This underground labyrinth of spectacular rock formations, with dazzling glowworms and enchanting acoustics, is one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions.
Glide over the ink-black waters and look up to the roof of the Waitomo Caves to see the twinkling glow worms. Take a walk through deep limestone chambers and listen for the eerie echo of the underground waterfalls. Experience the thrill of abseiling down to and tubing through the dark network of caves on a “black-water rafting” tour.
Waitomo Caves have been explored by tourists in New Zealand for over a hundred years. Most visits involve the Ruakuri, the Aranui and the Glowworm Caves, but there are about 300 similar underground limestone formations in the area.
Just behind the visitor center is the entrance to the Glowworm Cave. A 45-minute tour leads you deep into The Cathedral, so named for its near-perfect acoustic quality. A boat waits for you towards the back of the cave and will carry you into a smaller, darker area, which is lit up by the neon lights of thousands of glowworms.
If you want to visit the other caves, be prepared to walk west for an hour or to arrange other transport at the visitor center. Aranui cave is dry, and therefore void of glowworms. It has Gothic-like rock formations and a colony of native insects, the cave “weta”. Head to Ruakuri cave to take the two-hour underground tour, which begins at the spectacular spiral staircase and takes you for 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) past gushing waterfalls, vast caverns and further enclaves of glowworms.
Adrenalin junkies can book in for one of the adventure tours on offer. You can abseil down dark tunnels, climb along narrow ledges, ride a raft down the rapids and swim through rivers. Ask the staff in the visitor center for more details or book ahead on the website. The visitor centre has a café, exhibitions and a short film about the region.
The Waitomo Caves, a one-hour drive south of Hamilton, are open daily. Tours run regularly. If you plan to visit more than one cave, purchase a “Cave Combo” ticket from the visitor center to receive a discount.