A Complete Visitor’s Guide to the Waitomo’s Glowworm Caves

Waitomo is well-known for a very important factor: worms. And not simply any ol’ worms but glow worms! Each year a large number of travelers come here to start to see the famous glow worms that line the ceilings of the nearby caves.

The interesting thing about the glow worms is that they aren’t really worms at all. They’re actually fly larvae that emit a phosphorescent glow that shines from the within of the caves just like a starry night, smoking cigarettes the ceiling. So, why do they glow if they’re not glow worms? Well, it’s actually their waste and snot that glows. The larvae developed this glow to attract prey to their sticky threads by making the prey believe they’re outdoors. Because the cave ceiling appears like a starry night, the prey will attempt to fly upwards and end up stuck in the larvae strands. The hungry larvae will devour their prey.

While glowing fly larvae might not sound like an incredible activity, as you can plainly see from the photos it’s still incredibly captivating and beautiful.

The caves were discovered in the late 19th century by an area Maori chief. These were opened to the general public shortly thereafter, with local Maori acting as guides. As the caves were bought out by the government for quite some time, these were eventually returned to the Maori. Actually, lots of the present-day workers are descendants of the initial founders of the caves. The Ruakuri cave, specifically, has significant links to the spiritual traditions of the Maori.

Nowadays, over half of a million people go to the caves every year. An enormous industry has generated up to greatly help people go to the Waitomo glow worm caves, with a lot of options available based on what you’re seeking to do. There’s the three-hour black-water tubing trip, the five-hour trip which includes abseiling and climbing, or if you want it easy, a boat through a bigger cave.

My Glow Worm Experience at Waitomo Caves

Getting up early each morning, my group headed out to the cold waters of Ruakuri cave. We wetsuited up and practiced jumping in to the inner tubes we’d ride through the caves. I wasn’t happy that I had to jump off not just one, but two small waterfalls. Even worse, this needed to be done backward therefore i could land in my own tube. The waterfalls are just a meter or two high, but I must say i hate heights. Yet at that time, realizing a wetsuit doesn’t keep you dry but merely wet, I came across something I hated a lot more.

After our practice jump, we, a crowd of 12 wet-suit-wearing, boot-wearing, helmet-wearing backpackers, marched gingerly towards our destination. After a brief walk in the woods, we entered the glow worms’ dominion and received a quick tutorial about how exactly another few hours would go. Sadly, it felt just like the tutorial lasted longer compared to the trip-away from the light, surrounded by darkness and the rushing chill of the water, the hours appeared to go by in minutes. Just as I was adjusting to the knowledge, the finish of the tunnel came and we were topside again.

However the experience among was amazing. After our instructions, we begun to descend in to the cave. We walked through tight openings and tunnels and waded through quick-moving and incredibly cool water. Sometimes the water was ankle deep, other times chest height. Eventually, we found the first milestone: waterfall #1. I met the waterfall with trepidation. My group, knowing my fear, encouraged me to go first, but that wasn’t likely to happen. I went third. My fear was that I’d never jump far enough to clear the rocks. I didn’t jump far enough. As my tube landed in the water, my foot lightly touched underneath rock.

From there, it’s a straightforward cruise through the cave, where above you, you begin to see glow worms like stars in the sky. They seemed limitless in number. It reminded me of my childhood when I used to place those glow-in-the-dark cosmos stickers on my ceiling and stare at them because they lit up my room.

However the day’s biggest challenge lay ahead: waterfall #2. This waterfall was higher than the first, also to me, it might aswell have already been Niagara Falls. I had to create everyone count twice before I was prepared to jump. Closing my eyes, I jumped, which time I jumped far enough. But I hated every minute of it. I still prefer to have my feet on the floor.

Yet from here before end it had been smooth sailing…or tubing in this instance. All of those other way was all glow worms. Leaning back my tube, I floated down the river, marveling at the wonder of the light show and the tranquility of my surroundings. However the tunnel’s end came prematurely, and I was left attempting to return back and stare upwards just a little longer.

I could understand why the glow worm caves are among New Zealand’s biggest places of interest. They’re beautiful. The caves are peaceful. Overall, it’s an incredible experience. Three hours seemed too short, but five hours may have been a little too long. I’d get back to start to see the glow worms again, and, whether you abseil, tube, or just cruise in a boat, the glow worms aren’t to be missed.

How exactly to Go to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Waitomo is 200km south of Auckland. By car, it’s around a two and a half-hour drive, while by bus it’s nearer to 3 hours. Be prepared to pay around 35 NZD for a one-way bus ticket from Auckland. A bus from Rotorua will definitely cost around 35 NZD each way.

Once you can Waitomo, here are a few suggested companies to go to the glowworm caves with:

  • Black Water Rafting (the business I went with)
  • Spellbound
  • Caveworld

Prices will change based on the company and season but, generally, water tubing is 145 NZD per person, tubing and abseiling is 250 NZD per person, and a straightforward boat ride is 51 NZD per person.

As the glowworm caves in Waitamo aren’t an inexpensive activity, they are one you should try to do. You won’t regret it!

Book Your Visit to Waitomo: Logistical Guidelines

Book Your Flight Look for a cheap flight to Waitomo through the use of Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite se’s. Focus on Momondo.

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel in Waitomo with Hostelworld. If you would like to remain elsewhere, use Booking.com because they consistently return the least expensive rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget TRAVEL COVER Travel cover will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never embark on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for a decade. You should too.

Need Some Gear? Have a look at our resource page to get the best companies to use!

Want MORE INFO on Waitomo? Make sure to visit our robust destination guide on Washington, D.C. for a lot more planning tips!

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4

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