The whole experience is eerie, almost moving as the guide pulls the boat along the underground river using ropes. We actually come out through a different opening than the one we entered through. I can just imagine how wonderful this must have been for the first discoverers. I have never seen anything like it!
The Cave complex
The cave complex is a large underground system with walkways and railings. We are obviously here at a very popular time, there are far too many tourists, mostly Japanese. I feel maybe more could have been made out of the caves with clever lighting. We spend a lot of the time waiting for other tour groups to move on. Apparently it is even busier in summer!
The cave-system and village of Waitomo forms a major tourist attraction in the southern Waikato region of the North Island of New Zealand, 12 kilometres northwest of Te Kuiti. The village of Waitomo Caves itself is very small, though the village has many temporary service workers living there as well. The word Waitomo comes from the Māori language wai meaning water and tomo meaning a doline or sinkhole; it can thus be translated to be water passing through a hole.
The main caves in the area are Waitomo Cave, Ruakuri Cave, Aranui Cave and Gardner's Gut. They are noted for their stalactite and stalagmite displays, and for the presence of glowworms (the fungus gnat Arachnocampa luminosa)
There are guided tours from Auckland several times per day; the boatride itself through the caves and the thousands of glowworms takes about 45 minutes.
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The underground journey by boat is excellent. We board in almost complete darkness and float quietly and effortlessly through the underworld, where the ceiling is full of blue fairy lights. Very impressive!
Shimmering Glow Worms...
Join a guided tour, take a boat ride, marvel at Mother Nature's light display as you glide silently through the starry wonderland of the Glowworm Grotto. Meander underground along the Waitomo River and gaze in silence at the myriad of glowworm lights that make up the Glowworm Grotto. As you enter this galaxy of tiny living lights, you'll immediately experience a serene ambience and be fascinated and intrigued by tiny glowworms that light your way.
During the boat ride, no one is allowed to making loud noises... as this will scare off the glow worms and they will quench its glow to hide themselves.
I wonder if someone suddenly fart inside the glow worm caves... Hahaha...
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Shearing an Angora Rabbit
Maybe 1 km away from the entrance of the famous Waitomo Caves there is a farm/shop selling garments made of angora wool taken from their angora rabbits.
The staff give free 20/30 mins shearing demonstrations with informative "lecture".
You can also pet the rabbits and buy the garments if you want.
When you leave Waitomo Cave, there is a road that leads through forest to Marakopa Falls and a natural bridge. It takes quite a while to reach these two attractions, but it is worth the drive. If you continue on this road, it will soon turn to gravel. You may think you are lost, but keep following this road and it leads to the main highway on the Tasman Sea. The scenery here was beautiful. Once on the highway, we were able to navigate our way out. Don't take this route if you don't have extra time. It took us at least 3 hours to reach the end of this road.
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- Road Trip
Black Water Rafting
When my friend Jay came to New Zealand in August 2002 we decided that we wanted to do something adventurous. We picked Black Water Rafting as we thought it would be a good way to see the Waitomo Caves and do something a little different. I had never been blackwater rafting before but always wanted to try it out!
We went with a group with guides from Black Water Rafting Co. They are located on the road to the Waitomo Caves on the left. They have half day and full day excursions. It was excellent fun! I'd certainly do it again if I had to go through the caves in the future.
- Adventure Travel
- School Holidays
- Water Sports
Waitomo Glow Worms
One of the few places on earth to see the amazing glow worms. You ride on this sort of gondolas and enjoy sitting in the darkness in the cave and see the sparkles of these glow worms. ...simply amazing
Most ppl who make a stop at Waitomo do not stay the night as it's not too far from Auckland. Visitors will usually make a stop at the Glow Worm caves. No cameras are allowed inside but postcards are available for your purchase. A very interesting walk & boat ride into the caves and out.
- Adventure Travel
Guided tour of the Glowworm Caves
You cannot access the caves on your own but on guided tours only.
These guided tours of the Main Cave include a 250 metre walk through the cave and a boat ride through the glow worm grotto.
Tours depart every half hour from 9am to 5pm. Additional tours at 5.30pm between 31 October and Easter Monday, as well as at 8am between 26 December and 28 February.
The tour takes about 45 minutes.
Photographing is not allowed in the Main Cave while it is allowed in Ruakuri and Aranui Caves. Of course, you are never allowed to use flash anywhere near glow worms, and you should be absolutely quiet around the insects to not disturb them.
I cannot say that I found the old man’s jokes of our guide very funny. But you might be lucky to have a different guide – or lucky enough to share this unfunny guy’s humour ;-)))
Phone numbers and email contact in my General Tips.
