Had an unbelievable experience floating on a rubber tube through the surreal Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Catch the adventure below and add it to your bucket list!
Wet suit, check.
New Zealand, a country filled with diverse natural beauty is the place to be for volcanoes, glaciation, and yup you guessed it – caves. I embarked on a trip to New Zealand this year with the very intention of unleashing my inner Lord of the Rings fan girl. I was on a “quest”, you know, for the ring. Except this time for glowing worm caves.
This quest took me to Waitomo, North Island to the magical Glowworm Caves. Tiny blue-green lights illuminates across a vast underground cave carved by streams pushing through soft limestone. If you’ve read articles about “Surreal Places to Visit Before You Die”, then you’ll know this destination have always made the lists!
For $100 (early bird special), I booked a 4 hour trip through TumuTumu Toobing with my good friend Rich. The tour that allows you to explore the ins and outs of a Waitomo cave. Here’s the catch…it’s no easy tour. Don’t expect to chill out and enjoy the view in your mom jeans. Because guess what? It’s an all-out adventure.
You’re instructed to bring swimwear, long thick socks, towel & toiletries for a hot shower after. We met up on a Tuesday morning with four other people and our instructor Josh, who took us to a large barn to prep for our worm-filled quest. Your armor for the next few hours consist of a thick wetsuit, red helmet with headlights, rainboots, and a good sense of humor for how ridiculously kickass you’ll look. See below for reference.
Next we marched towards our eventual descent with merriness and not much clue as to what to expect. Really, no clue.
After a short walk in rubbery chic boots we stumbled upon the entry! Now twice as PUMPED to start caving. Our instructor told us we’ll need to go one-by-one. Once you get down there you’ll land on a platform. Follow the rope through the water to a safe landing on the other side. So who wants to go first?
ME, OF COURSE (being a complete showoff). I raised my hand to climb down the ladder of dooooom! Which was honestly a terrible mistake because the moment I landed it was…pitch black.
I immediately switched on my headlight to see a feet or two ahead. OK TJ, maybe be less heroic next time. Finding the rope on the side of the platform I took a few steps out and AH – water. The water was up to my knees and started filling up my shoes. My socks got drenched in an instant and you know wet socks ain’t a thing!
Gripping onto the rope I stumbled through to the other side to a landing where I waited for the others. I suddenly realized it’s only going to get darker, colder, and wetter. See below for my, “what did I get myself into” moment of realization.
The next two hours were wet, exhilarating, and an immersive experience into what the life of Gollum would’ve been like. Limestone is composed of seashells, fish skeletons, fossilized coral and many other marine organisms. As years, and I mean millions of years gone by, these fossilized rocks layer on each other and compress to create the limestone within these caves.
Like most caves with its quirks and perks, the Waitomo caves have stalactites hanging from its ceilings with stalagmites growing from the cave floor. Wait…what? Oh sorry, pointy cones of layered rock formed by limestone deposits in dripping water. Here’s the thing, they only grow one cubic centimeter every 100 years!
Now imagine crawling and swerving through spikey rocks while trying to breathe above water with your bodies submerged in 8 degree water. Because we were all so caught up with swarming through the cave, limited photos were taken with the one not-so-great waterproof camera we had. So ladies and gentlemen I present to you some stock photos from the company website:
Awesome. After 30 or so minute we stumble upon a vast pool of water with rubber tubes stored away in a crevice. Our instructor began handing them out. He said, “Step onto this rock here and hang on. Put the tube to your butt…and jump back!”
BOOOOMF!! That’s the sound of water as your human butt and tube plops onto water and proceeds to float. Needless to say, I and fellow adventurers completed this task with bravery and the utmost swag. It’s finally tubing Waitomo Glowworm Caves time.
To stay in a group, each of us wrapped our legs around another person’s tube. Almost like a human centipede but no, not that gross image you have in your head from the movie. Our lights were turned off as we tubed through the glowworm caves. Tiny lights filled our surroundings and illuminated the way. It was absolutely breathtaking. Here’s a photo from the amazing Joseph Michael via IFS that gets up close and personal with the wonders of glowworm caves.
If you’re wondering what exactly are those tiny blue lights….they’re worm poop. OK, fine I’ll get more scientific here. First a glowworm is the larvae stage of a two-winged insect’s lifecycle. To feed themselves they produce tiny bead-like threads to trap insects. Insects are attracted by the bright, blue light and fly towards them to meet their death! What causes the color is bioluminescence, a reaction between oxygen and chemicals given off by the glowworm.
I am so much more attractive when I’m nerdy.
Alright travel bugs (HAH, get it), thanks for tuning into this post about my adventure rubber tubing through Waitomo Glowworm Caves! While I spilled a lot of beans about it, it’s something you have to experience for yourself to truly grasp the wonders of it all.