No north island New Zealand holiday is complete without a visit to the famous and altogether fabulous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, tucked away in a verdant valley 204km south of Auckland or 139km south west of Rotorua. The serenity of the region will leave you breathless with wonder and excited for the underground escapade ahead. So, what should you expect? What do you need to know? When should you go? We’ll answer these questions below, along with a few more, ensuring you walk into Waitomo with all the pertinent information.
A Short History of Waitomo
Thousands of years ago, Aranui Cave as we enjoy it today began with a single drop of water. And another. Then another. Over time, millions of stalactites started forming in every nook and cranny of the cave walls and vast ceiling, as rainfall transformed the cave into a glorious underground paradise, adorned with white, pink and pale brown limestone crystals. You’ll be hard-pressed to find more than an inch that hasn’t been touched by rainwater.
In 1887, the Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace investigated the cave system for the first time, riding a raft of flax stems into the darkness, with only candles to light their way. Their eyes soon found the Glowworn Grotto, as thousands of glowworms dotted the ceiling and transformed the water into a milky-way of light. These early journeys resulted in further exploration and discovery, including the same land entry point we use today.
Tane Tinorau opened the cave to tourists in 1889, guiding curious groups through the beautiful chambers and grottos for a tiny fee. In 1906, the cave became subject to government administration; sadly, it took almost 100 years to right this wrong, when the cave returned to the private ownership of Chief Tane’s descendants in 1989.
All About the Glowworm Grotto Tour
Arrive with plenty of time to spare, as you’ll want to take photos of your surroundings and the Waitomo Caves marker, removing the need to rush from one place to another. Your guide will call for your tour and time, taking you deep into the immense cave complex the old fashioned way – by foot – highlighting the history and features of the stunning Cathedral Cave before navigating deeper into the system, down the naturally hewn stairs (and a few man-made ones) to your grotto boat.
Look Up: Don’t blink, don’t speak and don’t sneak a photo (it’s harmful to the glowworms). Instead, keep your eyes plastered to the galaxy of tiny creatures littering the ceiling as your boat glides along an underground channel of glimmering water. Sink into the moment and experience the brilliance of mother nature in silence, letting go of the need to find the words… there are no words. And that’s okay. Rapt silence is louder than a concert.
Inside Tip: We strongly recommend you book ahead, as tours fill up quickly. Speak to one of our experienced travel specialists today and we’ll connect you with the best prices for your dates.
Pricing: $57* AUD
Make it a Combo: What else can I do at Waitomo?
Not quite satisfied with a single tour in a truly beautiful slice of New Zealand? Why not book a combo and make the most of your time in this magical region?
Adrenaline Junkies: Believe it or not, you’ve come to the right place. Choose from two possible underground excursions and prepare yourself for more than a splash of black-water rafting, as Waitomo combines winding rapids, slower sections, big dips and the beauty of the caves in one 3 hour or five hour tour.
Black Abyss (5 hours) – $269* AUD
Black Labyrinth (3 hours) – $155* AUD
Cave Creatures: Fancy taking more than one tour in a day? It’s more than possible! After sampling what the Glowworm Grotto has to offer, why not take a deep-dive into Aranui Cave and/or the Ruakuri Cave for a true trifecta of subterranean delight?
Glowworm Cave and Aranui – $83* AUD
Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri – $100* AUD
Triple Cave Combo – $105* AUD
*Note: Listed prices are subject to change. Children, seniors and families attract a different rate.
Leave civilisation behind for a while and explore the underground with Kirra Tours. When was the last time you stepped away?