Waipu and Waitomo : the kiwis’ magical caves!
New Zealand’s cities are not so interesting to visit but you can spend so many days in the nature enjoying it. It is amazing. The “land of the long white cloud », as it named after its maori’s name « Aotearoa », has so much to offer : mountains, lakes, volcanos, waterfalls, geothermal activity… You will see so many greats landscapes! New Zealand is located at the jonction of tectonic plates which movements created these splendid reliefs. But, sometimes, this is only the emerged surface of the iceberg! Today we go to discover the underground’s secrets of this so far away country. Let’s go to the caves!
There are so many caves all around New Zealand and these are particularly interesting. Indeed, they are full of glowworms. This kind of glowworms named « arachnocampa luminous « can be found only in Australia and New Zealand. Some caves are free and others can only be visited during tours for a fee.
Waipu’s cave in the Northland, free and no-convert
For our first expedition under earth we chose Waipu’s cave in the northland, a bit less than 2 hours drive from Auckland. As this cave is free, it is not accessible in a wheelchair. Anyway I decided to try to go through it with my cane and Franck’s help.
The cave entrance is on the opposite side of a field that we need to cross. Like the last days were rainy, the field is muddy. When I reach the other side I catch sight of the entrance of the cave. The start of the path is quite easy but it becomes though as we have walk further, finding rocks on our way. I try to remove the mud from my shoes to avoid slipping. Let’s go! I stayed focused and everything went fine, even if Franck was a bit afraid about me making him falling. Here we are, at the entrance. First step done.
Equipped with a powerful torchlight, we go forward slowly in the darkness. We are careful because the rocky ground is slippy and uneven. A little river flow in the cave. We need to bypass it walking from a rock to another. Now we are totally in the dark. I have done it! I am so happy. And, moreover, I discovered two littles bright blue dots! I can’t find others but I am really glad : I didn’t think I’d see any in this cave. My first glowworms!
A few meters further we decided to go back. I can’t go further away. I would have to cross the river walking on small and soaked rocks. But it’s not so bad. I went deeper in the cave than I though I was capable of. I wasn’t not sure to be able to enter in the cave. On our way back we cross others persons who seems to be surprise to see me here with my cane!
Ruakuri’s cave : splendide and accessible
Three weeks later, we are in Waitomo. This city, 2h30 far away from Auckland, is famous because of its caves. To be clear, this is the place to be if you want to see glowworms caves. We decided to visit Ruakuri cave as its the only one fully wheelchair accessible.
The cave is huge. We wander it for almost two hours. We are about fifty meters under the ground. In the middle of the visit we can see a very long hole just above our heads. It is 35 meters high. It doesn’t reach the surface but that should happen one day as the trickle of water which is flow into it erodes the rock day after day.
The guide explain to us that the cave was formed by the stratification of many sediment’s layers made of sea minerals. Many cavities and reliefs that we can see results from systemic activity in the area. Our guide shows us proudly the limestone rocks. He seems to be very proud about it because limestone is quite rare in New Zealand. It made me laugh as, for us french people, it is just some deposit we always have to clean from sinks and kettles.
During all the visit we were surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. This is really beautiful. This time I succeed to remember that the stalactites are the ones going down whereas the stalagmites are going up. In the cave we can find them in different sizes and colors : white, beige, pinky. Some are really big which is really impressive when we know that it takes about one century to shape one centimeter cubed!
In some places we can see glowworms. They are thousands maybe millions! It’s crazy! We are under earth and it’s like looking into a starry night. I could stay a long time here just looking at all these little green and blue lights. It’s my first time looking at worms with pleasure! Unfortunately it was really hard to takes some good pictures of it in these conditions to show you.
Before becoming a worm, this animal stay a larva for several months and then isolate itself in a cocoon in order to transform (a bit like a chrysalis for butterflies). Adults live only a few days. Their only goal is to mate to make the specie survive.
In the light we can see a lot of filaments along the cave’s walls. These are larva’s nest. Insects get stuck into these filaments because they are long and viscous and, finally, they are eaten. Moreover, the light produced by the glowworms attract the insects. Small but clever animals!
I really liked this visit. The cave is truly exceptional and I have learned a lot of things. Moving was easy, the place is fully accessible. At any time I was blocked because of an obstacle and, unlike others touristic places, arrangement is well done, in a clever way. I didn’t see less than the others persons. The only negative point is that the shuttle bringing people from the cave’s office to the cave is not wheelchair accessible. However you can always follow the shuttle with your own car and to park at the entrance of the cave.
During the visit we have crossed other tourists’ path who were visiting the cave in a more adventurous way. They were climbing over the walls and jumping from one to another. That seems really fun! I would love to try this if I was able to. There are many different tours offering to be part a such a adventure climbing and rafting. Do not hesitate to try!
You want to travel all around New Zealand? Find many ideas of awesome destinations in north island and south island in my other articles as well as wheelchair accessibility tips.
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