Glowworms are a phenomena that still amazes scientists today. New Zealand’s Glowworm Grotto was discovered over 120 years ago and there are thousands of glowworms lighting the way through the astonishing Waitomo caves, just waiting for you to explore.
The caves were first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau. It’s understood that people living in the area knew that the caves were there but they hadn’t been investigated. Their raft was built with flax stems, candles were their only lighting.
You have two options when it comes to exploring these incredible caves. The easy option is a boat ride around the Glowworm Caves including the incredible Glowworm Grotto. The second option is perfect for adventurers, and although it’s a little more strenuous, it’s still suitable for beginners. Black water rafting through the Waitomo Caves gives you the chance to really explore and have an adventure over 3 hours.
So what exactly is black water rafting? It’s easy to compare it to white water rafting and makes it instantly sound more treacherous and specialist than it is. The experience has now recognised by the industry as ‘tubing through a cave’. Don’t expect a white water rafting experience through a cave — that’s simply too dangerous anywhere in the world — the water is mostly still and you’ll be paddling your way around parts of the cave.
The Black Labyrinth experience isn’t all about sitting back in your black tube and enjoying the ride. You’ll have climbing to contend with and waterfalls and narrow passageways to navigate.
Glowworms might resemble worms but they’re actually insect larvae that glow through bioluminescence. Light is formed by a chemical reaction within a living organism. It occurs in deep sea creatures but it’s also a phenomena that can take place in plants, particularly fungi. Sometimes the glow from glowworms is used as a mating call, other times it can be used to attract prey. In some cases it’s even a deterrent to predators. Whatever the reasons for these glowworms, they’re flaunting what they’ve got and looking absolutely enchanting.
The Glowworm Grotto might be the main draw for Waitomo, but it isn’t the only cave worth your time. Ruakuri Caves were said to be discovered over 500 years ago (you’ll find more glowworms down here too) and it’s been cleverly designed so it’s wheelchair accessible. Aranui Caves are even further into the forest but they’re completely dry. You won’t find any glowworms here, instead you’ll explore a staggering collection of stalagmites and stalactites that have formed over the years.
Waitomo Caves are one of the best places in the world to see glowworms. The setting is naturally jaw-dropping, we just like that they add a little bit of adventure to the experience.
Head to Waikato in New Zealand.
Tours run all year round but they finish a little earlier through winter. But we'll check for you before you go.
What you need to know:
Unfortunately, you can’t take cameras with you on your tour. This is largely for your own safety and the enjoyment of others but as the caves are so dark it’s unlikely you’d get any good shots without high-end camera equipment. We really hope they’ll look at doing photography tours in the future but in the meantime we suggest you look up and marvel at nature being pretty darn fabulous.