Waitomo (‘wai’ meaning water and ‘tomo’ meaning sinkhole or cave) on New Zealand’s North Island is world famous for its sparkly little residents and no we’re not talking about the locals… but the Arachnocampa Luminosa, a tiny glowworm which is found only in New Zealand. It just so happens that thousands of them have decided to call the Waitomo Caves home. The twinkling luminescent light of these magical creatures is a must see on any New Zealand trip. But forget your usual glowworm walking tour and say ‘Kia Ora!’ to an adrenaline fuelled Black Water Rafting adventure.
What’s Black Water Rafting? Like white water rafting but better! You’ll ride subterranean rapids on an inflatable tube, jump off crashing waterfalls, explore an underground cave network and marvel at a glowworm-studded ceiling as you float along in total darkness. This is without a doubt the best way to see the glowworms in Waitomo. Why? We’ll give you three good reasons why…
1. The Guides
Not only were our Black Water Rafting guides Rob & Wayne super friendly from the moment we met them but they were also pretty hilarious which settled any last minute nerves. They were the perfect balance between professional and fun. We were sized up for our wetsuits and waterproof boots, so no need to bring your own, (oh and wear swimwear underneath!) and told on multiple occasions not to pee in them. Nice. We were then given helmets and told to use the explosive dynamite pack on the back in case we got suck (some of us were more gullible than others, aka me.)
We grabbed a rubber tube and the guys took us to a nearby river to have a go at jumping off a jetty. It was higher than it looked but great for practicing before we entered the cave. On our way down to the cave, Rob & Wayne explained exactly what to expect once inside and how to perform an “eel”, a chain-like connection so you wouldn’t lose the others in the group. All we had to do was hold onto their feet!
Rob took loads of photos (by the way you are not going to look good doing this) and Wayne told us the Maori legend of the Ruakuri Cave, how a young Maori found the cave and was attacked by wild dogs just outside the cave entrance. Hence the name ‘rua’ meaning den and ‘kuri’ meaning dog. They helped us master the rapids and jump safely off waterfalls avoiding ‘the human blender‘ along the way. We were also given a delicious chocolate treat, which was a welcomed treat after all that climbing. Our guides were really knowledgeable, supportive and took extra special care of the 78 year old in our group. If he can do it, you can!
2. The Glowworms
The Waitomo Glowworms are part of 120 years of cultural history stemming back to 1887 when they were first discovered by local Maori Chief, Tane Tinorau. Almost 100 years later, the land and cave have been returned to the descendants of the original owners. Many staff employed at the caves today are direct descendants of Chief Tane Tinorau.
The Arachnocampa Luminosa are unique to New Zealand. Their Maori name is ‘titiwai‘ meaning projected over water. The life cycle starts with an egg, which hatches into larva and then pupates into an adult fly. The larva spins a nest out of silk on the ceiling of the cave and then hang down as many as 70 threads of silk (called snares) from their nest. Larvae glow to attract prey into their threads, the prey believe they are outside because the cave covered with larvae can look like a starry sky at night and so become trapped. Still sounding cute?
Trust us, the twinkling luminescent light of each glowworm creates a magical atmosphere that will honestly take your breath away.
3. The GIGANTIC amount of fun you’ll have
OK we struggled with the third “G”, but seriously as cheesy as it sounds it’s a fantastic day out. Like we mentioned earlier we had a 78 year old in our group (along with a 12 year old), so it really is fun for all ages. Oh and it gets better! We need to talk about the GRUB. After being down in a cave for over an hour hot showers, tasty tomato soup and delicious buttery bagels are an absolute delight. You can stuff your face while watching a slideshow of hilarious photos from your Black Water Rafting adventure. An excellent way to round off an action-packed day.