I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything.
– John Steinbeck
I decided to try an experiment today. I was going to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and doing a triple combo tour:
1) Ruakuri Cave
2) Aranui Cave
3) Waitomo Glow Worm Cave
I didn’t bring my camera.
There is only one reason for this and it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I read a sentence in a book years ago. I can’t even remember what book it was, but the message has stuck with me ever since: “…full of tourists too busy trying to capture the sunset with their cameras to enjoy it.”
It rings true… And this coming from a person prone to nostalgia, afraid she’s gonna forget things, manically saving neatly arranged mementos like she’s anticipating a light Alzheimers at the age of 35. I thought “will it feel different if I don’t actually bring a camera?” “Will I be more in the moment or just annoyed that I can’t take that one photo here and that one photo there?” I often think photographing events has turned into more of a quantity rather than quality sort of thing after we all went digital, so I have tried to point and shoot with more care, to get the GOOD pictures, rather than the 1500 average ones.
These tours did feel a bit different, I didn’t actually think about my camera at all while I was in the caves (to be fair, in the third one you’re not allowed to take pictures anyway so it didn’t make any difference there). Did I feel like I was more present? A bit. I have to admit, there was no earth shattering difference, but I did try to commit sights and smells even more to memory than I usually would. Trying to capture the pictures in my head a bit more…
Of course, I also have to admit: I cheated a bit. Not on purpose though, not at all, it sort of plopped out of me when I started talking to other tourists in the cave. But Sue and Chrystal, who I met on the Ruakuri tour, took a picture with me and promised to e-mail me pictures of the tour, and Lynn & Paddy from Dublin, who I met on the Aranui tour took a few pictures of us together and, upon hearing I didn’t have my own camera, promised they’d e-mail me their pictures.
The best thing to come out of not bringing a camera to the sites turned out to be the great way to meet people. Which, as I keep harping on about, is why I travel in the first place.
Now, as for the caves themselves, I stated on TripAdvisor that I took a triple combo of all three caves in one day. This is easily done and super simple if you have your own car (not hard if you go by tour bus either though, so don’t let that discourage you, they pick up and drop off). I drove behind the tourbus to the first cave, when that tour was done it was a 25 seconds drive to Aranui and then 5 minutes up the road again to the Waitomo Visitor’s Center and Glow Worm Caves.
Our guide, Ann, took us through a door and all we saw was a railing in front of us and a pitch black, big hole. For dramatic effect, she lit the various floors down one by one ending up at the bottom floor with rain droplets hitting a huge rock. It looked a bit like one of those zombie facilities where all kinds of shit has gone wrong in one of those computer games we used to play…
We walked all the way down to the floor of the place, washed out hands in the rain water for tradition’s sake (keeps the worries of the outside world out, according to the Maori. Same handwash is repeated on the way out, to… eh… well… There’s probably a good reason).
We then walked through a tunnel and entered into some truly spectacular caverns. They have put lights in here and there to highlight certain places and go through the basic about glow worms, stalagmites/stalactites, limestone etc etc. The information from the guide is really good, most of it really interesting and the atmosphere down there is… well, it would’ve been magical, but like so many toursity things it gets a bit ruined by kids yelling, doesn’t it. Now, I like kids, but on this particular tour there were a couple of real brats that I just wanted to chuck over the railings and into the river 😛 The guide kept hushing them nicely, but the parents did nothing, thanks for that…
Anyway, the tour was really good, regardless. I managed to get some distance between me and the kids for the latter part of the tour (when I met Sue and Chrystal) and that improved things considerably. We saw glow worms up close and all kinds of limestone formations known to man, fantastic stuff. One thing I have committed to memory is the little pool I quietly dubbed Galadriel’s Mirror (hey, you go with what you know), it was further in than we could go, but when they lit the room up, this perfect, clear little pool of water rested in the inner chamber. Beautiful.
Now, in Aranui there was just the four of us: Lynn, Paddy, myself and Two, our Maori guide. He was extremely knowledgeable and gave a quick run through of the local plantlife on the way up to the cave. Then we entered and a very rare and precious feeling came over me. The feeling when you’re visiting ancient places and there’s NOT a million tourists about. The volume was low, conversation was sparse, but very nice and the atmosphere was perfect. No glow worms in this cave, but limestone formations and some fantastically beautiful spaces.
WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVE
What a perfect ending to the tour day. The tour is relatively short, you go into the cave, see more limestone formations (I felt like I could be a guide myself at this point…) and more fantastic and beautiful stone chambers before the highlight: a boat ride through the tunnel the original explorers came in through.
We filed into a large, white pram and the guide pulls us along via a rope suspended above, which makes the boat ride completely silent. We had kids on this tour too, but they were normally well behaved throughout and on the boat even they went completely silent. The boat ride lasts for 5-10 minutes and no one said a word.
Once you clear the embarkment point you drift into a tunnel full of glow worms. They are all over the ceiling and the bright, fluorescent green contrasted with the black cave roof created a painted ceiling that I would bet rivals the Sistine Chapel (haven’t been there yet, but this was just… mindblowing).
I swear it looked like a monochromed depiction of a heavenly battle, one of the black shapes looked just like an angel, with other characters coming in form the left and right… Words can not describe this.
This is the one tour you don’t actually have to book beforehand (of the three), but if you’re doing just one of them, do this one.
If you want to do more you’re well off with just two (so long as the Glow Worm Caves is one of them), but if you’re very interested and/or like caves a triple combo is a good daytrip and well worth the money.
I found some press photos to make this post a bit better to look at for you, but I’ll make a gallery post as soon as I get the pictures sent from my new aquaintances 😉