Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: the glow not of worms but of day

with 39 comments

A year and a day ago we visited the Kawiti Caves in Waiomio to make up for something we’d missed on our first New Zealand trip: the famous glowworms. I couldn’t record that sort of glow on a public tour, so I turned my camera loose on what the glow of day revealed outside the caves. Mostly that meant native bush and boulders. (If we extend the scope of “native” to include “boulders,” we can ask whether there’s such a thing as a non-native boulder? I guess a large meteorite qualifies.)

I couldn’t decide which of two prominent rock formations to show, so I’ve included both. At the far right in the second view a few of you may see a pareidolic head akin to New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain, which collapsed in 2003.

What most caught my attention outside the glowworm caves was the old man’s beard lichens (genus Usnea) hanging conspicuously from some of the trees:

Just a month before I came upon this beard lichen in New Zealand, I photographed a species of Usnea an hour east of Austin.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 9, 2018 at 4:38 AM

39 Responses

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  1. Really a rocking place, Steve!


    February 9, 2018 at 5:13 AM

  2. Well, I was sitting stony-faced over my Pebbles cereal this morning, but this post has really made me smile! Killer title,”pareidolic,” and undocumented immigrant meteorites. The non-Spanish moss is actually very attractive and graceful-looking.

    Robert Parker

    February 9, 2018 at 5:45 AM

    • I see that Pebbles cereals go back to 1971. It took another 46 years before I made it to these rocks, and I’ve still never eaten Pebbles cereal. I wouldn’t want to risk getting stony-faced.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2018 at 7:34 AM

      • Just kidding about the cereal, I’ve seen Pebbles, very colorful, but a little too sugary I expect, I’m more of a toast enthusiast.

        Robert Parker

        February 9, 2018 at 7:46 AM

        • Right: too sugary, and colors from the paint factory (as I sometimes put it). Toast’s a lot healthier.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 9, 2018 at 7:58 AM

    • Ha! Pulling up the rear at the end of the day, this comment made me smile!

      That Old Man’s Beard seems so pristine, as if it’s just had a nice shampoo!

      Playamart - Zeebra Designs

      February 9, 2018 at 9:34 PM

      • Entonces, ¡feliz sonrisa! Don’t know about the shampoo, but it does normally rain a lot in New Zealand, even if it didn’t on either of our trips—the better to get around in nature and take pictures.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 9, 2018 at 11:40 PM

        • ¡feliz sonrisa! That is a great phrase/greeting! I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that, but I think I’m about to add that to my vocabulary!

          Playamart - Zeebra Designs

          February 9, 2018 at 11:45 PM

          • I don’t know that anybody really says that (any more than people wish each other happy smile in English). You can start a fad.

            Steve Schwartzman

            February 10, 2018 at 12:00 AM

  3. Impressive lichens. I have only seen the hanging ones in Canada.


    February 9, 2018 at 5:46 AM

    • Now you have one more reason to visit New Zealand—and Texas, for that matter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2018 at 7:35 AM

      • I have plenty of reasons to visit NZ, but the long flight does put me off 😦


        February 9, 2018 at 8:55 AM

        • You recently mentioned Australia, so I’m just being encouraging. It is a long flight to either place, no question. We drove two-and-a-half hours to Houston, then took a long, long non-stop flight to Auckland. I found it hard to sleep in such a small space, and I’m short. One thing you could do is break up your flight with a few days in India or some other place(s) part-way there.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 9, 2018 at 9:10 AM

  4. Do the Waitomo guides still talk about the two worms that sat down to dinner, and one was delighted?

    Robert W. Smith

    February 9, 2018 at 6:52 AM

    • The names are confusing. We went to a glowworm cave in Waiomio, rather than the better-known cave in Waitomo. Both are on the North Island, with Waiomio about as far north of Auckland as Waitomo is south of it. Our guide didn’t tell that delightful story.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2018 at 7:39 AM

