Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves were at the top of my list of things to see near Auckland. I looked at various tour companies and frankly, the coach tours were considerably more expensive than I thought they’d be. A group day tour to Waitomo and the Hobbiton movie set cost about $250 per person and if we added Rotorua to see the Maori cultural show, we were looking at $300 each. We considered renting a car to drive ourselves but we’ve driven on the left in the UK and Ireland and that didn’t especially appeal to me. With a distance of 193 km (119 mi) each way, we’d spend half the day driving ourselves with the attendant stress. In the end, we decided to eliminate Hobbiton and Rotorua since the reviews of Hobbiton weren’t that good and we could see a Maori cultural show in Auckland. Most companies charged around $180 for the tour to Waitomo alone but I found a no frills deal through InterCity for just $105 per person that I jumped on. When I found out later the entrance tickets to Waitomo were $50, that deal looked even better.

We definitely made the right choice by not driving ourselves. Auckland is in the midst of a transportation crisis caused by a combination of rapid city growth and poor planning. Our bus driver told us 40 years ago politicians refused to implement a comprehensive mass transit plan and the city has been paying the price ever since. Getting out of Auckland was extremely slow with frequent stops on the Southern Motorway. The only thing worse was the traffic into the city which was backed up for more than 30 miles.

A rainy day was perfect for a drive and cave tour since we wouldn’t be outside in the elements for either. My photos from the bus suffered a bit from the rain but the countryside was beautiful nonetheless.


Rainy countryside


Countryside outside Auckland


New Zealand countryside


Countryside outside Auckland


Pastoral scene in New Zealand


North Island, New Zealand


Near Waitomo, New Zealand


Drive near Waitomo, New Zealand


Scene from the bus on North Island


Flax growing next to the roadway in New Zealand

According to our tour guide, Waitomo Glowworm Caves were discovered by the local Maori Chief, Tanetinorau, on his own land and explored by him and a surveyor, Fred Mace, in 1887 on a raft made of flax stalks. Two years later the caves opened for tours led by local Maori guides but in 1904 the government took over the administration. They were finally returned to the family of Tanetinorau in 1989.


Entrance to Waitomo Glowworm Caves with flax growing in the foreground

The glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand. They are actually the larvae of a fungus gnat whose bioluminescence attracts insects. The glowworms produce a long sticky thread which hangs from the roof of the cave and ensnares passing insects, thus providing a meal for the glowworm.

The 45-minute guided tour through the cave included views of stalactites, stalagmites, glowworms, and ended with a boat-ride through the Glowworm Grotto.


Walking to the entrance of the caves


Entrance to the caves


Disembarking from the boats through Glowworm Grotto


Selfie after our boat ride


Photography isn’t allowed inside the caves so I found this National Geographic YouTube video for your enjoyment.

We also bought the photos taken at the caves. Although they are just our photo superimposed over a background picture, they remind us of the amazing sights we enjoyed at Waitomo.


Inside the entrance


Sticky threads to catch a meal


Surrounded by glowworms

This was definitely a heavily visited tourist attraction, but nevertheless, we are glad we went. The glowworms are a unique natural attraction in New Zealand and as such, should not be missed.


Based on events from February 2017.

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