Any links in this post to a merchant may contain an affiliate link, which means that if you click on that link and then buy something, I may earn a commission from it. However, all opinions in this link are 100% mine and 100% honest. If I didn't believe in a particular product, I wouldn't recommend it to you.
Looking for an ultra cool, unique activity to do on your upcoming New Zealand trip? The Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand is the only place in the world where you can see real life glowworms in their natural environment. This makes it a must-do for families. Here’s why!
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves will be the highlight of your trip to New Zealand. This is one of those ultimate bucket list experiences! You won’t regret checking it out!
The Cave Tours
There are three different caves to explore at Waitomo. Each offers a different tour option with varying levels of adventure, length of time, and prices.
These various options allows you to customize the experience to fit your family’s needs, budget, and comfort level.
They also offer a few combo tours, if you are interested in exploring more than one of the caves.
All of the tours are guided. The tour guides are all Maori descendants, which also adds a bit of a cultural experience to the tour.
While I am generally not a fan of guided tours, this is one situation where it is a necessity. You wouldn’t get even half of the experience of doing this on your own without a guide.
For more information on the various tour options, you can visit the Waitomo website at www.waitomo.com.
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves is the shortest cave tour available. It will take 45 minutes to complete. It is $51 NZD for adults and $23 for children.
On this tour, you go down into the caves, learn about the history and formation of them, and see the glowworms.
Because of its length, this is the perfect tour if you have younger children, have mobility issues, or are not very adventurous.
The only drawback to this tour was that you are not allowed to take photos inside the caves.
This is the tour we took. I wish we could have done one of the longer ones, but we were short on time. This was an amazing tour however. I was very happy with it.
The Aranui Cave tour takes approximately one hour. The cost for the Aranui Cave tour is $50 NZD for adults and $23 for children.
This tour will take you through a forest before entering the cave for more exploration. There are no glowworms on this tour, but you will see some interesting cave formations.
You are allowed to take photos on this tour.
The longest cave tour available is the Ruakuri Cave. It is two hours long and is handicap accessible. The cost for this one is $74 NZD for adults and $29 for children.
This is the only tour where you are allowed to take photos of the glowworms. This tour will allow you to get much closer to the glowworms than the Glowworm Cave tour will.
Black Water Rafting
If a walking tour through a cave isn’t adventurous enough for you, then black water rafting may fit the bill! There’s nothing like rafting in the dark past thousands of glowworms to get the heart pumping, right?
These tours, which last between 3-5 hours, involve tubing, ziplining, and climbing waterfalls deep within Ruakuri Cave.
Depending on the length, these tours will cost you $142 or $246 NZD per person.
Where to Find the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are located on New Zealand’s North Island just outside of Otorohanga on Highway 3. The caves are about 125 miles south of Auckland and 90 miles west of Rotorua.
There are plenty of signs marking the turnoff to the caves, so you shouldn’t have any problems finding them.
Even if you are planning on staying in the Auckland area for your whole trip, it is worth it to rent a car and take a day trip to visit the caves.
What to Expect at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
You must buy tickets and reserve a time for your tour. There are only a limited number of spots open on each tour. So, I would recommend booking in advance if you are on a time crunch.
We did not realize that we needed to reserve our tickets in advance. So, we showed up without a reservation. We were able to get a spot on a tour, but had to wait for about an hour or so before our tour time.
After getting your tickets, make your way over to the waiting area. Here, you will find places to sit, as well as a snack bar. Stairs lead down to a lower level which houses a restaurant and gift shop.
When your tour time arrives, your guide will lead you to the entrance of the cave. After hearing a brief history of the caves and some safety instructions, you and your group will descend down stairs into the caves.
You guide will stop periodically to tell you more about the caves, how they formed, and their history.
Towards the end of the tour, you will board a rowboat and slowly, silently move through the dark waters until you are sitting below thousands of glowworms.
You will have several minutes to sit in total darkness and silence and admire these wonderful creatures before being taken to the exit.
Unfortunately, unless you take the Ruakuri Cave tour, you are not allowed to take photos in the caves or of the glowworms!
Because of this, I don’t have any photos of the glowworms to show you. You will have to wait and see them for yourself at the caves!
Visiting With Kids
If you are a parent, you are probably wondering if this is a good experience for kids? To be honest, it all depends on the age, adventure level, and personality of your kids.
We took our son at age 8 with no problems. He wasn’t as awestruck as I was, but he enjoyed it.
Taking young children (under 5) or those who have trouble being still and quiet is a bad idea. This just isn’t the type of tour where kids can run around and be loud.
There are several places along the tour where the tour guide specifically asks you to not make any noise at all.
Additionally, if your child is scared of the dark, this might not be a good tour for them either. It is pretty dark once you get in the boat and float towards the glowworms.
On the other hand, older children and those interested in nature and biology will love the caves! This is an excellent activity for all those young adventure seekers too.
This was one of the top 5 greatest things I have done in all my years of traveling! It was a religious experience for me. I can’t even describe to you how blown away I was by visiting these caves!
My husband and son thought they were cool too, but they weren’t as amazed by them as I was. It was, however, one of those things we are all very glad we did. It is just such a unique experience.
The Waitomo Glowworm Cave was perfect for us at the time. But, if we ever return to New Zealand, we will go back and do one of the longer tours.
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves is one of the most unique experiences you will find anywhere on earth. It is the only place to find glowworms in their natural environment.
While not an ideal activity for all children, older or more adventurous kids will love exploring the caves and seeing the glowworms.
If you are looking for one-of-a-kind items for your bucket list, this needs to be on it! If you ever find yourself on the North Island of New Zealand, you must take time to go visit the glowworms! You will not regret it.
For more amazing things to do in New Zealand, see free things to do with kids, things to do on the North Island, Te Papa, Mama Brown, and Auckland Aquarium. Plus, see our New Zealand trip planning guide, why you must visit New Zealand and mistakes to avoid during your trip.
P.S. Need help finding the best places to go on your family vacations? My Ultimate USA Bucket List for Families will instantly give you 60 of the best vacation destinations for families in the United States! Get it for FREE in the box below and start planning your next trip today! Plus, as a bonus, you will receive my weekly email newsletter full of family trip tips and inspiration!