Glowworms that twinkle like the night sky.
You might think that Hobbiton is the only place in New Zealand where you can step into another world. While Hobbiton puts you smack in the middle of the Lord of the Rings films, the Waitomo glowworm caves make you feel like you’ve entered the realm of Avatar. Much like the bioluminescent lagoon in Jamaica where the water sparkled and glowed with a blue hue, the ceiling of these caves sparkled and glistened up above.
The Waitomo glowworm cave is definitely a place you need to visit when you travel to New Zealand.
With so many tour operators and varieties of tours to book, which one is right for you? We booked our Waitomo glowworm cave journey with Glowing Adventures, and we are so glad that we did. Here are the reasons why you must book your trip with Glowing Adventures to see the best glowworm caves in New Zealand.
World Famous Cave System
The Waitomo District, on the western side of the North Island in New Zealand, is famous for its glowworm caves. Even though the Waitomo Glowworm Cave has attracted visitors for over a century, there are over 300 limestone caves in Waitomo. The cave we visited with Glowing Adventures is on the owner’s family farm and was recently opened to the public for tours.
The family farm is located in a small settlement called Pākeho (comes from the Māori word for limestone). The land was passed down from generation to generation, now with its fourth generation of owners. The tours are a family business that operate from their own private property.
Glowing Adventures tours explore the Mangarongapu Cave, Lime Cave, and Mangapu Gorge. These are a part of the Mangapu Cave System, one of only two Waitomo cave systems classified for its “international significance” by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (along with the Waitomo Glowworm Cave).
Small Groups Only
There are no large tour groups or crowds here. Each Glowing Adventures tour operates with eight people or less. A small group is a more intimate experience, especially when trekking through the caves and underground rivers. When observing something as magical as the glowworm caves in New Zealand, the last thing you want is a large group of people making noises or whispering to one another. You want to enjoy the spectacular scenery in peace.
Also, with a smaller group, it’s easier to get to know the other people in your group. We may have started the tour as strangers, but by the end of the trip, we were all friends.
A Truly Eco-Friendly Tour
You won’t find any concrete paths or electric lights illuminating the way. The caves at Pākeho, operated by Glowing Adventures, are untouched and left as nature intended. These unique Waitomo glowworm cave tours are authentic caving tours for a more physical and adventurous journey. There is also a minimal impact on the glow worms themselves, as the only light shed on them are minimal amounts from our headlamps.
With that said, you won’t need to worry about getting your clothes or shoes waterlogged or caked in mud. In fact, you don’t need to bring any special equipment or clothing for the excursion. Once you arrive, Glowing Adventures will provide all clothing and boots, so you won’t need to worry about anything. Each article of clothing is perfect for the tour, from the waterproof rubber boots to the fleece top with pockets for your camera.
For the Adventurous Traveler
Our small group of seven was led by our guide down a path, through a countryside dotted with sheep. Before long, we were surrounded by a lush forest as we stepped closer to the cave entrance.
At the entrance of the cave, glacial water dripped down the rock face along the shaggy moss. We were asked if we wanted to take a drink from this pure water. When in New Zealand! I cupped my hands below the dripping water and put the tiny pool of water in my hands up to my face. It was so cool and refreshing. I only wish I could have had a whole glass of it!
Inside the Waitomo Glowworm Cave
Once we wandered inside the cave, I realized it was time to trek through a gently flowing stream. Even though I had rubber boots on, the water managed to find its way inside my boots. On occasion, when we had a free moment, I’d pour some water out of my boots to ease the sloshing. My socks were damp and soggy, but it was all part of the adventure.
Like in many caves, we discovered fossilized rocks, stalagmites and stalactites (stalagmites reach up from the floor and stalactites hang from the ceiling). They are very slow growing, only about 1 cm per 100 years! The history within caves is truly fascinating, if you try to imagine how long it took for everything to materialize.
Another part of our adventure was traversing over and under giant rocks, and sometimes through small spaces in the boulders. At times, we were climbing around and I was unsure how I’d make it through the rocks! Thankfully, our helpful tour guide assisted and guided us through each space. He knew these caves so well and had explored them for decades. He also snapped a few photos when we were stuck in awkward positions, which were great to chuckle about after the fact.
