12/4 I’d Rather Glow

Waitomo to Suspension Bridge

6 K

This morning we go into the GlowWorm Caves. We are stuck for a bit on which tour to do – there are a few more adventure based ones, and a few of the walking interpretive ones. We see Shroomer, Coyote, and Sergio early, and they all have raving reviews for the mid-length adventure option. It is pricey, though, and we aren’t sure how much planning is going to take up our day, so with Prana not wanting to go into the caves, and me wanting to do multiple tours, we compromise and go on the longest walking tour.

The cave itself has some gorgeous unusual formations, which I didn’t really expect. The guides are militant about protecting the cave from being touched; I appreciate this. There are multiple levels to this system, and as we are walking along a suspended walkway, we see a swimming group pass in the flooded tunnel below is. It looks super fun. We begin to see the odd blue glowing spot from the ceiling. Glowworms!! “They are actually glowing maggots,” the guide explains, “but our marketing department refused to let us call it the Glow-Maggot Caves.” She also explains the bizarre life cycle of theses creatures- the maggot is the larvae and lives six to nine months. It has no way to…excrete. The light draws the bugs, which the worm catches with dangling sticky silk threads. It then injects a toxin that liquifies the innards, and sucks them out like a bug-gut smoothie. The processed gut smoothie moves into the tail, which, instead of being excreted, is fissioned into glowing bait to attract fresh bugs. After it’s allotment of months, it spins itself a little cocoon and emerges as a fly. The fly has no mouth, and therefore cannot eat. It has two to three days to go on the lascivious bender of its dreams, and lay some eggs before it starves to death.

How cool is that. I mean, the glow-fission, at least. I would much rather have a glowing abdomen than have to dig catholes in the impossible tangle of vegetation. Not have to pack out toilet paper. I’d never have to worry about headlamp batteries dying. I guess the downside is it would probably draw all the sandflies and mosquitoes to the tent at night, making it difficult to open the zipper without letting them in. And it would probably keep Prana awake.

We enter a cavern with a large concentration of glow worms on the ceiling, and the group gets a few moments with no light of any kind. The glowworms are so bright! It’s like looking at a tiny blue version of the Milky Way, clearly reflected in the water below. It is stunning. I try to capture it with the camera: impossible. The guides allow Prana and I to stay back in the cavern as the rest of the group leaves, so we can take longer with all the lights out to attempt a photo. It still never turns out, but the extra time in the magical room is special enough on its own.

After the cave tour we meet up again with the other two at the general store, which has extremely slim pickings for food, but free WiFi, and plug-ins. We spread out under a shade tree and work on the plan for the next three weeks, yet again. We make calls, check mileage, double check elevation charts, cross check blog opinions. Prana has it all done up in a spreadsheet. All ducks quack yes to the final product.

The rest of the afternoon passes in a hot fog. I sit inside so I can upload photos while the phone charges, but it’s got to be at least 10 degrees hotter than outside, which is hot. I move to a couch from the floor as soon as one is vacated, where the previous occupant has left a bowlful of giant, golden French fries. It would really be a shame to just let perfectly good fries get chucked in the trash, so I text Prana to come in, and we give the fries a much more deserved end.

Rather than stay a second night in Waitomo, we decide to hike 6 k out of town. We leave around 5:00, thinking the heat will have mostly dissipated. I reason we should be relaxing in camp by 7:00 at the latest.

It turns out the heat is still on strong. And the 6 k is not the mindless flat roadwalking I had assumed it to be. The first k beelines straight across the steepest part of a farm, glorifying the cross grain that the fencline cuts through the hills.

The next 2 k are a hack through my favorite bonnie weed. The gorse is so overgrown that I get tangled in it over and over- whichever direction I move in it, the prickles stab right through my clothes. I start to itch, hives raising everywhere a prickle has scraped. Even the insides of my sinuses itch- I fantasize about taking a long stick and digging it far enough into my ear, that I could scratch the inside of my nasal passages with it. I itch so strongly that it is a foreign sensation.

The next 2.5 k are ankle rollers of the sneakiest caliber- long thick grass grown over hoof-pocked rutted tractor tread.

The last half k is not too bad. It’s actually quite nice. A suspension bridge, a nicely graveled flat tread. It’s so nice, we walk it four times- back and forth looking for the water, then looking for camp.

Just past 8:30, we finally start pitching the tents. Dinner is what’s left: peanut butter and granola. Pro tip? Peanut butter does not dissolve in cold reconstituted almond milk. The most raucous cat-birds mewl their cries through the forest.

At least these 6 k are done for tomorrow.

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