Things to do in Waitomo

Explore nature’s own theme park at the Waitomo Caves

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If you’re an adventure seeker looking for new experiences, let me tell you about a place that'll blow your mind - the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand. Trust me, you haven't seen anything like it! Picture yourself walking through dark caverns, and suddenly, you're surrounded by a galaxy of glowworms lighting up the space like stars. It's unreal! And the best part? You can choose your own adventure with guided tours ranging from easy walks to thrilling black water rafting. Oh, and did I mention the jaw-dropping rock formations, underground rivers, and waterfalls? It's like nature's own theme park! The Waitomo region offers five main tours, all close to each other, so you can explore multiple caves in just one day. From the second you step into these ancient caverns, you'll feel like you've been transported to another world. You need to see it to believe it!

In a Nutshell

Essential Information

⏰ Suggested Duration: 1 day
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Around 10am
💜 Must Do: Glowworm Caves guided tour
🎟️Waitomo Caves tickets: AU$68.11

Things to know

Opened in: Late 1880s
Existence: 30 million years
Location: Waitomo Village
Number of cave sites: 3

Why visit Waitomo Caves?

Visitors mesmerised by Glowworms in the Waitomo Caves

Glowworm Galaxy

Step into a world where thousands of glowworms create a dazzling display of a starry night sky.

Nature's Masterpiece

Witness the beauty of ancient rock formations, underground rivers, and cascading waterfalls, sculpted by nature over millions of years.

Choose Your Adventure

From leisurely walks to heart-pumping black water rafting, the Waitomo Caves offer a range of guided tours to suit every adventurer.

Proximity and Convenience

With five main cave sites clustered together, you can easily explore multiple caves in a single day trip, making it a perfect destination for those short on time.

Learn about Maori Culture

Delve into the rich history and traditions of the Maori people, the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand. The Waitomo Caves hold great spiritual significance for the Maori, and guided tours often include stories and legends passed down through generations.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves tickets

While the Glowworm Caves are the main attraction, it's worth exploring the other cave sites too. Aranui Cave boasts stunning rock formations, while Black Water Rafting offers an adrenaline-pumping adventure. For Lord of the Rings fans, a visit to the nearby Hobbiton Movie Set is a must. And if you're feeling extra daring, try zip-lining through the lush forest canopy.

Highlights of Waitomo Caves

1Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Cave is a 45-minute tour that involves a bit of walking and a breathtaking boat ride. Photography isn't allowed inside, but you'll hear the sound of water dripping through the stalactite formations. To fully appreciate the glowworm spectacle, the caves need to be completely dark. These tiny creatures glow to attract prey, creating a stunning display of light.

Visitors ona boat ride of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave

2Aranui Cave

Aranui Cave is a dry cave, meaning there are no underground rivers or streams. Instead, you'll find a variety of pink, white and brown rock formations, including delicate straws, flowstones, and cave coral. The cave is known for its Maori cultural significance, with ancient stories and legends woven into the guided tours. As you explore the cave, you'll learn about the unique geology and history of the region, making it a fascinating and educational experience for all ages.

Family at Aranui Cave, Waitomo

3Ruakuri Cave

Ruakuri Cave is a fascinating journey through time. Inside the cave, you'll descend a spiraling walkway that leads you to a central limestone rock believed to ward off evil spirits. As you explore further, you'll have the chance to see glowworms up close and marvel at ancient fossils that are millions of years old. The cave's rich history is intertwined with Maori culture, as it served as a burial site for the indigenous people. Ruakuri Cave is part of the 114-hectare Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, offering a unique blend of natural wonders and cultural significance. The guided tour takes approximately 90 minutes and is a dry walking experience, making it suitable for visitors of all ages and fitness levels.

Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

4Black Water Rafting

If you're up for a thrilling adventure, Black Water Rafting is the way to go. You'll be fully equipped with a wetsuit, boots, and helmet before plunging into the dark depths of the cave. Swimming through underground rivers and riding on tubes, you'll navigate fascinating rock formations while marveling at the glowworms above. It may sound daunting, but rest assured, safety is a top priority. Know that the Black Water Rafting tour consists of two options: the 3-hour Black Labyrinth and the 5-hour Black Abyss, which includes zip lining and climbing. While both are physically demanding, the Black Abyss is the more intense of the two.

