Thirty million years ago, Waitomo was below the sea. Over time, the accumulation of sea creatures which settled on the seabed to form the rock strata of limestone. The limestone is made up purely of fossils and Calcium Carbonate. The Waitomo landscape has been shaped by faulting, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions over the last 24 millions years. The Limestone layers broke and buckled when they were pushed up from the sea floor. Water carved out the caves when it flowed between the cracks that formed between the blocks of limestone. Over time, stalactites and stalagmites began to grow was water dripped from the cave floor, having drained through the earth above.
Local Maori knew of the existance of the Waitomo caves long before Chief Tane Tinorau explored the Waitomo Caves with English surveyor Fred Mace in 1887. The chief and the Fred Mace floated into the cave from the Waitomo river on a flax stem raft using only candles as light. After repeated visits, the due discovered easier access points and discovred some of the more dramatic limestone formations. After government surveyors mapped the caves, they opened to visitors in 1889.
At Waitomo, the stalactites and stalagmites have formed to create highly impressive formations. In the cathedral, there is a fantastic combination of stalactites and stalagmites which have joined to form what appears to be a cathedrals organ. This is one of the most fanatastic limestone decorations in Waitomo. The acoustics of the cathedral are quite magnificent and some of the groups that come through the caves do stop here to sing their national anthem. Apparently, the Vienna , Boys Choir has recorded in the Cathedral of the Waitomo Caves.
When we visited Waitomo, we took the 45-minute tour of the Caves. After the tour of the Caves, we were given access large boat, which was steared along the river by our guide. The first chamber we entered in the boat, is a thrilling and impressive display of many thousand glow worms hang from the cieling with their many strings hanging down emitting light to attract insects. Give the size of the size of the glowworms and the amount of light they emit, there are thousands hanging from the cieling. The Glowworms of Waitomo provide and excellent highlight to the 45 minute tour of the caves. While our trip to the Waitomo Caves was short, this glowworms alone are worth making the visit for.
This 45-minute tour cost us 33NZD per person.
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Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook