Want to see a worm glow?

How can something so gross become so magical? I defy you not to be awed by the beauty of nature. Twinkling like stars on the clearest of nights, this scene is all the more breathtaking when you realise that it’s been created by thousands of tiny living creatures.

New Zealand Glowworm Caves: Waitomo
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves: Photo 2il Org / CC BY 2.0

New Zealand Glowworm Caves

What are Glowworms?

The reality of what you’re looking at is a little less pretty, but fascinating nonetheless. Glowworms aren’t worms at all. In actual fact, they’re the larvae of the fungus gnat, a creature with the unique ability to make light shine out of its bottom. Yes, these maggots leak a blue-green light through the equivalent of their kidney. Outside, you might see them at night, but in the depths of caves the darkness enables you to view this incredible scene at any time of the day. The twinkling, which looks like the glowworms are turning their lights on and off, is caused when they’re disturbed and creep out of sight into the cracks and crevasses within the cave walls and ceilings.

Sign me up! Where do I need to go?

Although there are other creatures who give off a similar light, the glowworm, or Arachnocampa luminosa to give it its proper name, is unique to New Zealand. They’re found throughout the country, preferring to make their home where it’s damp – along river banks, lake shores or in forest undergrowth. It’s no surprise to learn that its Māori name is titiwai, meaning “projected over water”. To see them above ground, you’ll need to book a night tour; guided kayaking, rafting, boat, hiking, or caving trips are all possible.

The holy grail of fungus gnats

The most famous of the New Zealand glowworm caves, however, is found at Waitomo, two hours south of Auckland. The aptly named Glowworm Cave contains a path lined with impressive stalagmites and stalactites leading to a huge cavern. From there, a boat takes visitors along an underground river and into the luminescent world of the glowworm. It’s a 45 minute tour, but one which will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your New Zealand trip.

New Zealand Glowworm Caves: Ruakuri Cave
Ruakuri Cave: Photo Lance Johnson / CC BY-NC 2.0

Part of the same system, St Benedicts Caverns allows you to abseil and take a flying fox through stalagmites and stalactites. Other iconic caving trips include Haggas Honking Holes and Lost World Adventure. You can combine both trips in a Gruesome Twosome Combo, during which participants will abseil down into the dark, ride a zipline and leap off a waterfall into the river to float past the glowworms buoyed up by an inner tube. Why not make it part of your next Antipodean adventure?

New Zealand Glowworm Caves: Lost World Adventure, Waitomo
Lost World Adventure, Waitomo

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About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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