New Zealand: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Submitted by Christina Le Febvre on the 2020 winter session program in New Zealand sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

I learned something particularly interesting this past weekend. We visited the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and did an activity called black water rafting through the caves. After being fitted with wet suits, our group of 12, including Professor Chajes, loaded into a van. The van took us to a spot where we practiced falling into the water backwards while sitting in inner tubes. We then loaded back into the van and were driven to the entrance of the caves. Our guides gave us three choices for entering the caves: option A, option B, and the mystery option. Naturally, we chose the mystery option and afterwards we were told that was the only actual viable option. Then, we proceeded into the caves.

When in the caves, we saw hundreds of hundred-year-old stalactites that we spent a lot of time ducking under and around while navigating through. We also floated around in our inner tubes through narrow caves and caverns. The most memorable part was when we created a human centipede in the water – attaching ourselves to one another in a long line – in order to be led by our guides through the water without our headlamps on. The reason our headlamps were off was to show us the ceiling covered in thousands of glowworms looking like stars in the night sky. It was breathtaking.

The thing that I learned that was particularly interesting was that the “glowworms” are not actually glowing worms. Rather, they are glowing carnivorous maggots. Calling them glowworms is just a marketing strategy because who would want to sign up to see glowing carnivorous maggots?