Explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
We’ve all heard the saying, “Getting there is half the fun”. But where exactly is “there”? Our Explore series tells you where to go, how to get there, and what to do when you arrive. Happy travelling!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Hobbit, Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia, Vertical Limit….. It’s a long list of films that chose New Zealand as their shoot location. Must be something to do with the mind-blowing landscape that the country has been blessed with. Among other glories of Nature, New Zealand has a maze of underground cave systems that give more than just seclusion and peace to the spelunker. They give that wow factor.
Take the example of Waitomo Glowworm Caves on the North Island region. Tucked away under rolling farmlands of Waitomo village, the bright blue shining glowworms that dwell in these caves attract tourists and travellers from all over the world. What is great about this place is that it’s not just about going to watch a bunch of fascinating insects on the inside of caves. It’s about how you choose to get in there. Would you take a boat ride or a guided walk? Is it abseiling and ziplining you sign up for or wading and floating through the caves?
A Starry Beginning
This starry affair started in 1887, after Māori Chief Tane Tinorau and an English surveyor, Fred Mace, undertook an extensive exploration of the caves instead of just co-existing with them like their ancestors. Aboard a wooden raft, armed with a candle, they started their journey! As they went on, they stumbled upon stars! But stars in an enclosed cave? Thus bringing to light the unusual phenomena of glow worms. They decided to call the caves Waitomo; (the word Wai means‘water’ and tomo means ‘hole’ in the ethnic Maori language.) After several visits and attempts, they finally uncovered the current upper level entrance and opened the caves to the world in 1889.
What Makes Them Unique
While ‘Glow in the Dark Stars’ may be a thing of the past on our side of the world but in Waitomo, New Zealand they are still very much present. That is, if you ignore the fact, the ‘Glow in the Dark Stars’ are not really stars but worms stuck on a cave’s ceiling! Waitomo has surfaced on the tourist radar due to fly larvae that emit a bluish-green glow. Put them in a dark cave and you have a starry night effect, much like Vincent Van Gough’s famous painting. The psychedelic phenomena creates an illusion of outdoors, thus attracting gullible and unsuspecting prey for the larvae. Interestingly, it is not their bodies that glow, it is their waste and snot. But regardless of what glows, the caves are a sight to behold.
What To See & Do
#1 Get Bedazzled At Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Picture this. 129 years ago, a Maori tribe chief and an English explorer armed with a raft made of flax and with candle sticks held up high venture out into an unknown territory. They didn’t know what lay ahead, but they sailed on and discovered a dark damp cave system with stalagmites, stalactites, and blueish light shining off the ceilings.
This is how the world was introduced to the illuminated caves of Waitomo, decorated with thousands of sparkling larvae and gushing streams. The environment of the cave is suitable for survival of these insects that glow softly to make you feel as if you are surrounded by a galaxy full of stars. Take a guided tour or a boat ride to educate yourself on the science and history behind this shimmering wonder.
#2 Experience Black Water Rafting At Ruakuri Cave
Trust the Kiwis to infuse adventure into everything they do. Just standing among the glowworms in a dark damp cave was not enough. Why not add abseiling, ziplining, waterfall climbing, rafting, and what not to the experience of caving? Waitomo has three main caves, and Ruakuri is one of them where you may embark on one of the most exhilarating journeys ever with a rafting and caving tour.
Your guides will most likely be experienced cave enthusiasts with immense knowledge and an even better sense of humour. In your adrenaline pumped state, the sound of your blood rushing through your veins will be thudding loud, even in the silence of the land below.
#3 Discover The Eccentric Aranui Cave
Exploring a cave is basically getting down into the dark unknown with a head torch and and your head in the game. It’s quite a personal experience for some, while others want to experience the peace and solitude that the comfort of a cave offers. The idea of sharing such an experience with dozens of other tourists on a guided tour might not appeal to everyone.
Aranui Cave to their rescue! Named after a Maori local who discovered it in 1910, this dry cave doesn’t host too many living organisms. It rests in the natural forest reserve, a mere five minute drive away from Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The magnificent stalactites, stalagmites, and incredible stone formations here are ready to invade your senses sans any interruptions. You will also find several ancient Maori folklores in this cave, which is not thronged heavily by tourists.
#4 Visit The Iconic Kiwi House At Otorohanga
Otorohanga, or Kiwiana Town (as it is also known), is the gateway to Waitomo Caves. Here you will find the world-famous Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, which has been home to kiwis since 1971. Various species of the national bird, of other indigenous birds, and reptiles rest here in bliss and entertain visitors. Since kiwis are nocturnal beings, the inside of this place is kept in the dark for you to witness the birds when they feel most active. This rural town also offers a lot of shopping avenues for you to take home some lovely souvenirs.
#5 Witness The Stunning Marokopa Falls
Take a short drive towards the west of Waitomo Caves, and find yourself stumped by the breath-taking Marokopa Falls, said to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand. There are many short trails that you may walk along, including the Marokopa Falls Walk, which takes you through native tawa and nikau forests and onto the viewing platform. It bestows you with mesmerising vistas of the natural beauty around you.
How To Get There
Waitomo Glowworm Caves is located at a driving distance of 136 miles (roughly 219 kms.) from Auckland, 100 miles (roughly 161 kms.) from Rotorua, and 270 miles (roughly 435 kms.) from Wellington.
You have the option of either driving to the caves yourself in a hired car, or signing up for a tour coach that includes sightseeing as well. If you wish to travel independently, you can buy a bus pass and use New Zealand’s extensive bus network.
Best Time To Visit
The summer months between November and April would be an ideal time to visit this place, with the weather being warm and humid. During the other months, while it is fairly mild in temperature on the outside, it can get extremely cold inside the caves.
Click here to explore Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and more of New Zealand’s fascinating treasures with Cox & Kings.