Waitomo, New Zealand
The glowworm caves I would have to rate as my top New Zealand experience. The caves weren't something I was familiar with and a friend of mine recommended them to me and I'm glad she did!
The glowworm caves are part of the waitomo cave system which includes the Ruakuri cave and the Ananui cave and you can buy tickets to visit all of them from the visitor's centre. I chose to experience just the glowworm caves and had pre bought my ticket on line, the tickets are timed, but you can ask to change times if there are spaces available. I arrived quite early and would have had a long time to wait for the tour I was booked on, I asked for an earlier tour and was moved into one.
The visitors centre has a restaurant and small cafe and I had time for lunch at the restaurant before going on the tour. Once in the cave system you can't take any photos, it's a safety precaution which means people aren't falling off something trying to take a photo! The added bonus is that you're completely immersed in the experience instead of seeing it through the lens of a camera. (I won't lie though, I would have liked to take some photos with the glowworms!)
The tour entrance is in an upper chamber and you go down to the glowworm caves. Our tour guide was both informative and amusing, the caves are quite busy with groups separated by 15 minutes but you don't feel rushed.
The upper caves are 'dry' chambers so you walk around, one large section is called the cathedral and has great acoustics, someone in the group is asked to sing. Descendants of the maori chief who first took an English surveyor into the cave system still have the right to marry in that particular chamber, it's quite a spectacular location for a wedding!
You then progress down to the river level, board a small dingy and float in silence (the glowworms don't like noise) through the most magical environment, these tiny little worm emitting a light, the sides of the caves look like they've been lit by thousands of fairy lights. It was just beautiful and a wonderful experience. Sadly it comes to an end as the boat floats to the entrance of the cave and you disembark and finish the tour.
A tourist boat coming out of the cave system onto the dock.
Once the passengers disembark the boat goes back into the cave.
Tourism in the cave system goes back to the late 1800s. The local Maoris knew about the cave, but didn't go in. An English surveyor, Fred Mace, was taken into the cave system by the local chief, Tane Tinorau in 1887, they came across the glowworms. By 1889 Chief Tinorau and his wife were taking tourists into the caves for a fee. The government took over the caves in 1906 and then in 1989 the land and the caves were returned to the descendants of Chief Tinorau and his wife Huti. The descendants receive a percentage of the caves' revenue and are involved in its management and development. (Did some research!)
The Waitomo River which flows through the caves.
The path back up to the visitor's centre from the cave mouth.
The Waitomo Glowworm caves are now something I would highly recommend to anyone visiting New Zealand. The other caves in the system are a little more 'active' in that you can experience rafting or caving in them. I rather liked the nice sedate stroll and calm boat ride of the glowworm caves! So top marks from me for a wonderful attraction.