Like nearly every other tourist in Waitomo, this was a quick stop. We had only budgeted half a day in this town: just enough time to see the glowworms, find a campsite, and head out back on the road early in the morning. While I expected the glowworms to be impressive, I figured there wasn’t much else to Waitomo, but in true kiwi fashion, this town surprised me.
A quaint little place, the infrastructure is almost entirely based around the tourism of the ethereal glowworms. It is impossible to pass by tourism materials for New Zealand and not be transfixed by the photographs of these glowing larvae, dangling from delicate silk strings above a reflective pool in a looming cave.
There are several ways to experience glowworms and we ended up opting for the Black Water Rafting experience. A bit pricier then most of our NZ activities, but Pat was only here for a few weeks so it was worth the splurge. I should note that it was amazingly fun and I would willingly fork out the money all over again. Not only do you have a stellar view of the glowworms, but you also get to leap backwards over (admittedly small) waterfalls.
It was our evening in Waitomo, however, that truly made the experience.
Our campsite, on the field of Juno Hall Hostel, was about as adorable as they come. With several pigs roaming freely about the site, and a dog and cat in the main building, we had plenty of animals to befriend. Just behind a wooden fence we also had cows, sheep, and donkeys to keep us company.
As the sun was setting we made our way down in to town, looking to find King Country Brewing Co. When we arrived, there were a few other people enjoying a brew, and the warmth of the indoors as a chill began to set in. The bar tender gave us some fun history of the brewery, cracked a couple jokes, and gave some advice on our travels. We each got a flight of beers, so we could have a chance to sample a bit of everything.
As we made our way back to our campsite, warmed by our pints and a little giggly, we stopped in our tracks. Night had fallen and we could hear the chirping of the crickets and the snorting from some nearby horses, but just out of the corner of our eyes we saw a flicker. We looked at each other in amazement, before getting closer to the bush. There were glowworms! Not in any caves, or deep in the woods, but right there next to the highway. We were transfixed. There little bodies glowed a soft green, barely illuminating the leaves that surrounded them. It was a wonder we didn’t miss them.
It was a very different experience from seeing them in the caves, where there are so many of them, high above you, and you are struck by their majesty. But it was equally as amazing to see them so close, and inspect their movements.
It is no wonder New Zealand so easily played Middle Earth and so often captures the hearts of travellers. What a lovely and magical place.
note: unfortunately there is no way to take photos of the glowworms in the caves, and we had a few too many libations to manage taking any while we were walking home. Google to your heart’s content though, and you will see why they are such a big draw!