Exploring the Waitomo caves is an unmissable experience for anyone visiting New Zealand’s North Island.
One of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions, thousands of people from across the world head to Waitomo each year to view the spectacle. Masses of glowworms inhabit the limestone caverns creating a show of blue lights overhead, a unique experience and one which can only be enjoyed at Waitomo.
The glowworm caves are suitable for the whole family, with child-friendly activities as well as opportunities to go rafting and abseiling.
Given that several elements should be booked ahead, it’s a good idea to plan a trip to Waitomo in advance. Details of the tours and outdoor adventures can be found below in addition to useful information for visitors.
Waitomo glowworm caves are open daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm except for Christmas day and exceptional circumstances, it’s advisable to check before traveling.
Are the Waitomo Caves Worth Visiting?
Considered an important natural attraction and known across the world, Waitomo certainly deserves a place on any New Zealand North Island travel itinerary.
The Arachnocampa Luminosa glowworm is native to New Zealand. For tourists exploring the country, this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness this incredible species.
The caves offer an insight into the history, geology, and biology of the site whilst adventure seekers can take advantage of several outdoor activities and water sports.
How many caves are there at Waitomo?
There are 3 caves at Waitomo, each of which can be accessed on foot.
Depending on how much time sightseers have, they may choose to visit 1, 2 or all 3, each of which has its own unique characteristics.
The Glowworm cave
This is the most well-known of the 3 caves and has been visited by tourists for 130 years.
- What to see: the tallest chamber, called the ‘Cathedral’
- What to do: take a boat ride beneath the glowworm lights
- Tour length: 1 hour
This is the largest of the 3 caverns and is wheelchair accessible.
- What to see: limestone formations and crystal tapestries
- What to do: find out about rock formations
- Tour length: 1.5 hours
Although no glowworms are found here, it is still worth visiting.
- What to see: brown, pink and white stalactites and stalagmites
- What to do: walk around and spot the different formations
- Tour length: 1 hour
Entries can be purchased individually or a combination ticket is available at a discounted rate.
How to Get to the Waitomo Caves from Auckland
The Waitomo caves are located on the North Island of New Zealand, 195 km (121 miles) south of Auckland.
The most convenient way to get there is by car, the journey takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes. Driving in New Zealand may be a different experience to that back home, so foreigners are advised to check regulations and laws before getting behind the wheel.
Alternatively, there are coach companies operating services from Auckland to Waitomo. Buses leave central Auckland daily and the journey takes just around 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Passengers can benefit from the knowledge of the local driver who will offer commentary en route. Most companies offer bus tickets with the option to add a guided tour for an additional fee.
If heading straight from Auckland International Airport, it’s best to hire a private vehicle.
Foreigners are reminded to check NZ visa policy before booking flights to find out whether they require a New Zealand tourist visa or, if arriving from one of the eligible countries, a New Zealand eTA.
Black Water Rafting at The Waitomo Caves
Black water rafting at Waitomo is popular amongst visitors with a sense of adventure. No prior experience is required as expert guides are on hand to instruct and assist.
Although there is no age limit, participants must weigh at least 45kg.
Two rafting tours are on offer, the Black Labyrinth and the Black Abyss.
What to expect on the Black Labyrinth rafting tour
This is the original black rafting tour at the Waitomo Caves and lasts 3 hours including:
- Seeing the glowworms from the rafting tubes
- Maneuvering through fast-flowing water
- Leaping from medium-height waterfalls
What happens on the Black Abyss rafting tour?
Black Abyss is more suited to those with a greater sense of adventure. This tour lasts 5 hours and participants can expect to:
- Abseil into the tunnels
- Zip-wire through the darkness
- Tube underground beneath the glowworms
With a limited number of participants on each tour, it is highly recommended to book in advance in order to guarantee a place.
Nature and Outdoor Activities at The Waitomo Caves
In addition to black water rafting, the Waitomo offers lots of opportunities to discover the surrounding natural environment.
Some of the best outdoor pursuits in the area are:
- Ruakuri bush walk
- Marokopa falls
- Mangapohue natural bridge
- Otorohanga kiwi house
There are also some beautiful beaches and coastal towns close by. Kiritehere beach is best for fossil hunting whilst Kawhia features hot water springs.
What to Wear to Visit The Waitomo Caves
Visitors should select clothing suitable for New Zealand such as hiking boots or other comfortable footwear
A warm jacket is essential. Underground temperatures are 16 to 17ºC (60 to 62 F) regardless of the time of year so even if going during summer, a coat is required.
For those taking part in black water rafting, all the necessary caving equipment, including a headlight, wetsuit, and rubber boots, is provided.
Rafters will need to take swimwear and a towel plus warm clothes to get changed into; the temperature of the water is around 10 to 14 degrees all year round.
Where to Stay Near The Waitomo Caves
With so much to see and do at the site and in the surrounding area, some people may choose to stay nearby for a few days.
There is a holiday park 600 meters away offering a range of camping options, from places to pitch a tent to cabins and comfortable motel units.
A hostel 1 kilometer from the tourist attraction is a great choice for backpackers.
Slightly further away there are a number of hotels, guesthouses, and motels catering to all requirements and budgets.