First Road Trip: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Despite a forecast for rain all weekend, we took advantage of Brett’s break from work to be tourists. Our first drive out of Auckland was to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Back when we were planning our hypothetical NZ honeymoon, this was top of our list of stops… and now we live within driving distance.

Unfortunately they don’t let you take photos in the caves, so you’ll have to do some stalking on Google Images. It really was spectacular.

A little background about the caves: 

There are three caves to explore in Waitomo (and you can buy a pass to explore all three), but the Glowworm Cave is by far the most famous for a reason – sparkly worms line part of the ceiling, duh.

It was first explored almost 130 years ago by a native Maori family. Local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace built a raft to navigate the cave by candlelight, stumbling on the fluorescent lightshow. After finding easier entryways, Chief Tane and his wife led small tours. Although the government claimed the caves in 1906, the administration was returned to Chief Tane’s descendants in 1989.

Our tour guide (who was fantastic) was a direct descendent of Chief Tane, and said the operation of the caves is completely a family affair. The family is very large and most live in the Waitomo region – making it very hard to find non-relatives to date, she joked. But not impossible, as the cave has served as the swoon-worthy wedding venue for several family members! The acoustics are incredible, so musicians will occaisonally play intimate concerts, and each Christmas season the local school choir performs Carols in the Caves. Tickets go fast, as you can imagine!

The tour:

We spent much more time in the cathedral portion of the cave talking about history and science than I thought we would. I’m not complaining – I always forget the difference between stalactites and stalagmites – but I had my heart set on sitting under the stars (I mean worms) for a little longer. We did get to see the worms up close during this portion. The tour concludes with a short boat ride in the Glowworm Grotto. They encouraged everyone to stay completely silent so that you could truly take in the experience, which was very much appreciated.

All in all, it was worth the 50NZD per person, and 2.5-hour drive from Devonport.

The only picture they’ll let you take… your boat going back to the cave after you disembark.


Driving to Waitomo. On the wrong side of the car. But look at the view!

As a bonus, on the way home, we stopped at the Otorohanga Kiwi House between Waitomo and Hamilton. Again, no photos allowed, but we met a ham of a Great Spotted named Tasman, and got a glimpse of her more reserved friend Kevin the Brown Kiwi. More to come on that later 🙂

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