Waitomo Caves In New Zealand

Think of caves and the words, ‘dark’, ‘damp’ and ‘musty’ come to mind. Not in New Zealand though! The caves at Waitomo however, are a fairytale written in light and wonder. Gently illuminated by glow worms that put the stars to shame, you do not want to miss this beautiful attraction. So today, why not plan a trip into one of the prettiest pockets of New Zealand? 


The caves are located in North Island, in the southern Waikato region. The closest town to the caves is Te Kuiti – about 12 kilometres northwest of the caves. From Auckland, the cave is around 2 hours away and is 1 hour south of Hamilton. If you’re in Rotorua, it’s a 2-hour drive.

Address : 39, Waitomo Village Road, Waitomo Caves, Otorohanga, 3943, New Zealand

Timings : 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM. (According to Google)

Tours run every 30 minutes.

Black water rifting

In the cave:

  • Walking or a boat tour of the glowing caves.
  • Try the amazing experience of Black Water Rafting – crawling, swimming and floating through the caves on a rubber tube (you will need to book this in advance, as spots fill up quickly during peak season).
  • Abseil or zipline through the caves.

In the Waitomo region:

  • Visit the gorgeous Marokopa falls and the limestone Mangapohue bridge.
  • Take in a local farm show.
  • Go on a guided horse trek.
  • Visit Otorohanga Kiwi House to see the national bird of New Zealand.
  • Take a trek or hike through the nearby Pureora Forest.


There are multiple tour companies that offer guided tours of the Waitomo Glow worm Caves. Prices will vary as per their packages. Make sure you book tickets well in advance during the December-March season or during school holidays. 

How to get to the Waitomo Caves:

If you’re in the North Island of New Zealand, the caves are accessible from different cities:

By Car:

Driving Distance:

Auckland to Waitomo: 220 kilometres (136 miles)

Wellington to Waitomo: 435 kilometres (270 miles)

Rotorua to Waitomo: 160 kilometres (100 miles)

By Bus:

Catch a daily InterCity bus from Rotorua or Auckland to Waitomo Caves. Get a Flexipass, which offers access to nationwide bus travel. The pass is valid for 12 months. You can also catch buses from the Grey Line and Great Sights companies from Auckland or Rotorua.

About Waitomo Caves:

The Waitomo Caves are some of nature’s most delightful surprises. This cave system was first explored in 1887. A local Māori chieftain stumbled across the caves, even though the Māoris had been aware of the caves for quite some time. These caves are bathed in the neon glow emitted by Arachnocampa Luminosa – glow worms that are indigenous to New Zealand. These glow worms radiate a heavenly blue green light to attract food or mates, covering the caves in soft spots of light. The light is created by the unique biochemistry of the glow worms and the oxygen in the air. 

The guided tours explore three levels of the cave. After the top level, the second level is where early explorers used to eat (today, it is known as the Banquet Chamber). The third and final level goes down to the Cathedral, the demonstration platform and the jetty. Many famous singers and choirs have performed at the Cathedral, due to the amazing acoustics of the chamber. The tour finally concludes with a boat ride through the Glow worm Grotto on the underground river Waitomo, where you’ll witness the lights of the glow worms illuminating the dark cavern. 

Although there are other caves in New Zealand lit by glow worms, Waitomo is the most popular among them. Thousands of tourists visit the caves to take a boat ride under the fairy-like lights of the glow worms. 

If you are planning to visit the caves, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The caves are cold and rather damp (around 12-14 degrees, across the year). Wearing warm layers is essential.
  • If you’re planning to walk or take a short trek around Waitomo, make sure you wear comfortable shoes with a good grip.
  • Check in advance if the cave, or tour, is camera-friendly. Typically, the main Waitomo Cave does not allow cameras as the flash can disturb the glow worms. Your tour guide will take pictures for you, which you’ll receive at the end of the tour.
  • Do not reach out and touch the limestone formations in the cave – the formations are delicate and are damaged by repeated contact.

Interesting facts about Waitomo Caves:

  • Although they’re known as glow worms, the Arachnocampa Luminosa (during their glowing phase) are identified as maggots.
  • These caves began forming about 30 million years ago.
  • The Waitomo cave network is home to hundreds of caves. However, only 10 of these caves are used by tour companies.
  • The name Waitomo comes from two Māori words – “wai” means water and “tomo” means hole or opening.
  • Glow worms live short but illuminated lives – Once they reach adulthood their lives continue for only a few days.
  • Adult glow worms are around the size of a mosquito.
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