After breakfast we discuss plans for the day. Spellbound glow worm cave was made famous by Sir David Attenborough who filmed here in 2005 for one of his natural history documentaries. The company has a reputation for seeing more glow worms in smaller groups than its rivals and appeals to us.
The Spellbound tour begins in just 40 mins, so John has to drive hard to make it in time. Which of course, he does, safely!
The first cave we go in is lovely, but I am sure there are better in the area. We have seen more impressive caves in Europe but, don’t get me wrong, it is a great cave: huge, with cathedral sized spaces and vast numbers of stalactites. It is lovely to be in a group of no more than 12.
Perhaps most interesting is the Moa bird skeleton which was found there. The company has a good reputation for being very friendly and offers us tea and biscuits in between caves! But we’re all excited to be going into see the glow worms. These are ridiculously difficult to photograph and Spellbound offer a service whereby the email you photos to compensate. These are their photos, not mine!
On entry the cave opens up into a huge space. Once we have gone far enough in to stop light entering we are asked to turn off our headlamps on our hard hats. The darkness is total. You cannot see your tour group, you cannot see the hand in front of your own face.
Remember this darkness we are told. Then we look at the three stages of glow worm life. There are the flies, the egg and the larvae which glow. The lava is about the size of a thin matchstick and it is only the bum which glows. A match head of green luminosity. But each lava let’s out 10-30 cm of sticky thread to catch their dinner and you can see flies caught up in the fine curtain of fishing lines above our head. I am fascinated by the sticky curtain, ghastly death trap above us. Once we turn off our torches, the glow worms also turn off their light from this patch of inspection. Apparently they have control of when they will glow and when not. So we become accustomed to the dark and move towards the underground river.
As our dinghy leaves, silently pulled by aerial wire, we become hushed. The light of the glow worm, in their millions, illuminate the ceiling of the cave so we can see its undulations, gradually as we become accustomed to the light, or lack of it, we can make out reflection in the river, the helmets of the rest of the group. It’s incredible how much you can see in this gloom. It’s unbelievable how many glow worms there are. You can see the whole tunnel lit up in front of you and behind. The boat only moves less than 100 meters down the river. Just as well because I can hear a waterfall ahead, but we are all silent in awe.
The rest other day we drive the area in search of other natural wonders. We find:
A natural bridge at Mangapohua. An awesome hunk of rock that had been eroded to permit a river flow beneath it. So enormous that you need stairs built to climb to the first level of the bridge and can only stare at the second, higher level where trees grow in comfort.
A natural tunnel at Ruakuri: demonstrating the power of water! This area feels like a puzzle! As you walk around there are at least two tunnels through which people can pass through rock! Bt there is also a huge underground cave with chambers which tell of the incredible story of how a river bored a tunnel underground and, finding impenetrable rock, turned a corner and continued its route to reappear at another aspect of the mountain.