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Exploring Waitomo Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri Cave in Waitomo, New Zealand

Waitomo Glowworm Cave in New Zealand

Magical. A great mystery unfolded right before our very eyes as our small boat cruised slowly around the underground river in Waitomo Glowworm Cave. Enchanting blue lights illuminated what otherwise would have been a desolate abyss. These beautiful creatures – thousands of them – sparkled like stars and brought life into the darkness.

Waitomo Caves

A truly unforgettable experience, a tour of the Waitomo Caves offers a glimpse into a labyrinth of subterranean caves and underground rivers. The name Waitomo comes from Maori words wai (water) and tomo (hole or shaft), a fitting name for an area with over 300 mapped underground caves. For over 100 years, three main caves have been astounding the public – Waitomo Glowworm Cave, Ruakuri and Aranui.

Waitomo Glowworm Boat Tour

I had never seen glowworms until I moved to New Zealand. The first time I saw them was during a trip to Franz Josef . While I didn’t see that many, they have fascinated me ever since. I was very intrigued when I first learnt about the glowworm caves in Waitomo where these luminescent creatures shine in great numbers. New Zealand is one of only three countries in the world that has glowworm caves; the other two being Australia and USA. While there are a few areas in New Zealand where you can see glowworm caves, Waitomo is known to be the best place to see them work their magic.

Jon and I booked the Most Popular Combo tour which included a tour of Waitomo Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri Cave. It’s popular for good reason, here are the details of our tour of the Waitomo Caves:

Waitomo Glowworm Cave

A wonderful work of nature, Waitomo Glowworm Cave enthralled us with mystical blue lights from glowworms as our boat traversed a section of its vast underground river network. While the luminescent glowworms remain the star of the show, the limestone formations in this cave do not fall short of expectation. The cave is also home to a glorious display of stalactite formations. The acoustics in this cave are known to be great too. Artists from around the globe have performed in the “Cathedral” of the cave.

Note that photos and videos are not allowed in this cave to protect the population of glowworms. Photos of the glowworms and the boat tour at Waitomo Glowworm Cave were provided by Discover Waitomo.

Waitomo Glowworm Cave Tour in New Zealand

Ruakuri Cave

After visiting Waitomo Glowworm Cave, it’s a good idea to head over to Ruakuri Cave and marvel at stalactite and stalagmite formations on a 90 minute walking tour. While we’ve been to some impressive caves during our travels such as the cenotes in Mexico, the formations here are very unique. If you love caves as much as we do, the tour (New Zealand’s longest underground walking tour) is well worth it.

While not as great in numbers as Waitomo Glowworm Cave, the presence of luminescent glowworms in Ruakuri cave is also a plus. These magnificent creatures are unique to New Zealand (and a couple of other countries). Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see them up-close. Photography and video are permitted in selected areas of Ruakuri Cave.

Ruakuri Glowworm Cave Tour

My attempt at capturing the glowworms at Ruakuri Cave without a tripod and a rushed long exposure!

Details of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri Cave Tour

  • The Waitomo Cave tours depart daily from 9am.
  • The Waitomo Glowworm Cave tour takes about 45 minutes and  the Ruakuri Cave tour takes 90 minutes.
  • Ruakuri Cave is located about 5 minutes’ drive from Waitomo Glowworm Cave.
  • It gets quite cold inside the cave (16-17 ºC) so bring a warm jacket.
  • There are walkways within the caves but not many places opportunities to sit, so wear comfortable shoes.
  • Food and drink are not allowed in the caves.
  • Check-in is 30 minutes before the tour at Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre, located at  39 Waitomo Village Road.
  • Check out Discover Waitomo‘s website for more information.

Other Things to Do Near Waitomo Caves

Marokopa Falls

Considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, Marokopa Falls is a 35m cascading waterfall. Marokopa Falls is located in Tawarau Forest, a short drive from Waitomo Caves.

Marokopa Falls in Waitomo, New Zealand

Limestone Mangapohue Natural Bridge

The Mangapohue Natural Bridge is a limestone bridge archway surrounded by lush nature. Set in the Marokopa River valley near Waitomo, the 17 m high limestone arches are the remains of an ancient cave system.

Mangapohue Natural Bridge in Waitomo, New Zealand

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Disclaimer: We were hosted by Discover Waitomo for the Waitomo Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri Cave Tour. All thoughts and opinions in this post are our own.


Do you have plans to visit New Zealand? Are the Waitomo Caves in your New Zealand Itinerary? Let us know. 

About the author

Gia Kristel Algie

Currently based in New Zealand, Gia grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly two years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her husband, Jon.

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