Day 7: Ruakuri Glowworm Caves
After another early wake up call and a couple more hours on the bus, we stopped for lunch and then a tour of the famous Ruakuri glowworm caves. Our guide for this particular underground stroll wore a wool cap, fleece jacket, heavy jeans, and flip flops, and spoke with a pleasant Kiwi accent. But he sounded a great deal like a surfer or skydiver or someone who just enjoyed extreme sports in general, and adjectives like excellent and awesome were frequent parts of his speech. Honestly, I liked him almost immediately.
Meaning den of dogs in Maori, the Ruakuri cave is said to have been discovered around 400 to 500 years ago by a local Maori who was out hunting birds. When he came across the cave, he was startled by a pack of wild dogs that were using the entrance as a den. Formed over more than 30 million years, the extensive collection of caves is the result of water seeping into cracks in the limestone and eroding away the massive caverns existing today.
As we followed our guide into the darkness, it took my eyes quite a while to adjust, but as we passed through a short corridor, things slowly started to become more clear, and before long we were descending in wide circles down a unique ramp spiraling into the blackness much like a cork screw.
Overall, we explored the cave for around an hour and saw all sorts of wonderful stalagmites and stalactites ranging in size from downright huge to tiny and remarkably fragile. We also came across an impressive formation that literally looked like a thin curtain of stone, shaped almost as if it was bending with the breeze in gentle curves.
And then, of course, there were the glowworms. While we moved through the darkness, they were hard to miss, sparkling occasionally across the ceiling and walls like tiny, neon streetlights. Arachnocampa luminosa, better known to many as the Waitomo glowworm, is unique to New Zealand and is actually the larval stage of an insect called the fungus gnat. The glowing materials are a combination of waste and other chemicals designed to attract insects that have traveled into the caves along the streams. Around the glowing material, the glowworm hangs thin, sticky strands that are then used to ensnare those drawn to the light. Eventually, we came to a place in the cavern where the glowworms were highly concentrated, only a few feet above a bubbling stream, and with the walkway lights turned off, the patch of insects looked like a night sky filled with bright green stars.
As we headed back toward the entrance, we came across some Black Water Rafters, who were cheering many fleet below us. Dressed in wet suits and headlamps, the enthusiasts float, crawl and occasionally walk through the cave’s maze of rivers and streams while exploring areas of the cavern not included on the walking tour. And to be honest, it looked like quite a lot of fun.
With a few parting shouts and cries of our own, we left the Black Water folks behind, and it wasn’t long before we were climbing the corkscrew ramp and then standing, once again, in the bright New Zealand sunshine.
Night 7: The Langham Hotel in Auckland
Accommodations : The Langham had all of the details right. Truly a luxury hotel, the rooms were simply gorgeous and packed with all sorts of amenities and treats. I particularly enjoyed the large, flat screen television. But the entire hotel, and its staff, was quite impressive.
Dinner: Tonight we enjoyed the Langham’s classy buffet. The spread itself was extraordinary, filled with all kinds of meats, fruits, salad’s, vegetables, and especially deserts. We all ate well at this particular stop. Plus we had a chance to enjoy some of the fabulous Church Road wines from the night before.
After dinner tonight, Craig, Sam, Yosh, and I played a little pool at a pub near the Langham, and then a number of tour goers headed down to the waterfront to check out the nightlife. An impressive array of bright colors, well-dressed club goers and long lines, the waterfront certainly struck me as the place to be on a Saturday night. We all did a lot of dancing and laughing and celebrated our last night together in style.