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The boat ride
This is the highlight of the tour – when you slide through the dark, the ceiling of the cave lit up like a night sky lit up by millions of stars.
The stretch of river/cave visited is not very long, so the guide pulls the boat along the metal ropes attached to the walls of the cave several times.
A guy on my tour asked why he travelled along the same route several times, and the guide said that was in order to see the glow worms glowing from different angles.
This surely is only part of the truth. If they threw the people off the boat after five minutes it would be difficult to charge them NZ$ 46 for the tour…
- Family Travel
- Sailing and Boating
The other caves that can be visited
The other two caves that can be visited are Ruakuri and Aranui Caves.
On photos they surely look more impressive than the main cave – and photography is allowed.
I have not been in either of these two caves as I thought I had spent too much money on the Glow Worm Cave already. So the following information is from write-ups on the official website and other sources on the internet.
According to Maori legend, Ruakuri Cave was discovered 400 to 500 years ago by a young Maori hunting for birds. He was attacked by wild dogs outside the entrance. Thus the name Ruakuri, “rua” meaning den, and “kuri” meaning dog, so: dogs’ den.
Ruakuri is the largest one of the three main caves and was rediscovered by James Holden in 1904. Obviously it is possible to abseil 100 metres into a cave named Mangapu Cave. Surely not for me ;-))
The cave was re-opened in 2005 and is wheelchair-accessible. It has a spiral entrance, and you also see glow worms and underground waterfalls.
According to the caves’ website, Ruakuri Cave is New Zealand's longest guided underground walking tour. Allow 2 hours for a visit.
Aranui Cave is the smallest cave of the three main ones and located in the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, a five minutes drive (2 km) from the main cave. It is named after Ruruku Aranui, a local Maori who discovered the cave in 1910. (In other sources I have read 1911.)
It has a natural entrance and is the smallest of Waitomo's three main caves. Unlike the Glow Worm and Ruakuri Caves it is a dry cave without a river running through it, and there are no glow worms. Instead there are resident cave weta which are endemic New Zealand insects looking a bit like huge long-horned grasshoppers (but are flightless and nocturnal). Allow 45 minutes for a visit.
If you have time and never been in such caves, you might consider a combo ticket.
In total there are about 300 limestone caves in the Waitomo region.
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Spectacular visitor centre
This breathtaking construction has really taken me in.
It was built after a massive fire that destroyed the visitor centre in 2005.
The new building is spectacular, using native materials and blending into the lush native forest surroundings, creating an enclosed and open space at the same time.
The rounded transparent roof which is attached to criss-crossed wooden beams makes the visitor centre and light and airy space.
Under this roof you find a gift shop, café/restaurant and, of course, toilet facilities. In a theatre you can watch a 15 minute film about the people, places and stories of Waitomo, and in an exhibition area you find information about the new visitor centre. A conference and events centre completes the complex.
For its outstanding architecture and sustainability the visitor centre was awarded the Architecture, Commercial Engineering Excellence and the Clever Solution Awards at the Timber Design Awards in October 2010.
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These limestone for these caves first started to form 30 million years ago when Waitomo was under water. This movement also caused cracks and weaknesses through which rainwater began to flow forming caves. The rainwater mixes with a small amount of carbon dioxide in the air and so forms a weak acid then more carbon dioxide is absorbed from the soil. This acidic solution seeping through the rock dissolved the limestone and so over years created the caves. The Waitomo caves are famous for the glowworms that live in the caves. The glowworm is the larval stage of a small fungus-gnat, which emits light to attract its food. These glow worms are at their most spectacular in the caves but in fact they can be seen wherever the conditions are damp, food is in good supply and there is an overhanging wall (we also saw them during an evening walk at Lake Moeraki). The egg of the glow-worm is laid by the adult and hatch into larvae in about three weeks. After hatching the larva slowly grows from a few millimetres into the size and shape of a matchstick. It is only at this stage that the insect can feed. Throughout its time as a larva the glowworm emits a bright light. The glowworm builds a nest of mucous and silk in the shape of a hollow tube, which is attached to the roof of the cave by a series of fine silky threads. About 20 - 30 threads or fishing lines each coated with a sticky mucous are hung from the tube. Midges or other flying insects are attracted to the light, thinking they are flying towards daylight and are trapped in the sticky lines. The glowworm draws in the lines and eats the insect. In 6-9 months the larva pupates and then changes into the more complex adult fly. A local Maori chief and an English surveyor first explored the caves in 1887.
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