Whether you make it a day-trip jaunt or whole weekend escapade, we’ve unearthed our top nine reasons to visit Waitomo. There’s much more to this NZ Must-Do than meets the eye. Glowworm gazing and Black Water Rafting adventures top the list, then stick around for Waitomo’s walks and hidden secrets that’ll keep the glow going long after you’ve left the caves.
1. Admire the ‘Cathedral’ Cavern and Glowworm Galaxy
Each year thousands come from far and wide to explore the natural phenomenon that are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Descend into the caves and you’ll be struck by ornate limestone structures and lofty hollows. The ‘Cathedral’ cavern is the stunning centerpiece, not only visually impressive it also has some great acoustics - as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the local choir can testify!
The tour saves the best for last - the famous glowworms are revealed via a boat ride, gliding silently through the cave’s river. Spot the twinkling outliers before thousands of tiny lights explode into a glowworm galaxy. The Glowworm Grotto is a living, sparkling ceiling like no other, sealing the deal of this unique experience.
2. Underground adventures with Black Water Rafting
Take epic river tubing, abseiling and a flying fox, mix together in a cave filled with glowworms and waterfalls and you’ll get Black Water Rafting.
This is an underground adventure for adrenaline junkies and cautious cavers alike. The Black Abyss experience is adventure at it’s max, while Black Labyrinth is made for those seeking gentler thrills. You’re guaranteed a good time from the get-go, with some of the most enthusiastic guides this side of the Bombay Hills. Descend into the caves and an underground playground awaits. Highlights include include zip-lining over gaping caverns, climbing up waterfalls and floating under a sea of glowworms. Burst back into daylight and you’ll want to abseil down to do it all over again.
3. Stroll North Island’s Best Short Walks
It’s not only underground that this town shines, the walks in Waitomo are outstanding. The Ruakuri Walk and Marokopa Falls Walk take less than 30 minutes each, delivering maximum scenic beauty for minimal walking effort. The Ruakuri Walk is great during the daytime and a whole other experience after dark. Arrive at the towering cave for an impressive stalactite and stalagmite viewing while the sun’s up. Return at night for an enchanted walk, glowworms are visible either side of the bridge, lining the banks of the track.
Marokopa Waterfalls are amongst the country’s best. Wide-angle lens at the ready, it’s only a 10 minute walk to this 35m waterfall, its tiered formations are even more spectacular after a good rainfall.
4. Uncover a Special Piece of Middle Earth
Part the Trilogy experience, Ruakuri Cave sits alongside Hobbiton with its own Middle Earth claim to fame. The sound effects for many of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy were filmed in this cave, including the scene where Biblo meets Gollum. Spiral down into Ruakuri’s pitch-black belly to recreate the scene for yourself. There’s more than a few Ruakuri guides who are massive LOTR fans, dishing up Middle Earth trivia which will have you transforming the still underground waters into Gollum’s pool.
5. Delicious Dining and Coffee Choices
Punching above its small town size, Waitomo’s restaurant and cafe choices are solid. A first-rate local bistro, Huhu Cafe serves up meals that rival that of any inner city eatery with locally-sourced produce, choice cuts of meat and decadent desserts. If you’re on the hunt for a decent flat white, the options are good. Waitomo Homestead is the first eatery you’ll hit when arriving from Auckland. Add on one of their homemade pies for a mid-morning hunger fix. If you’re Black Water Rafting bound, the appropriately named Long Black Cafe will fuel you up for your adventure in the dark. If in need of something a bit more substantial, Waitomo General Store has tasty lunch specials and does a great eggs benedict.
6. Get Amongst Living Kiwi History
One of New Zealand’s oldest tourist attractions, Waitomo Glowworm Caves is truly a Kiwi original. Local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau was the first to explore the caves in 1887. Two years later in 1889 the first intrepid tourists stepped foot in the cave, via the same entrance still used today. Chief Tinorau’s legacy is well and alive 125 years later, many of the current guides at Waitomo Glowworm Caves his direct descendants, bringing their history to life with each tour.
7. Explore Waitomo’s Best Kept Secret
Even in a cave hotspot like Waitomo there’s lesser-known gems like Aranui Cave waiting to be discovered. Often overlooked in favour of its larger cave neighbours, the millions of delicate stalactites gracing Aranui’s ceiling are amongst the cave world’s finest. The entrance of the cave is home to an impressive colony of weta, a rare chance to get up-close with these beastly and fascinating native insects. Further inside the cave stalactites pack every corner of the cave’s roof, jutting down in sparkling shades of pink, white and pale brown. Being a small cave means you get to fully appreciate the entirety of this spectacular space - plus you’re allowed to bring your camera to document the beauty!
8. Cave Exploration by Wheelchair, Pram or Foot
The Southern Hemisphere’s only fully wheelchair accessible cave, Ruakuri Cave’s innovative redevelopment is Kiwi ingenuity at it’s best. Before reopening in 2005, the team wanted to make sure that Ruakuri was accessible to all adventurous spirits, including those with wheelchairs and prams. Cue the development of the 15m deep spiral entrance. This feat of engineering was built by a team of 50 dedicated cavers. Donning their wetsuits and swimming through underground streams to get to the construction site, many a damp day’s work later they finished off what is now New Zealand’s longest guided underground!
9. Soak up Waikato’s hidden hot water beach
Before biding ka kite anō to Waitomo, try heading north-west towards the rugged coastline of Kawhia Hot Water Beach. The region’s best kept secret is the perfect way to round out a Waitomo weekend. While Coromandel’s Hot Water beach might top every tourist’s to-do list, Kawhia’s version has stayed hidden from the masses. Kawhia hasn’t changed much at all since the 90s and is all the better for it, untouched New Zealand at its best. It’s vast, wind-swept beach is where the magic lies, dig your pool then soak up the soothing waters and serenity.
Get yourself ready for a compelling cave adventure, take a few hours, or even a whole weekend to see if our top 9 reasons to visit Waitomo match up with your own underground explorations!
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