Waitomo Glowworm Caves – Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

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The Waitomo Glowworm Caves provided Greg and me with free entry in exchange for our honest review.


When Greg and I made the decision to travel to New Zealand, the first thing on my “to-see” list was the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. I had seen them on TV and read about them on various websites many times previous to our visit; the prospect of experiencing them in person was very exciting. Consequently, visiting the glowworm caves was the first activity we did after arriving in Rotorua, New Zealand.

We took our time along the drive from Rotorua to Waitomo Caves, stopping to take pictures and enjoying the beautiful New Zealand landscape. We were on the 11:00 A.M. tour of the cave, and because it was a summer season Saturday, there were lots of visitors.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

In addition to the glowworms, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves also have magnificent stalagmites and stalactites. Image credit: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

History of Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The word “waitomo” means “entering a hole in the ground.” That’s quite appropriate since the Waitomo Caves include a labyrinth of limestone caves and formations which actually began developing about 30 million years ago. After millions of years of earthquake and volcanic activity, the current day caves – with their magnificent stalactites and stalagmites – were formed.

The native Maori first discovered the caves, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were mapped and opened to the public. In fact, more than 80 percent of the staff that work the caves today are direct descendants of the Maori who made the original discovery.

What Exactly Is a Glowworm?

The scientific name for the species of glowworm that thrives in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves is the Arachnocampa Luminosa, meaning spider-like, light-producing larva. This particular species is unique to New Zealand. Like many insects, the glowworm has four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

  • Stage 1 – The adult female fly lays around 120 small, spherical eggs which hatch in about three weeks.
  • Stage 2 – After hatching, the larvae build a nest and excrete a sticky line of silk-like material, similar to a spider. But instead of weaving a web, the glowworm drops several single lines of material straight down from its nest. The light it emits attracts insects which get caught in the sticky threads. At this point the glowworm draws up those threads and feeds on the insect. Glowworms remain in the larval stage for about nine months and are similar in shape and size to a matchstick.
  • Stage 3 – After about nine months in the larval stage, a glowworm pupates. It hangs by a thread for about two weeks, when it emerges as an adult fly.
  • Stage 4 – The adult glowworm looks a bit like a larval mosquito. It has no mouth so it cannot eat. Its only purpose is to breed and reproduce, and it lives no longer than a few days.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves

While in their larval stage the glowworms release sticky threads down from their nests. When a prey insect gets stuck, the glowworm pulls up that thread to dine. Image credit: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Touring the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Although this series of caves is famous for and even named for the glowworms which are found within, their interior landscape is equally as impressive and renowned. Enormous stalactites and stalagmites – which grow at the painstakingly slow rate of one square centimeter per hundred years – adorn every tunnel, cavern and cathedral.

Greg was enthralled as we walked through the caves, always several meters behind the rest of our group from stopping to admire single formations. There was magnificence at every turn. I started to get truly excited when we came across our first few glowworms. The further we continued into the cave the more glowworms we saw.

The pièce de résistance was our hushed boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto. We had all been asked in advance to please halt our conversations during this portion of the tour, and the silence added a mysterious aura to the overall experience. In the pitch black darkness the only sound you could hear was the slight movement of the water lapping softly against the boat.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour ends with a boat ride through the dark and silent grotto. It was truly magical! Image credit: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Thousands of glowworms lined the grotto walls and ceiling giving the illusion of a star-filled sky on the darkest of nights. It was like having your own private tour through the make believe world of fairies and fairytales.

I highly recommend taking a tour through the Waitomo Glowworm caves. It will appeal to visitors of many interests, including photography, geology, zoology, archaeology, history and many more.

Have you ever visited a cave? What part of cave exploration interests you the most?

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42 thoughts on “Waitomo Glowworm Caves – Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Dani – It really was! It was the closest thing to traveling through a fairy tale I’ve ever experienced. And knowing that it was all 100% natural made it all the more special.

  1. RashmiChalukya

    Sounds like an amazing experience. Reading through your article and looking at those stunning pictures we would want to pull this place to the top of our bucketlist now. Thanks for the article.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      It is definitely cool, Robin! These caves had been on my Bucket List for years and it was very special for me to finally be able to see them.

  2. Maria

    Wow that’s incredible! It looks so magical and beautiful. What an experience that would be – would love to visit New Zealand one day.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Cindy – One of the reasons I like seeing caves is that each one is so unique. It’s almost like they each have their own distinct personality.

  3. Nikki

    How amazing those photos behind these. It looks so a magical place. This a coolest place that I ever seen. I want to go there someday.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Nikki – If you ever get the chance, you really should. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      I couldn’t agree more, Liz. Much of the travel Greg and I do is nature-related, and just about the time I think She’s outdone herself, we see something even more spectacular!

  4. Elizabeth O.

    They are very fascinating creatures. It’s no wonder you made sure to check this out first. That’s really amazing, what a great thing to experience.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Elizabeth – They truly are fascinating! They have such a specialized physiological makeup and biological niche!

  5. CourtneyLynne

    Omg your pictures look like they are straight out of a movie!!!! I would love to visit New Zeland one day. Definitely on my travel bucket list.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      CourtneyLynne – The photos we actually provided by the Waitomo Caves, because flash photography is not allowed in the glowworm caves.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Adriana – New Zealand had been on my Bucket List for many years … and it was definitely worth the wait!

  6. Connie

    Been in a lot of caves love the rock formations, water falls, and fish (phosphorescent). Have never seen a glow worm. Have the glow worm song (which was my father in laws favorite) stuck in my head. Again thanks for sharing your travel experiences!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      We saw them in other places, too, Jordan, but they weren’t nearly as good as at the caves.

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