Witnessing the Magical Glowworms
We managed to see the glowworms on several occasions. How can I possibly describe such a surreal experience? It was fantastic, amazing, awesome. It’s really easy to lose yourself in the experience. Time quickly slipped away as we observed one of nature’s most extraordinary sights.
Every time there was an opportunity to see the glowworms, we’d all shut off our headlamps to witness the spectacle. Slowly, as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, more and more glowworms came into view. Before long, the entire ceiling of the cave was covered in sparking blue light.
We also saw the glowworms hanging down from the ceiling in the light. The science behind glowworms is quite intriguing. Once an egg hatches on the ceiling, the larva builds up a tube of mucus that can be up to a foot long. Then, it projects many ultra-thin silk strings that hang from the bottom of the tube. The larva regurgitates mucus on the silks, which combines with water from the surrounding humid atmosphere.
The glowworm illuminates this nest through its bioluminescent tail, which attracts mayflies. The mayflies become stuck in the mucus, and then the glowworms eat the mayflies. It sounds a bit disgusting, but it’s fascinating.
Towards the end of our tour, we entered a massive cave with a high ceiling. Our group collectively turned off our headlamps and sat on the rocks. We stared up to the twinkling blue lights for about ten minutes, although the time went by really fast. It was such a wondrous experience to lay back and simply enjoy this extraordinary experience, especially with the person that I love the most. It was my favorite part of the Waitomo glowworm cave tour.
You Can Bring Your Camera
Yes, you can bring your camera! It’s the only Waitomo glowworm cave tour or excursion that I could find that allowed cameras and photography. Now, you aren’t able to bring in your large DSLR cameras. Only smartphones, pocket sized cameras, and GoPros are permitted. This is for your own safety: when you’re navigating large boulders, there isn’t any space to carry a big camera or a bag of any kind.
However, it’s extremely difficult to take pictures of the glowworms. It’s nearly impossible with just a GoPro or a phone. Small cameras are perfect for capturing the overall experience. We took photos of the beautiful forest around the caves, the stunning rock formations, and maneuvering around the boulders. Thankfully, our tour guide took photos of us along the way. He also took photos of us with the glowworms in the background at the end of the tour. The photos were all available the next day and emailed to us, completely free of charge.
If you love photography and you’re seeking a photography focused tour, you can book a Glowworm Cave Photography Tour with Glowing Adventures. You can bring a DSLR camera and a tripod on this excursion, and it’s centered around taking quality pictures of the glow worms. We’d love to return to do this one next time to try our hand at glow worm photography!
Where to Stay
Justin and I were based in Rotorua (we stayed at the Quest Rotorua Apartment Hotel) and took several day trips from our hotel [read more reviews here]. To reach Waitomo from Rotorua, it takes about two hours one way by car. If you don’t want to drive very far to reach the caves, you might consider staying in Waitomo.
The Waitomo Boutique Lodge is a 5-star accommodation that offers a luxury experience with incredible panoramic views. Every guestroom features a mountain view and comes with free breakfast and Wi-Fi. There’s also an outdoor pool, a hot tub, and a tennis court. Read more reviews from trusted travellers by clicking here.
The Waitomo Guest Lodge is up on a hillside, surrounded by a beautiful garden that attracts many birds. It looks like a lovely place to stay. Read more reviews from trusted travelers by clicking here.
One of our Favorite Experiences in NZ
Justin and I traveled throughout both the North Island and South Island of New Zealand for two weeks. While we didn’t experience everything in two weeks ( how could you?), this Waitomo glowworm cave tour remained one of our favorite things to do in New Zealand. When we returned home and everyone asked us, “What was your favorite part of the trip?”, taking this tour with Glowing Adventures always immediately came to mind.
Check out more photos from our Glow Worm Cave Tour in New Zealand. You can also purchase photos, prints, and housewares from all of our pictures on this photography site.
We couldn’t recommend this tour enough! If you’re looking to book a Waitomo glowworm cave excursion, be sure to schedule your trip with Glowing Adventures.
We received a discount on our tour in cooperation with 100% Pure New Zealand. We’re always honest in our reviews, and we highly recommend Glowing Adventures.
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