In New Zealand, the Waitomo caves are illuminated by glow worms

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

The magnificent Waitomo caves in New Zealand are illuminated by a constellation of glowworms: it’s magical!

Deep underground on New Zealand’s North Island, a truly sinuous underground world of limestone caves glows with a magical blue-green light. Although it may seem pure fantasy, these caves are very real. Their dark interiors are alive with glittering colonies of glowworms, also known as arachnocampa luminosa.

This species is endemic to New Zealand and eastern Australia. The larvae are those of a midge. They are bioluminescent, thanks to a biochemical reaction taking place in the tubules of the larvae’s excretory system.

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

The Waitomo caves were made famous by the larvae that populate the walls of the caves, illuminating them in a beautiful way. The Waitomo Caves were discovered in 1887 by local Maori chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace. The walls of the caves are ideal for housing the larvae, which often reside side by side in groups of hundreds, thanks to their moist, sheltered surface.

The worms’ luminescent light helps them attract their food, namely other insects. The first part of the species name, arachnocampa, means « spider worm », and refers to the silken threads the worms use to grasp their prey.

Auckland-based New Zealand photographer Joseph Michael documented the sparkling caves by spending countless hours in the icy underground of the caves, which experts estimate date back around 30 million years.

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

How to visit the Waitomo caves

There are 300 caves in the Waitomo area, not counting those yet to be discovered. The small town of Waitomo is the place to be. Tours depart every half-hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 1 to October 31. From November 1 to March 31, the last tour departs at 5.30pm. Allow 45 minutes for the tour.

Admission is $50 for adults and $23 for children.

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael

Grottes de Waitomo, vers luisants, Nouvelle-Zélande

Photo credit: Joseph Michael