New Zealand can boast an incredibly diverse range of natural wonders. From Ninety Mile Beach at the tip of the North Island all the way to the Southern Alps, the scenery spans snow, sand and everything in-between. Of all of the country’s geographic delights, few draw as many visitors as the famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Located in the King Country of the Waikato, these magnificent caves have put the small town of Waitomo on the international map. Don’t make the mistake of visiting just for these though – the region features a wide variety of other attractions that invoke just as much excitement and awe. Waitomo is located about three hours south of Auckland on a straight route down the scenic State Highways 1 and 39. There are plenty of places to stop for a snack along the way, but you won’t want to dilly-dally too much. Waitomo is waiting!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Of course, no discussion of Waitomo’s attractions can start without mentioning these famous caves. New Zealand has a rich bounty of underground locations that can be explored on a visit, but the Glowworm Caves are the undisputed crowning glory. Formed millennia ago by the movement of an earthquake fault, water flowed into these grottos easily, creating limestone crystals that produce the gorgeous, pale sparkling of the walls. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
The Glowworm Caves were first explored in 1887 by local Maori chief Tane Tinorau and surveyor Fred Mace. It certainly must have been a remarkable feeling when they emerged in the famous Grotto to find a ceiling sparkling with the lights of a thousand glowworms! This was only the beginning, and in the subsequent years even more areas of the cave system were uncovered before finally being opened to the public in 1889.
Today, there are tours operated through the Glowworm Caves every single day of the year. Visitors can choose to explore the Glowworm Cave, Ruakuri cave, Aranui Cave or even all three! Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and warm clothing – it can get cold down there.
Black water rafting
While the Glowworm cave is the main attraction of Waitomo, it may not be the one that calls to you if you’re after some heart-pounding adventure. If that’s the case, you’ll want to take on Ruakuri Cave with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Water flows freely through this cavern, and there’s something pretty magical about floating down on the currents and gazing at the vast limestone structures surrounding you. Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. was the first tour operator of its type in the country, and have been taking intrepid explorers on expeditions into the heart of the cave system since 1987.
Travel back over 30 million years with your knowledgeable tour guide on a journey that combines investigation and education in equal measure. Learn about how the caves were formed beneath sea level and how the smallest of cracks have led to the current stream of water that flows through Ruakuri. If you’re feeling truly bold, you can leave your raft behind, strap on a harness and head even farther into the depths of the darkness.
The most intense of these experiences is the Black Abyss tour, a five hour journey to what seems like the center of the Earth! You’ll see glowworms, waterfalls and limestone deposits while abseiling, climbing, jumping and even taking a flying fox through the ancient environment. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, nothing will.
Above ground attractions
Spending time in the caves is a must when visiting Waitomo, but we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a bit of a relief to return to a bit of fresh air after an unforgettable adventure. Fortunately, there’s plenty to see and do above ground. After a long day of caving, you’ll want to refuel first, and there are few places better to grab a bite to eat than the Waitomo Caves Homestead. This fine establishment has only been open since late 2015, but already has something of a reputation when it comes to delicious food (the spinach, pumpkin and feta parcel is particularly good).
If you’re still feeling a bit cramped from your time below ground, why not stretch your legs by taking on the Waitomo trail? This is another brand new attraction – only officially opening in April 2016. The route takes you through all sorts of great scenery, showcasing the best that the King Country has to offer. After all that, you may be feeling a bit too tired to drive back to Auckland. Never fear, there are some great options nearby to stay. Or perhaps you should fear …
The Waitomo Caves Hotel is widely considered to be the country’s most haunted hotel, and it certainly looks the part. Whether you’re staying in the gothic Victorian Wing or the more modern Art Deco Wing, you’ll certainly get a chance to revel in the unique atmosphere of this New Zealand landmark.
For more information on hiring a car in Auckland and visiting Waitomo, get in touch with East Coast Car Rentals today.