June 2024

Caving with the Glow Worms


Well, Kenna done good today. Having been hospitalized only 10 days ago, still not fully recovered, still eating like a bird (and doing other things similarly to birds too), we put Kenna through a lot today. No less than 1) rappelling, 2) caving, 3) rock climbing and 4) black water rafting. Nevermind that it was all through the same 5-hour tour, I must admit I was a little worried that she wasn’t going to make it out. Knowing that she’s been subsisting on less calories than a devout anorexic for the past 10 days, I kept asking, “How you doing?” to her reply of “I’m just really tired.” This is not a good thing when you’re trudging over sharp, wet, water-sharpened limestone rocks, 60m below daylight, and at least a few km (or at least it felt like it) from the nearest pathway to daylight. Not when a small slip from our gum boots could mean a serious wound or broken bone. Anyway, Kenna did admirably well on this little adventure.

Kenna leapt off the ledge of the rappelling like she does it every day, no hesitation whatsoever.

Kenna leapt off the ledge of the rappelling like she does it every day, no hesitation whatsoever.

Let me explain a bit more. We started the day sleeping in again, because, again, we woke up to the beating drum of heavy rain. We just don’t feel like getting out of bed when it’s raining and really cold. After hitting snooze about 14 times, we saw some sun beating down, so that motivated us to get up and see it. We’re a short walk from town, as I found out last night. Aside: I had a bit of a spaz last night because Kenna wanted to go to bed at 9pm because she wasn’t feeling well, we hadn’t done anything all day except do laundry and sit in the van waiting for it to dry on our spider-web clothesline we made inside Happy Diwali. I was going stir-crazy, so I decided to go for an angry walk, and ended up finding the town not too far away, and I found a bumpin little bar. I came back to tell Kenna where I was headed and went back to hang out at the bumpin bar by myself. Nobody talked to me, but I had fun hanging out with a beer, listening to the live band. I felt much better after a token amount of human contact.

Climbing through a claustrophobic hole.

Climbing through a claustrophobic hole.

Back to the story at hand. We walked to the town and bought groceries, then went on the glow worm tour. It began with a 100-ft open-air rappel, then we hiked up the cave, against the current, in 2 ft of water, carrying inner tubes. There lie the glow worms! Glow worm flies apparently fly into the caves and lay their eggs on the roof, which hatch into little worms. Their tails are bioluminescent, so they glow a pretty turquoise blue, which is meant to attract insects to them like a lamp. Just like spiders, they can produce silk, and they drop “fishing lines” down from the top of caves so that the light-attracted insects get stuck to them, which they can then eat. They remain in the larval worm stage for 9 months, after which they have 2-5 days to, as our guide put it, “have as much sex as possible”. The males die of exhaustion, which isn’t a bad way to go, while the females lay their eggs and restart the cycle. With the lights turned off inside the cave, looking at the top looks like looking at the stars. It was quite remarkable. Our guide then slapped the water with his tube to make a really loud bang, which scared the shit out of us, but also made the worms a lot brighter. We assumed that the worms somehow reacted to the lound sound or the vibration, but the guide said it was our fight-or-flight response of getting the shit scared out of us that dilates the pupils. The worms were so bright that at one point during the tour, the guide told us to turn off our lights and follow the glow worms down the cave.

After the hike, we black-water rafted down the stream. It was pretty weak rapids, but in the dark, do you really want a level 4 or 5? After rafting through the caves for a while, we came to the end, where apparently we were the furthest any group could go. After that was a 7m waterfall, and then after that, an underground stream (a “sump”) where you wouldn’t surface again for 15 mins. The current at this point was really strong and it would be easy to get swept away in the current, so for that reason, not many groups made it down here, but our guide felt we could make it since we were so fast and strong (I think he was just saying that). So, having reached the end, we climbed up on some rocks and were sitting, resting and admiring that we had just rafted down a long cave, and admiring the glow worms. The guide asked us “is anybody cold?” and Kenna replied “Yeah, my hands are kind of cold.” And he said “I think we can fix that” and brought out a thermos of hot juice and chocolate. So there we were, 60m underground, sitting on a ledge a few meters from a waterfall and certain death, drinking hot juice and chocolate, and it was a moment to behold. (Actually Kenna’s telling me to write this. It was cool, but not “a moment”.)

I have no idea why I'm spazzing here.  I may have just jumped into the water, or going through a waterfall, not sure.  Must have been something important.

I have no idea why I'm spazzing here. I may have just jumped into the water, or going through a waterfall, not sure. Must have been something important.

Finally, we had to return up the cave, but hiking up rapids is darn near impossible, so we had to hike up through the caves, in really small, technically challenging holes and passageways, all the way back to where we came. This is where I became concerned about Kenna, since these passageways were all carved out of limestone and some had deep crevices or sharp steps. One careless step and you were either tumbling through rock into the water in the best case scenario, or split in two over a sharp rock. I guess they only had one broken leg down there in 15 years, so maybe I was over-concerned, but Kenna did really well.

Then we rock climbed back out of the cave. It was a great time, I highly recommend that company to anybody following our footsteps.

Well, it’s 9:30pm, and Kenna’s in bed. Our guide on this tour mentioned a really beautiful hike called Tongarira Crossing, and we’re going to do that tomorrow. It’s 17km up a mountain over 8 hours, so we’ll see how it compares to black-water rafting. Maybe we’ll be in bed by 7pm tomorrow, who knows.

1 comment to Caving with the Glow Worms

  • Cheryl

    Kenna is fond of saying that I am “a tank” and “a mule.” Whatevah, Kenna. YOU are a tank. Rapelling, rafting, caving, and rock climbing, and then a 17 km hike tomorrow while you can still barely eat? Jesus Christ!

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