The Glow Worms of Waitomo’s Caves

If you ever have the chance to visit New Zealand and get to travel to the area of Waitomo, you need to visit the incredible Ruakuri Caves. This is the location where the glowworms can be found. It is a sight that looks magical in photos, but those who have been there say that a picture online fails in comparison to what the experience is like up close and personal.

Wait, Glow Worms are Real?

Yes, we’re talking about actual living creatures, not the soft and cuddly night light toys that you had as a child. Glow worms are real and they are spectacular to look at. These soft-bodied beetles have luminescent organs in their abdomen. The females are larvlike, wingless and have a much brighter light than the male. They use their bright lights to attract the flying males. The glow worm actually looks similar to a female firefly without wings. Both species are actually part of the same classification known as the Coleoptera.

The glow worm is a yellowish-green worm also commonly known as the railroad worm. The fly larvae produce the blue-green color that glows and creates amazing natural works of art inside the Ruakuri Caves.

About the Ruakuri Cave

The Ruakuri cave is one of the caves that is part of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves attraction in New Zealand. The attraction also includes the Aranui Cave. Both caves feature walls that are covered in glow worms. While many people visit the Ruakuri cave just to see the glow worms, this cave has a lot more to offer the avid traveler. The Ruakuri Cave is the longest underground cave in the Waitomo area. It was discovered by the Maori tribes between 400 and 500 years ago. The name Ruakuri means “den of dogs” and it was given that name because wild dogs were discovered making their home inside the entrance of the cave some 300 years later.

The cave entrance has been used by the Maori as a burial site. It is a sacred area that is now protected with the construction of the spiral drum entrance several feet away. Ruakuri is the only cave in the Southern Hemisphere that is wheelchair-accessible. It is well known for its links to the Maori tribe’s culture as well as its unusual limestone formations.

Some of the most popular features of the cave include Holdens Cavern (named after James Holden who opened the cave to the public), The Drum Passage, The Pretties, and The Ghost Passage along with the glow worms. There are also underground rivers and hidden waterfalls inside.

The cave was first opened to the public in 1904 and closed in 1988 due to a legal and financial dispute. It was reopened for tours in 2005.

The Glow Worms of the Ruakuri Cave

As you go along the guided tour inside the Ruakuri Cave, you start down a long spiral ramp that leads you to the bottom of the cave. Then you are taken to a room that is filled with stalactites and rare limestone formations that have been created over millions of years. Some are covered in a type of coral know by the locals as “popcorn”. The waterfall is only around one and a half meters deep, but it sounds much deeper underground.

The glow worms inside the cave make the Waitomo Caves famous around the world. The walls of the cave are covered in glow worms that provide you with a visually stunning image of tiny lights that mimic a starry night.

The glow worms are the larvae of fungus gnats, however they spend a large percentage of their life in the larval state. They eat insects that make their way into the cave and occasionally when food is scarce they eat one another. The glow worms are found exclusively in New Zealand and are around the same size as an average mosquito.

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves features a modern visitor center entrance that is beautifully designed in wood. There are organized tours available as well as a boat ride tour that takes you on a journey underneath the glowworms. The glowworms of these caves are closely guarded by a Scientific Advisory Group that has access to automated equipment which constantly monitors the air quality, rock and air temperature as well as the humidity to keep the cave in perfect condition for the glowworms to exist.

In a place that should be dark and dead, the Ruakuri Cave is surrounded by life and light, and that is the reason why the ancient Maori tribes thought that there was something very unique and special about this place.