New Zealand Diary: Blind Date

A blind date that neither she nor I expected.


Time to Go

After the surreal experience of the most beautiful gorge in New Zealand, my time with Fish&Game in New Zealand was coming to an end. So, I drove towards Auckland with a brief stop at the Blue Springs, which have drastically changed since I have visited them last time. Many new restrictions regarding access, bathing and drone use made it less enjoyable to me. Continuing towards Auckland, I also paid a visit to the stunningly beautiful Wairere waterfall. Then, I visited my host parents in Auckland, who made my stay back in 2015 to the memorable experience that it was.

Having one more night until my departure from New Zealand, I wanted to make the most of the remaining time. Therefore, I opted to try something new.

All I need - camera, outdoor and fishing gear.
All I need – camera, outdoor and fishing gear.

Waipu Caves Northland

To be honest, I have an aversion against caves or being underground in general. This might have to do with my military service where I spent countless days in bunkers or with the fact that I got stuck in one as a kid. Nonetheless, the reward of being able to go into a cave by myself and photograph glow worms as long as I wanted persuaded me to give it a go.

Glow Worm Caves New Zealand

Glow worms are not actually worms but a kind of maggot. They live in dark humid places such as forests and caves, where they attract insects with their distinct blue-greenish light. If an insect or other glow worm comes to close, they get caught in its sticky web and are eaten. This is also the reason they keep a safe distance to one another.

Glow worms can be seen at various places in NZ. Among the most famous ones are the Waitomo caves as well as in Te Anau. However, I undertook a tour in Waitomo and was disappointed by the missing time to photograph these stunning creatures. Although I must admit that I lacked the photographic skills at this point anyhow.

As a result of their glowing and distance between one another, their appeareance in a cave make an awe-inspiring gaze to the human eye. They look as if you were standing under the night sky with hundreds of stars. The difference between stars and glow worms is primarily their cold blue-greenish color, which looks just out of this world.

Regarding photography, another difference is that in contrast to stars, glow worms stand still. This allows to take extreme long exposures without getting (star) trails. These long exposures (4+ minutes) are needed to catch the faint light of these stunning creatures, because they live in truly dark places.

Darkness Falls

Arriving at the Waipu caves in Northland, which is about two hours drive from Auckland, I parked my vehicle amongst five others. It has become a pretty popular spot recently due to Instagram and other social media. I prepared by packing everything as waterproof as possible including myself. You should definitely bring gum boots or other footwear suitable for (cold) water. I entered the cave, which is clearly designated, and darkness fell imediately. In the same wake I opted to not use my torch in order to allow my eyes to adapt and fell into a small hole. Luckily, I did not get hurt. So be careful.

The darkness left me blind for some time
The darkness left me blind for some time

Subsequently, I turned on my red light on the torch in order to see a little more but remain my night vision. I crossed a little creek, then another one and a third time. Was it the same creek?

The cave was almost as quiet as it was dark.

It was quiet apart from the occasional water drops echoing through the vault. The cave was massive. Massively big, windy, and dark. Wet, dripping wet from the walls. Carefully I put one step in front of another on the slippery stone. The cave was almost as quiet as it was dark. There was no light source besides the narrow beam of my torch. Nothing really compares to the darkness in a cave and I have never been in such place all by myself. In the distance, I saw a faint blueish light.

As if there was a night sky in the cave, the glow worms emitted this wonderful greenish-blue light.
As if there was a night sky in the cave, the glow worms emitted this wonderful greenish-blue light.

Pretty Blind Date

Approaching the faint light in front of me, I came around the corner and there it was. The entire roof of the cave was covered with hundreds of glow worms. Struck by this sight, I glanced in awe at this wonder of nature. It was truly mesmerizing:

The Waipu caves in Northland New Zealand with its mesmerizing glow worms
The Waipu caves in Northland New Zealand with its mesmerizing glow worms

When I caught my breath again, I began taking pictures and exploring compositions. This took me more than an hour. Meanwhile, I heard voices of people twice. Yet, both times they apparently turned around at one of the creek crossings.

Finally, a courageous soul attempted the same path as I did. The beam of the torch approached carefully and as soon as it was closer, I greeted. The person replied with a French accent. Given the darkness and the fact that the person’s torch had blinded me, I could not make out the face at all. According to my hearing the voice belonged to a woman. I asked her whether I could take another 4-minute exposure, but it would require us to turn off the torches. She agreed and introduced herself as Sabrina.

There, I was standing in the pitch-black Waipu cave, with someone I had never met before. The only thing we knew from another was the voice. We were total strangers left blind in the dark. We chatted and got along very well. I just thought to myself, this must be what a true blind date would be like. After a while, we continued exploring the cave together. To be honest, I was scared of going any further by myself, so I was glad to have company. Eventually, the way was obstructed so we turned around.

Farewell

We left the cave and were left blind again for another few moments due to the harsh sunlight. It was not until now that I finally saw Sabrina’s face. She is a pretty young woman with a contagious smile. Our meeting was an interesting experience. We got to know someone by voice first, rather than visually. Nowadays we are so focussed on appearance that it made me realize we should give more attention carefully listening. Whereas appearance is outside, only conversations allow access to thoughts.

Ears perceive what the eyes cannot grasp.

Sabrina
Sabrina

While Sabrina continued her journey north, I opted to stay at the Uretiti Campground. I urgently needed to sort and clean things but most of all I wanted to enjoy my very last sunrise of this amazing journey with a sea view.

Last sunrise in New Zealand which drew me into its spell once again
Last sunrise in New Zealand which drew me into its spell once again

2 Responses

  1. Rob Mellors

    Brilliant blog and photos, as ever, Tom. We stayed in a house on Queen Charlotte Sound once that had a ditch outback with glowworms in it which was lovely. But nothing like the cave you went into.

    • Hi Rob
      Thank you very much for your lovely comment, highly appreciated!
      I’ve never seen glow worms in a cave close to the sea, I need to look more carefully next time!
      All the best,
      Tom

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