Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand (with Map & Photos)

Waitomo Glowworm Caves New Zealand

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, in New Zealand, are known because strange creatures inhabit their interior, the glowworms (luminous worms), which produce light to attract their prey and thus be able to feed themselves. These points of light make the ceiling of the cave look like a starry sky. It is a unique show and one that is worth knowing if you travel with time to the north island of New Zealand.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo Glowworm Caves New Zealand

But what are glowworms?

Waitomo Glowworm Caves - The glowworm are luminescent worms, or rather the larva of an insect called Arachnocampa Luminosa, which is similar to the mosquito.

These insects go through three phases throughout their short life: egg, larva and adult insect. And I say short life because they do not live more than 10-11 months.

During the larval period, which lasts about 9 months, these insects produce a light that attracts other insects and traps them with sticky threads that hang from them. Seen up close, these larvae are elongated, measure about 2 centimeters, have a luminous point and from them hang a series of almost transparent filaments that are the ones with which they catch their prey.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves - Once they reach adulthood, they only live 3 or 4 days, since they do not have a mouth or digestive system, which makes it impossible for them to survive. During these 4 days, the female insect catches the male, they mate and lay the eggs.

The habitat of these "glow worms" is any dark place where they can hang. The usual thing is to find them in caves, but they can also live in walls or walls of dark and humid areas.

Waitomo Glowworm
Waitomo Glowworm Caves New Zealand

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

If you want to see glowworm you can try your luck in other places in the country, such as the Abbey caves, in Whangarei, but if you want to see glowworm for sure and see them by the thousands one of the best known places in New Zealand are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

Here you can visit three caves: Waitomo glowworm, Ruakuri and Aranui.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The main claim of the area. Hundreds of glow worms can be seen on the ceiling in this cave. The total visit lasts about 45 minutes, although the boat ride on an underground river only lasts 5-10 minutes. Visitors ride in boats dragged by cables suspended in the air, in complete silence and darkness. And when looking up at the ceiling, it seems that you are looking at a sky full of stars. Despite the shortness of the journey, it is a very special experience to see all those luminous points above us.

The rest of the cave is of little interest, some not particularly pretty limestone rock formations and a large vault with very good acoustics where our Maori guide sang (very well, by the way) a haka.

Waitomo Caves New Zealand
Waitomo Glowworm Caves New Zealand

Ruakuri Cave

The stalagtites and stalagmites in the cave are not spectacular, compared to other caves of these characteristics in other parts of the world, although it has some beautiful parts and the guide's explanations make the visit more interesting.

In this cave there are also luminous larvae, but in much smaller numbers than in Waitomo. Although it is not as spectacular as the previous one, it is a good place to see these insects hanging from the wall a few inches away.

The visit lasts about 2 hours in total, partly because access to the entrance is done with a company van that picks up visitors at the two offices where tickets are purchased.

Waitomo Caves New Zealand
Waitomo Glowworm Caves New Zealand

Aranui Cave

There are no luminous larvae in this cave. It is only visited for its formations. We decided not to enter it since what we were looking for in Waitomo was to see glowworms.

Visit the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

There are two types of activities that can be done in the Waitomo area.

  • One of them is to visit the caves on foot. You can choose to enter just one or buy a combined ticket for 2 or 3 caves. We opted to visit Waitomo + Ruakuri. The tickets have a reserved time for the visit, and are organized in such a way that if a "combo" is purchased, the visits can be made one after another without time problems.

  • The other option, for people wanting to get wet, consists of a tour of the underground rivers of the caves. There are several options, which you can see on the website. We didn't do any of them, so we can't recommend which one is the best.
There are two offices to buy tickets. One of them is located on Highway 37 (Waitomo caves road), a couple of kilometers before reaching the town. This office is the base for Black Water Rafting, where Waitomo's adventure activities are organized.

The other office is right next to the main cave, in the visitor center, 500 meters beyond the iSite. If you are only going to visit the caves on foot, it is more convenient to buy your tickets here and leave your car in the adjacent car park. The parking lot is small and if you arrive late you may have problems finding a space to park.

It is best to go early in the morning, park at the visitor center and buy your tickets there.

Waitomo New Zealand
Waitomo Glowworm Caves New Zealand

Where to sleep for free near Waitomo

If you travel with a self contained caravan, we recommend a quiet, beautiful and also free place to camp. It is located 24 kilometers from the caves, on the SH30 road. If you come from Lake Taupo, 4 kilometers before reaching Te Kaiti you will find a small detour to Mangaokewa Gorge scenic reserve. The camping area, surrounded by forest, is very spacious and quiet. You can also take a short walk along the river. A highly recommended place to spend the night.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves Map