Meet Waitomo Caves: New Zealand's Glow-in-the-dark Phenomenon

Open to the public since 1889, the Waitomo Caves are unlike any underground tour you have ever taken before. High above in the limestone ceilings you will find thousands of glow-worms endemic to New Zealand. They illuminate the caves with the sole purpose of attracting unsuspected prey… moths, that is. But the results are astonishing, hence why it is one of the North Island’s most popular activities (and is completely safe).

There are three different caves to choose from when visiting Waitomo. However, we have also included a lesser-known alternative called the Spellbound Caves at the end of this article. Read on to find out more!

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Waitomo Glow-worm Cave: The OG Experience

Waitomo’s most popular attraction for 130 years oozes romance. A boat ride in blissful silence through the blue grotto feels super reminiscent of The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss The Girl” scene. Although you are told to keep quiet so as to not disturb the glow-worms, the atmosphere is so awe-inspiring that you might just find yourself lost for words anyway.

Ruakuri Cave: Try Water Rafting

Here you can explore an unbelievable array of limestone and crystal, but if you want to add an extra edge to your day trip, consider these next activities.

There are two black water rafting opportunities to choose between: a three hour black labyrinth tour, and a five hour black abyss tour. As their names might suggest, the black labyrinth is a tubing experience where you will be scaling rocks and waterfalls, as well as floating under a glow-worm-lit sky. Meanwhile, the black abyss tour includes abseiling into darkness followed by a zipline tour just below the glow-worms, before taking a tube through the cave’s quick waters.

If daredevil sports are not your thing, then you can always sign up for a photography tour instead. Led by an experienced cave photographer, this experience will give you some guidance on how to capture this unusual attraction in all its glory.

Aranui Cave: An Unexpected Gem

As there is no river running through it, the third Waitomo Cave has nothing to do with glow-worms. It is for this reason that the Aranui Cave gets overlooked by tourists, which is a loss to them since it is the most intimate experience of them all. You can get up close and personal in this Aranui Cave, whose rose-tinted shades of browns and whites are a cosy contrast to the extreme cool of the other two. What can we say except come for the glow-in-the-dark experience, but stay for the stalactites?

Spellbound cave: Alternative worth considering

The Waitomo Caves are a highlight of any trip to North New Zealand for good reason. However, if you would like some off-the-beaten-track inspiration, consider looking into the family business Spellbound.

Dimly lit for around 20 minutes at a time, the Spellbound Caves allow you to see the glow-worms in their prime. The boat tours only operate on a small group or private basis, as well as being camera friendly — meaning you should have no trouble snapping the perfect shot of this unique part of the world.

For the full experience, check out Spellbound’s Spirit Cave. Home to hidden bones of ancient animals, this cave is a haven for archaelogy enthusiasts. All of the remains are sensitively presented, and the path is well-lit to make exploring accessible and safe. The cave is slowly dissolving away, so use this opportunity to explore a piece of living natural history.

Just 75 minutes away from Waitomo Caves is the Hobbiton™ Movie Set Tours. Check out our exclusive Lord of The Rings location guide here.
In New Zealand for the winter season? You just might see the Southern Lights. Find out more here.
Starting from Skratch? Here are some links to help you get started:
Glow Worm Caves of New Zealand in 360° | National Geographic
Embrace the unconventional with our weird & wonderful series.

New Zealand — Facts before you go


🇳🇿 Māori, New Zealand Sign Language (Official); English (de facto).


💸New Zealand Dollar $

The “Five W’s” of North New Zealand

  • Waiheke Island
  • Waitomo Caves
  • Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  • Wellington

Famous for…

🏞️ Beautiful landscapes

🧝 Lord of the Rings

☀️ Māori culture

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Hannah Douch
December 21, 2023

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