Waitomo Caves: It’s a Kind of Magic North Island, New Zealand

I’d say a visit to New Zealand isn’t complete without a visit to at least one glow worm cave.

The New Zealand glow worm lives in wet caves or humid and sheltered places in the forest. The larvae emit a light in order to attract prey. They can be seen all over New Zealand but the most famous place is the Waitomo Glowworm Cave on the North Island.

Waitomo Glowworm Cave

The cave has been a tourist attraction for well over one hundred years. Black and white images in the visitor center’s cafe depict the early tourists; men with hats and suits and women in long skirts and with even bigger hats. They look into the photographer’s camera, some smiling, other very earnest, but all of them, for sure, excited to be partaking in such a special adventure.

Today, hundreds of people take tours into the caves every day. It’s still special, most visitors haven’t seen anything the like before, but it’s definitely way more commercial than it was a hundred years ago.

Tours last about 45 minutes and even though the groups are usually quite big, it’s a nice experience. The main cave has several chambers and beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. One of the chambers, the Cathedral (I have yet to find a cave that doesn’t have a chamber named Cathedral), has very good acoustics. That good, in fact, that various choirs and singers have given concerts there.

The second part of the tour, and what everybody has come here for, is a boat ride in the dark on a channel only illuminated by the glow worms. It’s completely dark, very still, and the only thing you see are the thousands, no, millions, of glow worms hanging on the ceiling above you. It’s absolutely magical.

The glow worms (actually, their larvae) are very sensitive to light. Light can cause their own light to grow dimmer so they are less likely to attract enough prey to eat. Therefore, it’s not allowed to take photos or videos in the caves and that’s why you’ll have to google if you want to see pictures of the cave. Or go to New Zealand and see for yourself.

Around Waitomo

Driving further west toward the coast, there are some nice caves and a waterfall. Since most people only go as far as the Waitomo caves, you have the road and the sights almost to yourself.

Marokopa Falls

However, we weren’t very lucky with the weather; it was raining the whole day. That didn’t matter in the cave but it definitely wasn’t the right weather for a walk. We did go to the Marokopa Falls, an amazing waterfall, but, soaking wet, gave up after that and spent the rest of the day inside.


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