We’re back after an epic journey across Oceania. After touring parts of Australia and New Caledonia, some of us went on to the south island of New Zealand. This is a wild land, covered with forests, mountain ranges, and glaciers, which they pronounce as glass-ee-ers.
Base camp for the most popular glacier is in Franz Josef, a town named after the Austrian Emperor by its first European discoverer. And while glaciers are interesting, it was something else we were searching for.
New Zealand is home to a peculiar species of fungus gnat which spends most of its time in the larval form. Imagine a large wooden matchstick, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what they look like. But at night, their heads give off a blue glow.
Most people encounter them in caves, and there are guided tours available in several locations. But after talking to some locals, we learned that we might be able to see some not far from our hotel.
We set out after a hearty meal, and walked a dark forest trail. I encouraged everyone to keep their lights off so that we might have the best chance at seeing something glowing. The path was barely visible, but it was enough light to keep us from wandering into the brush. The woods were nearly silent. There were no crickets or insects, and the only sound was our footsteps and the occasional cry of an unidentified bird.
After about 200 yards, we saw what we were looking for: the woods were alight with what seemed like dim, pale blue Christmas lights. They seemed to cluster under overhangs, such as at the base of a fallen tree. I can only describe the quality of the light as “clean.” The lights didn’t blink, though some of them did fade and grow brighter very slowly. The comparison to stars is probably the closest.
And this brings us to an interesting situation: you likely can’t imagine what I’m describing to you. Photography of these luminous creatures is extremely difficult, and those that exist tend to overstate their brightness. My compadres and I have had an unsharable experience. But this is also good news… you live in a bigger world than your computer can show. No wikipedia entry, video, or oculus rift session can duplicate the experience we had that night. If you want to share, you’ll have to go there.
There are wonders in the world, and you can see them. This is just one of many, but if you ever find yourself in Franz Josef, New Zealand, a walk in the woods could help you realize that some events have to be experienced first hand. All we can do is point the way.