How to visit the spectacular Waitomo Glowworm Caves

After returning from Australia to New Zealand, we were due to head south towards Wellington almost immediately. But there was one thing on my North Island bucket list that I was itching to check off first:

Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

Though we had caught glimpses of glowworms previously here in New Zealand, we’d never encountered anything close to the magic of Waitomo. Read on for an account of our cave tour experience…

Tour information

Stunning shot of the glowworms by Spellbound
Stunning shot of the glowworms by Spellbound

Both of the stunning images above are by Spellbound.

Our tour was with Spellbound. It cost 75NZD each, which may sound a little steep, but in our view it was well worth it for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We booked by phone a few hours before and then headed to their office in person to pay and wait for the tour to begin. There were only two other people in our group with us, meaning it was easy to ask questions and chat with our guide if we wanted. We piled into a minivan and headed into the countryside…

Touring the glowworm caves

The van stopped a little ahead of the cave entrance and allowed us to go for a scenic walk for the last stretch. Once on site, we got hard hats (with headtorches attached) and made our way inside the mouth of the cave.

Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Cave mouth

I had very little understanding of glowworms prior to this tour, so I learnt a lot. The guide provided lots of interesting details about what glowworms are, their use of silk threads to draw prey (their Latin name arachnocampa means spider-worm), how the bioluminescence works etc.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learnt was how long they stay in their larval form relative to their life as an actual gnat. 6-12 months as a glowworm/larva vs. a mere couple of days as a gnat; in their adult form they don’t even feed – they simply reproduce and then die!

Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Exploring the glowworm cave Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Glowworm threads

There are plenty of impressive stalactites and other natural features in the caves too, of course. It’s just that the glowworms are so remarkable that they rather overshadow them!

Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Glittering stalactites

A canopy of lights

Without a doubt the highlight of the tour was the next part: floating down a river beneath a glittering canopy of glowworms. We were in an inflatable raft, but the guide pulled us a long a guiding line so it was very steady. Then we simply sat back and drank in this jaw-dropping display of turquoise “stars” adorning the roof.

Though it was tranquil for the most part, the guide would sometimes clap loudly to demonstrate the way the glowworms react to sound (they glow more brightly).

Note: the low light and movement combined to make exceptionally blurry photos! See the above shots taken by Spellbound for a clearer view of glowworms. 🙂

Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Glowworm lights Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Illuminated cave roof

The photo below gives a glimpse of what the cave roof looks like illuminated, compared to in shadow. (Obviously the glowworms show up much better in darkness!)

Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Under the torchlight

Further cave exploration

After disembarking from the boat tour we made our way back out of the cave for a short break outside (complete with biscuits and hot drinks!). We then ventured into a separate part of the caves.

Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Stalactites Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand - Cave

Honestly, following up a glowworm experience is pretty tough. There were definitely some interesting features, including the remains of a moa that sadly fell into the cave and to its death centuries ago. (These enormous, flightless birds have long been extinct, but are a source of fascination for me since first learning about them in New Zealand!) On the whole, though, it paled in comparison to the glowworm lights.

Travel tips: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Who
  • We chose Spellbound as we were after quite a basic, non adrenaline-fuelled tour! But there are plenty of other options for exploring the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, e.g. CaveWorld (a cave tour or cave tubing) and The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company (various tours of Ruakuri Cave, including black water tubing and abseiling).
Where
Bring
  • As with any cave environment, you’ll want to wear enclosed, comfortable walking shoes.
  • Bring a warm layer as it can be a little chilly in the caves.
  • Photography is encouraged, though understandably you can’t use flash inside the caves. (The other people on our tour did make use of a red focussing light, however, which seemed to be acceptable.)
  • The drive from the meeting point to the caves is along windy roads, so if you suffer from motion sickness (as I do), you might want to take medication ahead of time.
Facilities
  • Spellbound provide a hot drink (including hot chocolate!) and biscuits in between the two cave tours. There was a café right next door to the meeting point/Spellbound office (The General Store) that served lovely food for lunch.

Over to you

Have you encountered glowworms before? Is it an experience you’d seek out on your travels? I’d love to hear in the comments.

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Visiting Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand

Linking up with:

Lauren, Van, Isabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday.

Katy, Erin and Clare for Faraway Files.

