Learn About the Amazing Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand

Written by Nina Phillips
Published: March 2, 2024
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When you hear a name like Waitomo Glowworm Caves, how can you not be interested? It sounds too good to be true, but it’s real. The Waitomo caves, at least most of them, are filled with beautiful lights as a result of hundreds of glowworms living in the dark.

If you want to learn more about these caves, how to visit them, and what to expect when you go, keep reading below.

Where Are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves?

The Waitomo Caves are located in Waitomo. This is on the North Island of New Zealand. The name comes from the Maori people, with wai meaning water and tomo meaning hole or shaft.

Depending on how you plan to travel, it’s not terribly far from Auckland, New Zealand. It’s about three-and-a-half hours by bus, or two-and-a-half hours by car.

What Are the Waitomo Caves?

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Waikato, New Zealand

These are some of the amazing lights you’ll see while in the Waitomo Caves.

©Shaun Jeffers/Shutterstock.com

A total of three caves make up this attraction. These are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Ruakuri Cave, and Aranui Cave. Each cave is a little different.

The Aranui cave is dry and doesn’t have any glowworms. However, the sparkling stones and multi-colored stalactites and stalagmites are sure to leave behind an impression.

Then there is the Ruakuri Cave. This is the largest cave in the area, big enough to easily be wheelchair accessible. There’s a mix of limestone formations and stunning crystals. Part of the cave has water in it, allowing you a close look at the glowworms.

Finally, there is the most popular cave. This is the Glowworm Caves. You’ll get to walk around some of the larger caves. Then, you’ll get to take a boat through an area filled with glowworms. You and the rest of the people on the tour get to watch the glowworms and their lights reflecting off of the cave walls in silence.

Check out a couple of different tour options. Some places offer a visit to multiple caves or even other places nearby for one decent price. There are a few other attractions around the area, so it’s best to take advantage and see as many of them as you can while you’re in the area.

Life in the Waitomo Caves

Couple standing underneath Glow Worm Sky in Waipu Cave, new Zealand

Waipu Cave is another place where you can find glowworms in New Zealand.

©MarcelStrelow/iStock via Getty Images

Despite being a popular cave, you can find quite a bit of wildlife in the caves. Most of them are insects, such as giant crickets and albino cave ants. The giant crickets are known as Weta, and they are actually quite large, though thankfully flightless. They’re about the size of a pocket lighter and are some of the heaviest insects in the world.

There is also a wide range of fungi that make its home on the walls of the cave. One such example is a fungus known as cave flower, distantly related to Pleurotus.

However, the most popular species in the cave is the glowworm that the cave is named after. The glowworm is Arachnocampa luminosa, which roughly means “glowing spider-worm.”

Their common name is simply glowworm, but they are sometimes referred to as New Zealand Gloworm because they are endemic to the country. In the Māori language, they are known as Titiwai, which refers to the glowing light they project into the water.

These glowworms seen in the cave make up the larval and imago stages. In both of these stages, the glowworm emits blue-green bioluminescence. They turn into a type of gnat when fully grown.

In addition to being found in the Waitomo Caves, they are found in some botanical gardens in the area, such as Wellington Botanical Gardens.

Because of the heavy foot traffic due to visitors, there aren’t many other animals in the cave.

Other Things to Do in the Area

If you’ve ever wanted to see New Zealand’s National Bird, there are plenty of places near Waitomo to catch sight of one.

©iStock.com/Jason Magerkorth

If you want a little adrenaline after that serene sight, there’s the perfect place nearby. Go black water rafting is the ultimate adventure. You get to go tubing in the dark caves, jump off of waterfalls, and see glowworms. Still not enough? There are also options for ziplining through the dark caves, going caving, and climbing up waterfalls.

If you want to see more animals, the Kiwi House in Otorohanga is only about a 15-minute drive from Waitomo. It houses all sorts of native birds including the grey teal, tui, kea, North Island kaka, little spotted kiwi, and New Zealand falcon.

There’s also the Timber Trail, which is roughly a 20-minute drive from Waitomo. The area offers 54 miles of trails that wander through an ancient forest. Depending on what trail you take, you may even find a few bridges to cross. With so many miles of trails, you could easily spend a week just in the park. There are also plenty of bike trails in the park if you’re looking for more than a walk.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ting Cheng/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Nina is a writer at A-Z Animals, FIDIS Travel, and Giant Freakin Robot. Her focus is on wildlife, national parks, and the environment. She has been writing about animals for over three years. Nina holds a Bachelor's in Conservation Biology, which she uses when talking about animals and their natural habitats. In her free time, Nina also enjoys working on writing her novels and short stories. As a resident of Colorado, Nina enjoys getting out in nature, traveling, and watching snow hit the mountains from her enclosed porch.

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