The Stunning Waitomo Glowworm Caves of New Zealand

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

If you’ve never been to New Zealand, this particular cave is a great site to visit on your first trip. One of New Zealand’s most popular and unique tourist attractions, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, inspires awe every time. Millions of tiny glowing worms, Arachnocampa Luminosa, hang in a beautiful display from the ceilings and walls of these limestone caves. It is like walking into star-studded heaven.

You can miss this spectacular experience if you are a fan of an exquisite site filled with history and amazing sceneries. Here is a complete guide if you want to experience the Waitomo Caving.

An image of the light-colord stalactites hanging from above in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

History of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

In 1887, English surveyor Fred Mace and Maori chief Tane Tinorau embarked on an expedition to explore the Caves of Waitomo.

They entered the cave system via a tiny raft that ferried them through its underground waterways—their candles providing scant illumination as they slowly made their way downriver.

The group noticed thousands of glowworms hanging peacefully above their heads, forming a magnificent bioluminescent cosmos. In the darkness, it looked like starlight was scattered across the formations, but it wasn’t.

Tinorau and Thompson were elated with joy after finding the cave. The two men would often return to explore further, but on an independent trip, Tinorau found a land entrance, the same one used today by tourists worldwide.

In 1889, Tinorau and his wife began leading tours through Te Waikato Traverse Cave. Today, the descendants of Tinorau and his wife guide visitors through the cave while their glowing fungus gnats still flit about from wall to wall.

The “glowworm” term refers to the larvae of various insects, all of which are bioluminescent. These include firefly beetle larvae (Lampyridae), phengodid beetle larvae, and Arachnocampa—a type o fungus gnat.

The fungus gnat larvae, which grow in large numbers on Waitomo cave walls and hunt with long strings of sticky mucus, are genuinely astounding when seen together. You might find them gross, but no one will force you to get close to them!

Waitomo Glowworm Cave Tours

Ruakuri Cave

Enjoy a 75-minute guided walking tour of Ruakuri Cave. You will marvel at displays of glowworms and see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites formed over millions of years.

The cave’s most notable features are the shawl-like formations created by flowing rivers and fossilized seashells. These indicate that, a long time ago, the caves were once part of the seabed.

The Waitomo Caves have four significant features

  1. Holden’s Cavern, named after the man who opened it to the public
  2. The Drum Passage
  3. The Pretties (where some of its most delicate formations can be found)
  4. Ghost Passage

Tours depart daily at 9 am, 10 am, and 11:30 am. 12:30 pm (noon), 1.30 pm, and 3.30 pm except for Christmas Day, when no tours are given

Pictures: Photography is permitted in Ruakuri Cave.

Accessibility: Ruakuri Cave is wheelchair accessible.

Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes

Admission: Ticket Included

An image of the beautifully lit Ruakuri Cave, one of the the Waitomo Glowworm Cave Tours.

Black Water Rafting Experience Waitomo Caves Tour

Go on an unforgettable adventure in the Waitomo caves tour with a 3-hour Labyrinth rafting experience. You’ll float underground on an inner tube, including making it over a small waterfall jump! Or, for an exhilarating abseil (rappel) down limestone walls, the perfect activity to end a day in the Glowworm Grotto. Instruction and equipment included!

The resident glowworms will amaze you as they illuminate this cave system’s population of stalactites, stalagmites, and fossils dating back over 200 million years.

Finish your caving adventure with a hot shower and soup or bagel. Fun and exhilarating, these tours will have you floating over cascading underground waterfalls. Labyrinth is 3 hours long; Black Abyss is 5 hours. Wear all the necessary equipment Wetsuits and footwear will be provided.

Start your adventure at the Waitomo caves tour, where an expert guide will outfit you with a wetsuit and water tube before taking you into the underground network.

A group enjoys a boat tour through the dark and glowworm-lit passage in Waitomo.

Private Waitomo Glowworm Cave Tours

Explore Waitomo caving on an exclusive Glow Worm Cave Tour, led by a family who personally owns the land. With only six places available each day, this intimate excursion gives you plenty of time to enjoy nature’s breathtaking formations in peace and tranquility.

Get an up-close look at the mesmerizing glow worms on a trip through this stunning natural wonder. A knowledgeable guide is provided, and all equipment will be supplied.

Thermal pants, fleece, shorts, gumboots, and even socks keep you warm and dry. Safety first in the caves: helmet & headlamp included, so don’t forget yours! It is not a strenuous hike but requires reasonable fitness levels to traverse the caves.

Geology of Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Over the last 30 million years, geological and volcanic activity has created around 300 known limestone caves in the Waitomo region.

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves were formed by a limestone formation that existed when the region was still under water thirty million years ago. The limestone comprises fossilized corals, seashells, fish skeletons, and many tiny marine organisms found on sea beds.

Limestone forms when fossils are buried under layers of sediment and compressed over millions of years. In the Waitomo area, limestone can be over 200 m (650 ft) thick.

In prehistoric days, earth movement initially caused the hard limestone below the ocean floor to bend and buckle. After the rock became exposed to air, it eroded, cracked, and formed on its surface. Water seeped through these openings, dissolving the limestone over millions of years. This which created massive caves within which human beings explored and even lived in at times throughout history.

The cave’s stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations grew from the water dripping from its ceiling or flowing over its walls and leaving behind limestone deposits.

Stalagmites grow upward from the ground and form where a ceiling once stood, while stalactites grow downward to reach their former peaks. When these two meet, a column can form. Cave decorations like stalactites take millions of years to form, because the average stalactite grows one cubic centimeter every 100 years.


Not only is New Zealand a fun trip for the family, but these caves will take your breath away. It is not a place to overlook if you are visiting the country. If you are already in New Zealand and want to experience Waitomo caving, do not hesitate to book a trip soon!

Caves are naturally beautiful, but many are also quite dark. When you add such beautiful natural lighting, something magical happens, and the experience is elevated to something that’s truly out of this world.

Be sure to check here for deals on various tours and activities associated with Waitomo.

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