Have a go at blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves. © Tony Lin

Waitomo Caves: one of the wonders of the world


View the map

TAP FOR MORE INFO:

It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, grovelling about in the cold mud in holes in the rock with mere inches of wriggle room on either side, the only illumination cast by your headlamp.

Inevitably, though, there’s a section of our society for whom this is their very definition of a cracking good time and the place to go get it in the North Island is Waitomo, about 50km south-west of Hamilton. Waitomo’s name, loosely translated, is ‘water hole’.

But you don’t have to be half-man/half-worm to enjoy the wonders of Waitomo. There’s a range of activities, from the sedate to borderline suicidal – to suit, that is, all ages, abilities, temperaments and tolerances for enclosed spaces.

Set in a weird and wonderful tract of karst landscape – where weathered limestone and marble outcrops form outlandish shapes on the surface – the caves are one of the wonders of the world and have been a tourist drawcard since the early days of European settlement.

Perhaps the best known and most popular of Waitomo’s charms is the Glowworm Cave, a massive cavern system on three levels, bejewelled with minerals and hung the whole ceiling over with the cold, blue fairy-lights of glow-worms. These are the larvae of Arachnocampa luminosa, a fungus-munching bug, that use the light they emit to attract the other tiny insects upon which they prey.

The second level of the Glowworm Cave is called the Banquet Hall, as it was the luncheon-stop for early visitors to the cave: you can still see traces of tobacco smoke staining on the ceiling.

Another cavern is graced with great, fluted stalagmites and stalactites, and is aptly named ‘the Pipe Organ’. The third in the system is The Cathedral, with its high vaulted ceiling and angelic acoustics.

There are countless other caves in the Waitomo area. Aranui Cave was named for the young Māori man who found it while in hot pursuit of a pig. It features structures with the evocative names of Fairy Walk, Temple of Peace, Aladdin’s Cave and Eastern Scene.

And then there’s Mangapu, a 100-m tomo (vertical shaft) into which visitors with no previous experience can rappel (abseil). The sunlight reaches the floor of this deep hole and picks out threads of mist hanging in the twilight and tendrils of plants clinging to the walls. Lonely Planet has called the ‘Lost World’ tour of Mangapu ‘one of the most amazing things you can do in the country’. To find out why you’ll have to try it for yourself.

And if that isn’t wet or racy enough for you, there’s always black-water rafting through the Ruakurī Cavern.

Explore more...


Be the first to comment on this page. You cannot post comments until you have logged in. Please log in or register if you don't have an account.

More stories like this

Find out more

Natural attractions

Hamilton: what’s not to love?

New Zealand’s longest river charges through the Waikato for 425 kilometres and for 16 of those, it makes its way through Hamilton, our biggest inland city. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Activities

Waitomo: sheep, caves, waterfalls and a rugby great

The golden land stretches out seemingly forever and the place sparkles in sunshine many days of the year with ripe green grass as your view. It’s terrific.   Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Activities

Waitomo Glowworm Caves: a cave aglow with lights

Glide along the Waitomo River under a magical, breathtaking canopy of thousands of glowworms. Read the story . . . 

Where to stay in Waitomo District

From $85
Waitomo Big Bird B&B & Petting Farm

Welcome to our world, a 70-acre lifestyle farmstay. Enjoy an intriguing, interactive and memorable New Zealand farm experience with our ostriches and 20+ miniature animals. . . . More . . . 

From $85
4.8 /5
4.8 /5
Motel Te Kuiti Visit website

Welcome to Motel Te Kuiti All of the units at Motel Te Kuiti are well appointed, cozy and include 50+ SKY TV channels. . . . More . . . 

Kawhia Camping Ground

A camping ground to relax in. Beware Kawhia's laid back ambiance is easy to get caught up in. Kawhia Camping Ground is a quiet camp . . . More . . . 

4.0 /5
From $110
4.0 /5
Glowworm Motel Visit website

9 units - 6 studio (sleep 2-3), 2 family units (sleep 5-6), 1 x 3-brm cottage (sleeps 7). Close to Waitomo Glowworm Caves. . . . More . . . 

From $110