Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Famous NZ Glowworms

Day 3 started with a visit to the famous glowworm caves in Waitomo.  They're technically not glowworms, they're a fungus gnat, but glowworms is a much more marketable turn-of-phrase.   Similar to a spider, they create these little webs that act like fishing lines.  They wait until they feel them vibrating from a catch and then pull them up and eat what they caught.  Our guide Ruben smacked the water really loudly with his inner tube and it made all the little strings vibrate so the "glowworms" all lit up a bit brighter (it's an old tour guide trick he said). They are luminescent until they go into their cocoon (about 9 months I think), then once they come out as a fly/gnat they only live for 2 more days.
The glow worms are the blue dots and the blue 'lines' are their
fishing webs - the giant bug you see  is something they caught.  

We did our tour with Tube It, and although I really wasn't sure what to expect I had a great time.  Josh, Sally, Irwan, Mary-Kay, and myself were the only ones on the tour - everyone else chose to stay dry and just do a walking tour inside the cave.  We put on our wet suits, boots, and mining hats and hopped in the van.  I anticipated being driven to the entrance of a cave, but no.  We stopped in a field and our guide led us through a gate and into the pasture.  We're all traipsing through this cow pasture, walking up over a hill and heading towards a small wooded area - we certainly looked like we were inappropriately dressed considering our surroundings.

As we were walking we found out that we were actual on top of the cave system.   There are three caves in the area made accessible for the tourists, but even the parts we visit are only a small portion of the entire cave system.  I believe 85 km of caves and passages have been surveyed so far and we only went through a 1 km section.

We climbed down into the cave and all had a seat and the guide told us to turn the lights off on our helmets.  We sat there in the pitch black talking about the caves and the glowworms for a bit and then he told us to switch our lights back on and off we went.  He told us a bit later that they do that to figure out if anyone is going to freak out later on inside the cave.  He said kids especially turn their lights right back on because they're scared of the dark.  If you can't sit in the dark for 5 minutes you'll never make it through the cave.  We started out walking and eventually got to the point where we needed our small tubes.  At one point we had to climb up this ladder and then he had us turn around, holding our tubes to our behinds, and just sit back - dropping a few feet into the water below.  Not my cup of tea, but thankfully it wasn't a along drop.  Towards the end there was a water slide too so that was a nice end to the tour.  After being in the dark cave for so long the greenery outside the cave when we emerged was quite spectacular with the sun shining through.

On our way to Rotorua we stopped to so Josh, Shirley, and our guide Andy could do the Zorb.  Some of you may have heard of this odd Kiwi invention, it's the "recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside an orb, generally made of transparent plastic."  It was fun to watch, but not enticing enough for me to pay money to experience for myself.

Shortly after settling into our accommodation we headed to Mitai Maori Village for their dinner and cultural show.  We had a quick tour of the  traditional village they had built, showed us the food they'd prepared (an authentic hangi meal that is cooked in the earth oven known as ‘the hangi pit’), and then headed to the cultural show.  On our way there we stopped in the woods and saw the warriors, in traditional dress, traveling down the Wai-O-Whiro Stream as was done many years ago in a 'waka' (ancient war canoe) hand carved by the Mitai family.  In the "auditorium" the family took us back in time to see the ancient Maori customs and traditions that were part of their lives.  The presentation included the retelling of legends, a display of weaponry and combat, an explanation of 'ta moko' (their tattooing - it demonstrates heritage and social standing), and even a poi dance and haka.  It was a fascinating show, but left me wanting to know more.  Andy told me that if I visit the Te Papa museum in Wellington I can learn more about their culture.

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