During our three-year stay in New Zealand, we traveled as much as work and school schedules allowed. One trip took us to the famed Waitomo Caves to see the resident glowworms.
The action of water on limestone formed the Waitomo Caves and, just like our own Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, they have stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling and growing from the floor. The glowworms are the larval stage of a species of gnat. The gnats lay their eggs on the cave ceiling and the eggs hatch into larvae that grow to about two inches in length. The larvae develop long, sticky threads that drape down to catch insects to feed their hearty appetites. The glow of the glowworm attracts prey to its sticky lure. Scientists suggest that the glowworm can turn its light on and off at will.
Glow, Little Glowworms
We purchased our tickets at the kiosk and joined the queue at the entrance to the grotto. We stepped into one of a single-file row of flat-bottomed wooden boats, old and worn, bearing flakes of blue paint from long ago. As soon as all the passengers had taken their seats, the boats moved forward, the drifting pace determined by the river's current. Fred whispered that the Beatles visited here and sang one of their songs in the cave to enjoy the unique acoustics.
In silence, we floated into the dark mouth of the cave. The total darkness felt heavy and thick as if it had substance. As long as no one spoke, we could hear small watery sounds, the occasional dull thud as the boats bumped gently, and a suppressed nervous giggle from time to time. The air had a clean mineral smell, with a faint undertone of sulfur. Floating in black, who knew how much time passed? Too much, I thought. Have we hit the glowworms on a bad day? Are they on a hunger strike?
When our boats entered the grotto, my silly thoughts evaporated. Our heads tipped back, our mouths flew open in a unanimous, "Oooooo." The cave ceiling luminesced with a golden, pulsating radiance. A lacy drapery of light festooned in luxurious swags, forming a canopy that fluttered like feather boas in the breeze – Nature's astounding magic. ###