Top 10 Tips to Make the Most of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The cave system in Waitomo might be complex but your visit doesn’t need to be
We’ve put together our top 10 Waitomo Caves FAQs that will help you plan your visit. Whether you’re a parent, adventurer or highly-organised holiday maker, here’s our essential tips for a magical trip.
1. Which is the best cave to visit in Waitomo?
We’ve got three caves to explore, each with their own fascinating features.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves is one to tick off the bucket list. Waitomo Glowworm Caves is undoubtedly the star of the show and the most well known cave. The sheer size of this cavernous space is amazing and floating underneath the Glowworm Grotto by boat is hard to beat.
Ruakuri Cave is the most innovative cave experience. The tour takes you above an underground river, amongst draped stalactites and below galaxies of glowworms, all while making the most of cutting-edge engineering for an completely accessible cave experience.
Aranui Cave is our ‘best kept secret’ cave. Small and perfectly formed, it’s a treasure chest of limestone formations. Millions of stalactites pack the ceiling creating a display like no other.
If you’re keen to decide for yourself which is the best cave, the Triple Cave Combo will let you do just that. Or if floating, jumping and zip-lining through the caves sounds more like your style Black Water Rafting will make it happen.
2. How much time do I need to spend in Waitomo?
There’s much more than meets the eye amongst Waitomo’s rolling hills, and we think you can easily spend a whole weekend here!
If you are pressed for time, the Waitomo Glowworm Cave clocks in at 45 minutes and Aranui Cave takes one hour. Arrive at least 15 minutes before each tour and you’ve got a perfect half-day of cave exploration, plus time for coffee and cake at the Homestead before hitting the road.
A whole day in Waitomo opens up your adventure options. Kick off with Ruakuri’s two hour cave trip, traversing the cave’s depths with New Zealand’s longest underground walking tour. Or if you really want to get down into the Ruakuri’s belly, a half-day with the Black Water Rafting team is definitely the most fun you can have in the dark. A lunchtime pitstop in the unique Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre restaurant will fuel you up before continuing the cave odyssey with Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Aranui Cave.
3. Do I need to book in advance?
If you’re planning on visiting us during our busy summer season (December - March) and school holidays it’s a big yes to booking in advance. You’ll be sure to secure the places on the tour you want and can confirm your exact tour time. If you want to purchase cave tickets on-site you might need to wait before there’s space on a tour.
Tour times: Waitomo Glowworm Caves tours run every 30 minutes during opening hours and Aranui Cave tours run regularly throughout the day. Ruakuri Cave has fixed tour times so it’s essential to book ahead. Booking in advance is a must for those who are keen to join the Black Water Rafting crew. With small group sizes and a limited number of expeditions each day these guys get 100% booked out when it’s busy!
4. What about pricing and discounts?
Tour prices are found in the quick info panel for each cave. If you’ve got little ones, children under 4 years get free entry and there are special child rates for those 4-14 years old.
We all love a bargain and our combo packages are the best way to get a good deal. Visiting multiple caves, you’ll get up to 50% off standard rates when opting for the Triple Cave Combo, our Most Popular Combo or the Twin Cave Combo.
5. What should I wear and bring with me?
The caves are a balmy 12-14 degrees all year round so warm layers are essential. Black Water Rafting team will supply wetsuits, but you will need to bring your own togs to wear underneath. Comfortable walking shoes with some grip are ideal, both for the caves and the three short walks around Waitomo afterwards.
6. I really want to get some photos in the caves, what’s my best option?
If you’re exploring Ruakuri Cave and Aranui Cave, cameras are welcome. The guides will point you (and your lens) in the right direction to capture the photogenic cave contours.
For Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Black Water Rafting get ready to put your camera down and live in the moment! With no cameras permitted, floating under a sea of glowworms is that much more spectacular in flash-free serenity. If you’re on a Black Water Rafting tour you’ll be having far too much fun to take photos. The guides will snap away for you and photos are available at the end of the tour.
7. Does Waitomo have any tours for adrenaline-seekers?
The Black Abyss tour is designed for maximum adventure. Take a 35m abseil into the caves before the flying fox, tubing and waterfall-climbing action begins. Black Labyrinth is the original tour. A slightly shorter adventure, good times and tubing fun are guaranteed.
Pioneers in New Zealand adventure tourism, Waitomo’s own Black Water Rafting team were abseiling and floating their way through Ruakuri Cave before AJ Hackett had even started their bungy antics! With 30 years experience under their belt, the Black Water Rafting team are passionate cavers who love sharing all the thrills that the Ruakuri Cave has to offer.
8. If I’ve got a pram or a wheelchair, which cave tours can I do?
Easily accessed regardless of your mobility, Ruakuri Cave is completely wheelchair and pram friendly. The only cave of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, innovative engineering work means it has a step-free spiral entrance. This joins onto a well-paved path that takes you through the cave’s most fascinating corners, perfect whether you’re on four wheels or two feet.
9. What’s the best way to get to Waitomo?
Arriving at Waitomo with your own vehicle is the quickest way to get here and also means you can easily explore the surrounding area. Free parking is available next to the Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre and Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.
If you want to get a bus to Waitomo, coach tours from Auckland and Rotorua provide an easy, stress-free option.
10. What else can I do in the Waitomo region?
The native forest and farmland surrounding Waitomo Caves hides a plethora of stunning natural attractions. Our favourite free activities in the Waitomo area include the Ruakuri Walk, Mangapohue Natural Bridge and Marokopa Falls Track. You can also discover two of Waikato’s best coastal spots heading north-west from Waitomo: Kawhia and its little-known hot water beach and surf-town hotspot Raglan.
If you’re heading further afield Waitomo makes the perfect starting spot for the Middle-Earth themed Trilogy tour. The Trilogy triangle includes Hobbiton and Te Puia in Rotorua for the ultimate North Island road trip.