  5. Rocks can have such a character and personality. Your photos certainly show that! Thank you.


    February 9, 2018 at 9:33 AM

    • You’re welcome. Rocks can have character, indeed. I also know some characters who have pretty rocky personalities.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2018 at 9:42 AM

  6. Nice photos of the rock formations. There are plenty of those here, but I always enjoy seeing them.


    February 9, 2018 at 9:35 AM

    • I envy you your closeness to lots of rock formations in Montana. I was glad for the chance last year to play with some in New Zealand and the Rockies. Here in Austin they’re harder to come by, and therefore valued when found.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2018 at 9:46 AM

      • Somehow I never tire of seeing them, and they are valuable for the plant and animal life with plenty of crevices and different angles exposed to the sun.


        February 9, 2018 at 9:49 AM

  7. Devouring your NZ posts. Feeling too old and tired for such a long flight again – or I would go immediately.


    February 9, 2018 at 10:04 AM

    • Jude (in a comment above) has the same misgiving. I suggested she break up such a tedious flight by planning a stopover along the way, say in India. You can do it! Don’t let age be an impediment. Aotearoa awaits thee again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2018 at 10:30 AM

      • Thank you for the encouragement! I think my greatest obstacle is old parents – cannot leave them for several weeks. But maybe someday…


        February 9, 2018 at 2:03 PM

  8. The lichen indeed resembles an old man’s beard!


    February 9, 2018 at 6:43 PM

  9. Sometimes when I read the posts of you world travelers, the obstacles that keep me in place feel as substantial (and as painful to run into) as these rocks. On the other hand, I had to laugh when I considered that face peering out from the cliff. I wonder if rocks ever suffer from travel envy? Maybe that’s why the Old Man Of The Mountain collapsed; he tried to hit the road, and it was that wanderlust that finally did him in.


    February 10, 2018 at 7:59 AM

    • Speaking of traveling the world, as couch-travelers we’ve been working our way through 36 half-hour episodes about geology:


      One big lesson from the series is that the great constant in geology is change. When we were schoolkids we learned about the changes wrought during the ice ages, but not a lot more than that. I recall the father of a childhood friend pointing out to us how strange it was that the northeastern bulge of South America fit conveniently into the indented coast of western Africa. That was the first time I remember hearing about the notion of continental drift, but most geologists back then dismissed it. Now it’s geological gospel. Only the slow scale at which most of the changes happens keeps us from feeling geological change more instinctively. One exception, of course, is the sudden changes brought about via earthquakes and volcanoes. Or the collapsing of rock faces on mountains.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 10, 2018 at 8:18 AM

  10. Very cool. I love Usnea! My favorite here is Usnea longissima, which has a central cord. I understand it won’t grow in polluted environments so I always feel I’m in a good place when I see it.
    Love those rocks, too! From the monumental to the minuscule, you cover it all.


    February 11, 2018 at 8:36 PM

    • I can see why an Usnea with the species name longissima would be your favorite, even if you live in a land of lichens. (I just reminded myself that Franz Lehár wrote an operetta with the similar-sounding German name Das Land des Lächelns, meaning The Land of Smiles.)

      I like the alliterative way you put it: “from the monumental to the minuscule.” At home I’ve concentrated mostly on small things because central Texas doesn’t have scenic grandeur. When I visit places like New Zealand and the Canadian Rockies I go for grandeur.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2018 at 9:36 PM

  11. Hey Steve that lichen is amazing! I have never seen anything like it 🙂


    February 14, 2018 at 2:06 AM

    • That sounds like something that needs to be remedied. The next time you have a chance to drive up to Waiomio, I’ll bet this beard lichen will still be festooning some of the trees on the grounds of the glowworm caves. And if you zoom in on the map at


      you’ll see plenty of other places where people have found Usnea in New Zealand. Some are not far from you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 14, 2018 at 6:14 AM

  12. Great shot of a “petrified monster”! 😉


    September 27, 2018 at 11:55 AM

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