17 November 2014
Friday night entertainment changes dramatically once you become a parent.
I wondered if they'd reached an all-time low recently when I found myself, along with the kids, on a cold and showery spring night, searching for maggots.
But they weren't just any old maggot: We were hunting a special variety, scientifically known as Arachnocampa luminosa.
They gather in damp, sheltered places where the air is humid and still. Caves therefore, are a favourite hang out.
A group of us had gathered at TECT Park just as the last spikes of sunlight withered away and the wind began to whip up from the south.
TECT park ranger Jarron McInnes was leading our night-time adventure and every so often he would stop the group to give us a bit of outdoor education and fill us in on how the park is expanding to meet its growing popularity.
We were on the Te Rerenga Tunnel Trail which is an easy 3.5km. The track passes through all sorts of terrain from pretty native bush, mature pine trees and a small area of land that has recently been harvested of its pine. It looks a bit like a war zone, but it's only a small part of the walk and as soon as you step into the bush, familiar shapes and smells greet you.
Familiarity didn't last long though - torches were fired up and put to use not long after entering. It was dark now that the sun had disappeared.
Every step was done only with the small beam of torchlight, and we couldn't see more than a metre either way.
When the torch did happen to stray from the path and into the bush, it was easy to see what a pretty walk this would be in the daytime. Lots of ferns, strapping big trees, and a small, rocky stream.
There was no time to ponder the scenery though. We had to keep moving. The night air was chilling and the group was powering over the track - not because we were in a hurry, but because it was the only way to keep warm. There were quite a few young kids on the walk, including mine, and they scurried alongside parents with no complaints. I suspect, being up way past bed-time, in the dark of the bush, kept their little legs going fast.
After a while Jarron instructed the group to gather inside a long tunnel, sit down, turn off torches and close eyes for 10 seconds.
The cool air was heavy with expectation. We all wanted a show from the maggots.
Time for eyes to open up, and the gasps let you know what people think. Above our heads shone a heavy sprinkle of starlight from one end of the long tunnel to the next. It was as if the Milky Way had magically appeared from nowhere.
More commonly known as glow-worms, the creepy-crawlies are not worms at all, but are the larvae of a fly called the fungus gnat.
The Maori name for glow-worms is titiwai, meaning lights reflected in water.
This poetic description is perfect for the tiny shimmering beacons twinkling in the blackness, and our group sat for quite some time marvelling.
The walking track is one of many in the park and is excellent regardless of whether you are doing it by day or night.
The public can do the glow-worm walk by themselves at night. And, far from being an all-time low, the maggot hunt will create special memories for parents and kids.
Walking trails are a tiny part of what makes TECT Park a hub of activity.
The park has been going from strength to strength since the Tauranga City Council and Western Bay of Plenty Council purchased the land 10 years ago. Originally conceived as a place for "noisy sports" such as motor sports and shooting, TECT Park has since developed as a centre for many other activities including horse riding, mountain biking, endurance sports, model flying and remote-control cars.
Many other users include schools using the park to give students opportunities to learn outdoor survival skills. Bear Grylls is a favourite kids TV star and building bivouacs, learning to tie knots, build camp fires, and cook over them, are skills they throw themselves into.
Big plans are in the pipeline for more development and I can see the park as a super-centre of outdoor sports and recreation in the Bay of Plenty.
It's a real asset to the region as the 1650ha is smack-bang between Tauranga and Rotorua.
Parts of this park may glow in the dark, but by day, TECT Park is a shining example of how grass roots sports clubs can work together with local government to create spaces and places for everyone in the community.
Bay of Plenty Times