Rotorua, New Zealand

It’s true what the Guidebook said: “You will know that you have arrived in Rotorua when you smell the sulfur in the air.” It seems odd that New Zealand’s most popular vacation destination would smell like rotten eggs, but there you have it. It smells like rotten eggs. Once you get used to the smell however, you realize that there is a lot to do. Most of it is centered around the numerous hot springs like are scattered around the area (hence the sulfur smell).

Yesterday and the day before we spent in Waitomo, a small town that exists only to service the tourists who are visiting the real attraction of the area: glow worms. Glow worms are strange creatures that exist in caves and in certain trees in the Waitomo area. They live approximately 9 months and spend 99% of their lives as worms (larvae). The worms drop lines of sticky spittle that the use to catch flying insects. In their butts, they mix poo and some chemical to form a chemical reaction that glows blue. The insects are attracted to this glowing light as they think it is the way out of the cave, and then…

We decided we wanted to see this action up close. So we signed up for “Tumutumu Toobing,” a rafting and caving trip run out of the town. We weren’t entirely sure what this would entail, but assumed if it involved innertubing, it couldn’t be too rough. Right?

After a 15 minute ride through bumpy country roads, we arrived at our destination where we were told to put on a wet suit, a wet jacket, thick rubber boots, and a construction helmet with a miner’s light on it. We then marched through sheep fields in our ridiculous outfits until we arrived at our destination. We then climbed over a rickety walkway and then climbed down a 150 foot shaky painter’s ladder that led us into the a narrow limestone cave. It was at this point that I started to get that, “oh shit, what did I get myself into” feeling. This was the kind of operation that you could never carry off in the litigous USA.

Once in the cave we had to crawl, no, drag ourselves through 1-2 foot passageways. Inside, where the cave ceilings started rising, the water at the bottom (a small stream) started getting deeper and deeper. Soon, we were trudging through ankle deep water, then calf deep, then knee deep, and soon enough it was thigh deep. The cave was beautiful, with huge stalagmites dripping from the ceilings, and our voices echoing. There was only one other couple on our trip, a Canadian couple who went in for “adventure” activities like glacier climbing. Needless to say, they were in the lead.

We got to see some glow worms up close. They are quite disgusting, as they are about 2 inches long and live in a tube made of spittle. Collectively, from a distance, their glowing is very beautiful. And we cruised down part of the underground river on a tube looking at the glowing blue ceiling in total darkness. It was very moving.

We walked some more, climbed some more, swam some more (Cheryl is not a great swimmer, so I was nervous). All told we covered about a mile underground. At that point the guide told us we were halfway. Oh.