Top 5 things to do in Waitomo (New Zealand)

Posted May 24, 2013 by Alberto Molero in Top 10

Black Water Rafting -  Waitomo Caves - NZ

Flickr image by Ianz

Located about an hour outside the city of Hamilton, Waitomo is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. It is home to the famed Waitomo Glowworm Caves – not the only glowworm caves in the country, but the largest and most atmospheric. But there are plenty of other attractions to occupy your time while here in the area – mostly related to the caving system. Here are 5 of the top things to do in Waitomo.

Watching the Glowworms

Given that it’s Waitomo’s claim to fame, you should be familiar with the glowworm before you arrive. The worm designation is a misnomer; these are actually fly larvae that secrete enzymes to attract other insects that they eat. It doesn’t sound quite as glamorous as it looks, but thankfully you are far from the glowworms in most caves, and the tour guides ask that you do not disturb them.

What differentiates the Waitomo glow worm caves from others in New Zealand is its majestic grandeur; the cave itself is a wonder of Mother Nature, with its incredible depths, but in addition to that, the concentration of glowworms is unlike anywhere else in the world; as you pass underneath the ceiling of the main area, it appears as if you are outside underneath a star-lit sky. It’s impossible for pictures to do it justice.

Black Water Rafting

Most caves are created by underwater rivers that eat away at the stone; in caves where the rivers still exist, these are called “black water” (because of the obvious lack of light). In several places in New Zealand, including Waitomo, you can go rafting on these rivers, which can be a lot of fun. The rafts used are high-performance inner-tubes and you can jump down waterfalls and squeeze through narrow ravines; getting wet is mandatory!  Booking is essential via the tour operator in the village.

Underground Hiking

There are also dry caves in Waitomo, perfect for a hike; Aranui Cave is perhaps one of the most photogenic, with a stunning array of stalagmites and stalactites that will leave you stunned. Be sure to wear good footwear for this experience.


If you’re feeling even more adventurous, then take a visit to The Lost World – a cave that has a collapsed roof, leaving the only available entrance available by abseil. Once you reach the cave floor, 100 metres down, explore a cave that feels untouched for centuries.

Aboveground Hiking

Last but not least, you don’t have to spend your whole day underground. The Waitomo Walkway is a scenic and enjoyable 5km/3 hour walk around the scenic points in the area, crossing rivers and farmland. The trail can be accessed at the Visitor Information Centre.

About the Author

Alberto Molero

Alberto Molero is the co-founder, photographer and designer of WildJunket. As an adventure junkie, he’s fed his adrenaline cravings with scuba-diving trips in Borneo, ice-climbing excursions in Iceland and hiking expeditions in Australia. When he’s not traveling the world, he dreams of living on the beach and going surfing all day.

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