Two Traveling Texans

46 thoughts on “How to visit the spectacular Waitomo Glowworm Caves

  1. Mapping The Map

    I remember the afternoon I spent inside the Earth… feeling like Jules Verne, climbing inside a cave llighted with glowworms… It is an unforgettable experience and I am happy you shared it with us in your blog 🙂 Very nice pictures!! #wanderfulwednesday

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      What a brilliant way to put it! So glad you had such a positive experience of glowworms caves too. 😀

      Reply
  2. jo

    A cave lit by glowworms has such a romantic ring to it. I really don’t think I’ve ever seen a glow worm so this would be a magical experience. #WanderfulWednesday

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      It does seem romantic, doesn’t it? Slightly incongruous when you think the lights are there to draw and catch prey but nevertheless an incredible sight to behold!

      Reply
  3. Vanessa Brune

    Oh my goodness, I want to visit the cave right now!! What a magical place!!!! I know that there’s beaches here in Northern Norway that are bioluminiscient, though only very weakly and nothing like this!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      A glowworm encounter went straight towards the top my list for NZ very early on! I definitely recommend it. 😊

      Reply
  4. Cathy (MummyTravels)

    I’ve wanted to do this since I first heard about it – it sounds absolutely amazing, and fantastic to read your experience as well. How magical. It even sounds like your tour would work for kids?
    #farawayfiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Absolutely! The tour information page says suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, and I can back that up from experience. So long as they weren’t afraid of the dark I think it would be a fab thing for kids to see 😊✨

      Reply
  5. Erin Gustafson

    I have seen bioluminescence on a night snorkel in Honduras, but this looks very interesting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a fear of anything in a larval form… would you ever come into contact with one of the “worms”? This is a very cool experience – thank you for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Such a great point that hadn’t occurred to me, Erin! I can vouch that we didn’t have any contact with the worms – the guide did point to some of the silk threads as you can see in the photo, but I believe the worms remain firmly attached to the cave wall itself. (They’re so small I actually didn’t see any of the worms, only the threads and the glow.) I’d be tempted to speculate that it’s possible for them to fall down accidentally, but I’m honestly not certain!

      Night snorkelling sounds wonderful, I haven’t heard of that!

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Completely agree with you Nell!

      The moa’s story is rather a heartbreaking one. I love learning about the native wildlife, though. New Zealand is home to some unique species. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Haha, it really is! It’s so captivating that somehow you forget you’re just surrounded by masses of gnat larva using an unusual adaptation to catch prey. 😂

      Reply
  6. Amanda

    Wow! That looks like an amazing experience, I’ve been in caves, but nothing quite compares to those amazing glow worm pictures. #farawayfiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks Lydia! I know how you feel, it’s so hard to take sharp pictures in such low light. Would love the opportunity to visit with a tripod 😊

      Reply
  7. Katy Clarke

    I loved the Waitomo Caves too. Such a unique and interesting natural phenomenon among so many of the same in NZ. Cant wait until we move back to that part of the world to take our kids there too. Thanks for reminding me about this! #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      My pleasure! You’re absolutely right – NZ is home to some fantastic natural phenomena. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Juliette | Snorkels to Snow

    Despite living only in Auckland, I have never visited the Waitomo Glow Worm caves! But we have been down to the Te Anau glow worm caves in the South Island and they were just magical and magnificent! So incredible also to learn about the glow worms themselves, I found it a very educational tour as well as amazing to see!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Ooh how brilliant, I had no idea there were some in Te Anau! Perhaps something for my South Island bucket list. 😊

      Reply
  9. Anisa

    Wow what an experience, so unique! I think I would be worried about the worms falling on me though! I do love exploring caves. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      That honestly hadn’t occurred to me before it was mentioned here in the comments! Definitely wouldn’t want quite such a close encounter with a glowworm 🙈

      Reply
  10. Hilary

    This is so amazing, and such a unique thing to experience! I completely understand how difficult it is to take photos in the dark, still, I think you did a pretty nice job! #theweeklypostcard

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks Hilary! Low light photography without a tripod/remote shutter release is such a nightmare!

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Fantastic is true, though we didn’t find it scary at all! A little dark, but it definitely just feels magical once you see the little pinpoints of light surrounding you.

      Reply
  11. Danielle

    I really wanted to see the fireflies in Malaysia but can imagine that this would be even prettier!! Gorgeous photos!! #farawayfiles

    Reply
  12. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)

    That is SO cool! Nature just wows us all of the time, and we’d love to see the glow worms. We had no idea they were there, so thanks for putting the little fellas on our radar, and for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Reply

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