Waitomo Black Water Rafting

5Hobbiton Movie Set

Located just an hour's drive from Waitomo, the Hobbiton Movie Set is a must-see for Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans. Step into the lush, green hills of the Shire, where you can explore Hobbit holes, visit the Green Dragon Inn, and immerse yourself in the magical world created by J.R.R. Tolkien and brought to life by Peter Jackson. Guided tours provide fascinating insights into the making of the films and the incredible attention to detail that went into creating this iconic set.

Hobbiton Movie Set

Restaurants near Waitomo Caves

Tomo Bar & Eatery
Tomo Bar & Eatery

Tomo Bar & Eatery is an ideal place to relax and recharge. With its stone grill option, you can cook your own meat, paired perfectly with refreshing tap beers. The laid-back atmosphere and delectable cuisine make Tomo a must-visit spot on your way home, and best part is it’s even dog-friendly.

Huhu Cafe

HUHU Cafe is an ideal spot for a delightful lunch, offering warm Kiwi hospitality. The cafe is surrounded by stunning native trees, and the sound of chirping birds adds to the serene ambiance. HUHU Cafe takes pride in their special in-house bread and their beef steak. To satisfy your sweet cravings, the cafe also provides a tempting array of homemade cakes and pastries.

Long Black Cafe
The Long Black Cafe

The Long Black Cafe, located near the Black Water Rafting experience, is a delightful establishment renowned for its exquisite coffee, prepared using locally roasted beans. You can also enjoy a delectable array of sandwiches and light snacks. Don't miss their caramel chocolate brownie - it's a must-try!

Waitomo Caves timings

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves: Daily 8.30am to 5pm.
  • Ruakuri Caves: Daily 10am to 3.30pm.
  • Black Water Rafting: 8am to 5.30pm.

Waitomo Caves reviews

Rene is the best tour guide, she led us to sing a beautiful Māori song together in the cave, told us all the stories, very knowledgeable. She is very caring, feel blessed to have her guiding us. I almost cried when I taking the boat tour, amazing and unique experience.

- Miao, Headout, June 2024

The caves should be one of the seven wonders of the world - it is simply staggering to see them and to take in the age of them and the beauty of the rock formation as well as the unique glow worms. It has been tastefully commercialised with the construction fitting well with nature and everything was meticulously clean. We had a great tour guide, Charlee, and one of the highlights was her singing Pokarekareana - it was soul wrenching in the cathedral. Just awesome.

- Carol, Headout, May 2024

Getting to Waitomo Caves

By train:

To reach Waitomo Caves by train, take the Northern Explorer from Auckland or Wellington and disembark at Otorohanga. From there, it's a short 15-minute taxi ride to the caves.

By bus:

Daily intercity buses run from Auckland to Waitomo Caves via the GreatSights sightseeing network. The bus departs at 7:30am from the InterCity Sky City bus Terminal at 102 Hobson Street in Auckland Central. The trip to Waitomo Caves takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes.

By road:

Take State Highway 1 south towards Hamilton, then take State Highway 3 southwest towards Waitomo Caves. This route is approximately 200 km (124 miles) and takes around 2.5 hours to drive.

Waitomo Caves Map

Facts about the Waitomo Caves

Visitors see Glowworms on a Black Water Rafting trip in the Waitomo Caves
  • The stunning stalactites and stalagmites in Waitomo Caves have been forming for a mind-boggling 30 million years!
  • Get this: the glowworms in Waitomo Caves aren't actually worms at all! They're a species of gnat called Arachnocampa Luminosa. These clever little creatures use bioluminescence from their tails to attract insects for food and mates.
  • Waitomo Caves have been a tourist hotspot for over a century, thanks to Maori chief Tane Tinorau, who discovered them way back in the 1800s. Local Maori guides started sharing the cave's wonders with visitors in 1904.
  • While the glowworms steal the show, Waitomo Caves are also home to some pretty cool crickets called Cave Weta. These are endemic to New Zealand, and there are around 70 different species. One of the species, the giant weta, is the heaviest insect in the world.
  • The name "Waitomo" comes from the Maori words "wai" (water) and "tomo" (hole or opening).
Waitomo Caves