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Volcano in the Clouds


Underground River and Glowworms

Such lousy weather! We stayed at Tongariro National Park for two days and still did not see the volcanos. It was cold and rainy and such low cloud cover that the volcanos were not visible. There were three big mountains just a couple of kilometres away and we could not see them. The weather is not expected to improve for another three days, so, reluctantly, we decided to move on without seeing the volcanos. We really wanted to see them but could not wait three more days in the van in the cold and rain. After several days of above 30 degrees, the high temperature yesterday was just 15 degrees C.

Today we drove to Waitomo to see the Glowworm Caves. As this is indoors, or rather underground, it won’t matter if it rains.

When the tour first enters the cave, you will pass through several rooms made of limestone. Some are quite small and others are large. The limestone was formed under the ocean and at some point in time, the area was pushed up above the surface by an earthquake. Limestone is porous and water seeped in through the cracks. Over time the cracks widened and more water entered. Eventually a small river flowed through the limestone. Water always seeks the easiest route and it eventually changed course, leaving the limestone rooms high and dry. The temperature in the cave is a constant 14 degrees Celsius.

Water still seeps into the cave from above and forms stalagmites and stalactites. This is very interesting but not so special. I have toured several other caves that have majestic and strange formations. But the best was yet to come.

After walking through the limestone rooms and going down stairs deeper into the cave we eventually came to the new location of the underground river.

The limestone rooms are lit with electric lights but the lower caves with water in them are in total darkness. We groped our way along a hand rail in the dark and then were assisted into a small boat.

The boatman pulled the boat along hand over hand by using an overhead cable. We were told not to talk and could not see how the boat was propelled. It seems to be drifting. It was kind of eerie.

Then we came to the glowworms. The life cycle of the glowworm has four stages. First it is an egg layed by its mother. It stays in the egg for about 20 days. When it hatches from the egg, it emerges in the larva stage, like a worm. The larva lets out a long, sticky string to trap insects. It is this string that glows in the dark. It is the same type of light used by fireflies in North America but their light stays on 24 hours per day. Insects enter the cave at the places where the water enters and leaves. They find nothing to eat in the cave and look for a way out. They see the light of the glowworm and head to it, thinking it must be a way out. Insects get stuck in the light which is covered in a sticky substance. The glowworm then reels the insect in like a fish on a line. The glowworm lives in this stage for nine months and grows from three millimetres to the size of a matchstick. A group of these glowworms together, with their lines hanging down look like a lovely chandelier. It is really quite pretty.

Not many insects enter the cave. In fact, I did not hear or see a single one. But the glowworms don’t eat much. A single mosquito will feed a glowworm for four days.

After nine months, the glowworm spins a cocoon, much like a caterpillar. Like the caterpillar, inside the cocoon it transforms into something very different. The glowworm is not really a worm but a type of fly. When

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