Disclaimer: I have done my best to remember the history about the cave and the Maori Tribe who lived here. This is my interpretation and it may not be fully accurate.
The legend of the Ruakuri Cave or Den of Dogs dates back some 400 or 500 years ago when the Maori people discovered the cave while hunting.
Picture this. You are out hunting. Returning with freshly caught birds for dinner, you proudly head back home. As you pass by a cave some ugly scary looking creatures lunge out at you. You’ve never seen anything like them before. They are growling, snarling, and running after you.
The story goes that while hunting, a warrior passed by the cave opening and some dogs (rather vicious looking ones) came lunging out after him. Afraid for his life, he threw the freshly caught birds to the dogs and ran back to tell the Chief. The unhappy Chief, at losing his supper, sent his men back to kill the dogs.
The dogs became supper and they made a cape for the chief out of the hides. The chief wore this cape and it became a symbol of his strength and ability to win land battles.
The cave being good shelter on journies to and from the ocean and was also a good strategic location where you could launch an attack or see one coming. The cave also became a sacred burial ground for the Maori and is where that chief (Tanetinorau) was buried.
To read more I recommend a file I found dated April 29, 1989.
Click to access Ruakuri_cave_wahi_tapu.pdf
Tours started operating out of this cave back in 1904. The only dry entrance into the cave was the burial ground. Out of respect, the cave was closed in 1988 until it was reopened in 2005 with a brand new entrance.
The wheelchair accessible spiral ramp was carved straight down into the earth. It is lit and descends down to a large stone with dripping water. Here it is suggested that you wash your hands before and after visiting the cave, to wash away any negative energy.
Guided through the formations, you will see “Curtains”, “Cauliflower”, “popcorn” and more. There is even a whale bone that has been discovered. Still under water and with more rock being carved away, perhaps more ancient animal bones will be discovered.
stalactite and cave curtains
Sea Shel embedded in the rock shows how this was once the sea floor.
New stalactite starting to form
During our tour, we came upon this pipe. Oddly located, or so you might think. We were asked to guess what it was for…
You could see daylight, so far away it was merely a dot.
It turns out that the supplies for the new path and the new lights needed a way to get to the workers. You see. The people working here had to swim to work. The only dry entrance was sacred and off limits, so swimming was the only way in or out.
Now, a lot of the new paths are concrete, something you’re not going to send under water. So, they would use this pipe as a delivery system. Dropping the dry concrete down to be mixed up below and used for the construction.
I give credit to the keepers of this cave as they have put so much effort into minimizing the impact people have on its natural state.
Spoiler alert (they weren’t real people)
Waitomo is known well for its glow worms. There is, however, no such thing as a glow worm (other than the toy I had growing up). They are actually fly larva or maggots. Not such an appealing name or thought.
This is the best picture I can muster with the good old iPhone. There are these beautiful little glowing dots like stars on the walls and roof of the cave. The boss of this tour company is known to spend all night trying to photograph these little beauties. It takes a full 30 min exposure to try and capture something of good quality.
Now I’m sorry but I’m gonna wreck the little glow maggots a little further for you.
Yes, they are beautiful and Yes, you should go see them.
The glow is produced by their kidneys as they excrete waste. They have glowing butts.
They actually use this glowing to attract food. As they are maggots and stuck in one place they require food to come to them. They actually make these hanging threads covered in more gross nastiness with neurotoxins mixed in. As the prey gets stuck and shocked, the maggot will vomit on it and suck out the insides that turn to goo.
Yeah, sorry, but I warned you. They are still super cool to see. Just watch your head.
Now back to some lovely cave formations…
This hole in the cave is actually being made from the bottom up. Sorry, I cannot remember what it is called. The picture is of water dripping down onto us.
A rare family picture. Scarlet is sleeping but still made it in!
This is Demi. She was our tour guide and Roland’s new best friend.
Being a little nervous of the dark new world we dragged him into, he was feeling unsure of his surrounding. Naturally, he wanted nothing but to hold mom’s hand. Since I was already wearing Scarlet and the path is narrow, this proved to be doable but awkward.
In steps Demi. She talked to Roland, offered to hold his hand and then won him over with the offer of pushing a button.
With his new best friend, off he went. Happy as a clam, holding her hand and listening to every word she said. He stayed on the path, kept his hands to himself and was the best behaved little man we had ever seen. Demi is now our new best friend too!