This Glow Worm-Dotted Cave In New Zealand Is Literally “Avatar” IRL

Woodsprites are taking over underground.

1. Remember that scene from Avatar when hundreds of woodsprites laid on Jake Sully and Neytiri thought this was a sign that he has some sort of mythological importance?

Twentieth Century Fox

2. Well, New Zealand must be where their diety resides. In Waitomo’s Ruakuri caves alone, a colony of woodsprite-like glow worms make the underground look celestial.

3. Photographer Shaun Jeffers dedicated an entire year capturing these glow worms. Spending eight hours at a time in the caves, he said the illumination looks as vibrant in real life as what you can see in the photos.

“It’s quite surreal. Tourists will generally see them as little green lights similar to looking at a really starry sky. But spending hours in the cave, my eyes would adjust to the darkness,” Jeffers told BuzzFeed.

4. Eight hours is a lot of time to spend in a cave in the dark. Jeffers said he occasionally had a companion with him to swap ghost stories with. He also made sure he had Whittaker’s chocolate with him all the time.

5. It’s his most challenging photographic project to date, from abseiling down a 35 metre hole to swimming with eels and setting up in the pitch black, chest-deep in cold water.

Jeffers achieved this shot above with the following settings:

Focal Length - 14mm
ISO - 1600
Aperture - f/2.8
Exposure time - 217 seconds
Noise reduction in camera processing - 217 seconds

“I was further back in the cave so I only stood in waist-deep water. I used a shutter release and stood really still to avoid disturbing the water.”

6. Glow worms aren’t nearly as pretty up-close. They are the larvae of a kind of fly, and the part of them that glows is actually their poo.

Julian Money-Kyrle / Alamy Stock Photo


Jeffers said he hasn’t touched one, “and you probably shouldn’t as you can potentially harm the creatures”.

7. But he can’t help but keep going back to the cave.

“Theres no place quite like it. Being alone in the cave and staring up at the glow worms is an unreal experience.”

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Anna Mendoza is a photo editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
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