nice views of rolling hills and a small forest. After lunch we gathered our things and drove a few minutes down the road to the caves.
There were a few different types of tours to choose from, and we ultimately decided on what the company called the “blackwater rafting” tour. This specific tour was a three hour journey on which visitors float through the cave in inner tubes while looking at the glowworms. At the building near the caves, we all put on thick wet suits, special boots with good traction and helmets equipped with flashlights. Once everybody was fully dressed and ready, the tour guides gave us instructions and safety precautions, after which we hopped into a large van to drive a few minutes to the cave’s entrance.
Going through these caves was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a great time going through the streams and rock formations and admiring the beauty of the area. The height of these caves ranged from about 50 feet tall to about two feet above the water, and there were small waterfalls and pools as well. Part of the adventure included jumping backwards off the rocks at the top of these waterfalls (the tallest one being about six feet); you had to go backwards in order to land in the inner tube correctly.
The glowworms truly were amazing to see. They were concentrated in certain areas of the caves, and when we came across them, everybody turned off their lights so we could see the worms in their full glory. In some parts, there were a few hundred of these creatures, and the greenish-blue light they produced looked like close-up star formations when looking up towards the ceiling of the caves. Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures of the glowworms, as the tour guides explained that the worms are sensitive to light and do not respond well to camera flashes.
The tour ended after what felt like a very short three hours, and we all cleaned up at the onsite showers and had complementary soup and bagels inside the main building. My group of friends then proceeded back to the campsite to swim in the pool for a bit, then we picked up some food from a local supermarket and cooked on the barbecues.
As the sun set and the sky became dark, I noticed how clear the night sky was, and how detailed the stars and Milky Way were. Many parts of New Zealand have little to no light pollution, which allows you to see stars and even the Milky Way very clearly. I hadn’t seen a sky this clear in a long time, being from relatively large urban areas in the United States, so I focused on watching the stars for awhile.
We woke up on Sunday morning eager to explore other attractions in the Waitomo region. After we packed up the tent and cooked some breakfast, we drove west looking for other interesting natural sights. While driving through this area, we saw many hilltop farms and animals, such as cows, sheep and goats.
Later, we came across two incredible sights; the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, and the Marokopa Falls. The bridge is an amazing natural archway that stands about 55 feet above a narrow river cutting through a jungle-like forest. Supposedly there are 25 million year old oyster fossils in the rocks on the side of the arch, but we could not find them as it was hard to know what oysters that old even look like. The Marokopa Falls are spectacular 100-plus foot tall waterfalls following a short walk from the main road. This was easily the biggest and most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen.
After we saw the Marokopa Falls, we decided to trek back to Auckland as we were pretty exhausted at this point. Following a small detour as a result of minimal phone service, we found our way back on the correct road back to the city. We made it back in close to four hours, as the traffic near Auckland can be quite heavy during the time we were driving.
It was a great weekend and a very nice way to start my travels outside of the greater Auckland area. I’m very eager to plan more trips and see more of this extraordinary country.
Jack Barney is a junior studying business management. He is studying at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand for Spring semester 2017.