WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVES, WAIKATO NEW ZEALAND
These caves are most known for the glowworms that inhabit them, Arachnocampa luminosa. The glowworms are endemic to New Zealand, and are around the size of an average mosquito. The walls of the caves are covered with a mushroom like fungi related to the genus Pleurotus. Albino cave ants and weta (giant crickets) also inhabit this cave system.
The limestone from which these caves were carved formed more than 30 million years ago, when most of the New Zealand continent was under water. The limestone contains fossilized corals, sea shells, bryozoans, fish skeletons and other marine organisms. The limestone became exposed when tectonic movement caused it to bend and buckle then rise aboved the sea floor. The rainfall in Waitomo averages 1800-2400mm per year; this rainwater acidifies when combined with dissolved Carbon Dioxide from biological activity in the soil. This acidic water flowed along the fractures in the limestone and slowly ate away at the cavities, enlarging them over millions of years into the cave system we see today. These caves also contain stalactites and stalagmites; formed from water dripping from the ceiling and leaving limestone deposits.
The name Waitomo comes from the Maori words ‘wai’ for water and ‘tomo’ for hole or shaft. The caves were first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace.