“Basically they are cannibalistic shagging glow worms” said our guide with glee, knowing that this perfect description, delivered at least twice a day, landed well with every tourist.
We laughed cause it was funny, but also because we were 80 meters below the surface, sitting in a dark cave, in the middle of a flowing river, wearing very smelly wetsuits- and in that situation you laugh at anything your guide says lest you turn into the example of the “sheep” bone put on display for us at the beginning.
The Waitomo Caves, (in Maori, “Wai” means water, and “Tomo” means hole) are a series of 1000 caves under prime New Zealand farmland. They were unearthed when farmers discovered their sheep had gone missing due to an unhealthy penchant for base jumping.
Inside these caves reside bright blue “glow worms” that light up like LED lights at a Katy Perry concert. Only they aren’t worms at all, they are fungus gnats, the larvae of which glow when hungry. They spend about 6-12 months being larvae, spinning a mucus that hangs down and is used to catch prey. Then they spend 3 days as adult flies, mating as much as possible, or getting caught in the mucus snares and being eaten by the next generation.
In order for us to view this sort of “red light” district for flies, a place they “know they shouldn’t go, but they just can’t help themselves” we abseiled down into the cave, under waterfalls, crawled on our tummies through really tight spaces, scaled pretty vertical walls, wore questionable smelling wetsuits, and generally felt like badasses (you try lifting your leg onto an unreachable slippery rock while in full body Spanx) – all so we could say we viewed some glow worms, which will now be referred to as Cannibalistic Shagging Worms because that sounds the appropriate level of badass.