Breathtaking and beautiful, Waitomo caves are not like any other caves across the world. What makes them unique is that they glow! In pitch darkness, rowing over the shallow waters, when you look up, it appears as if the stars have homed on the ceiling of the caves. What makes it possible is among the rarest of creatures in world- the mosquito-sized glow worm Arachnocampa luminosa, hence the name glowworm caves.
There are around 300 limestone caves in Waitomo region that have been created over the last 30 million years by immense geological and volcanic activity. These Glowworm Caves were formed when the place was still under the ocean. The limestone that is composed in the cave walls is composed of corals, seashells, fish skeletons and other marine animals fossilized for over millions of years, layered upon each other and compressed into limestone, making it 200 meters thick. The caves have been formed by the dripping water from the ceiling along with the formations by the running water, making unique limestone formations.
These glow worms are closely studied by Scientific Groups and they monitor the air quality, humidity and air temperatures of the caves so as to provide the most suitable conditions for the worms to grow. This determines how many people should enter the cave at one time and when the flow of air should be changed.
The Waitomo Glowworm caves were found by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau who was accompanied by Fred Mace, an English surveyor. Building their own rafts with candles in hand, the two set out to explore deep within the caves that were known to exist by locals. When they entered the Glowworm Grotto, they were surprised to see the ceiling glowing blow unceasingly. As they went deeper they discovered the limestone formations. The place has been a tourist hotspot since the then discovery in1887.
The 2 hours 15 minutes tour departs after every half hour daily from 9 am to 5 pm for 365 days of a year. There are around 14 people under a guide. Around 2000 people visit the cave every day. The price is $8 during off peak times that is before 10:30 and after 2:30 pm and $11 during peak times.
The tour to the caves has three different levels, beginning from top level of the cave and the Catacombs. The second level leads the visitors to the Banquet Chamber. At this level one can stop to have some snacks. The last level leads you down to the Cathedral. It is an enclosed area with rough surfaces and about 18 meters high. The tour reaches its end with a 45 minute boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto. The ride takes you along the Waitomo river into underground where the only light comes from the tiny glowworms that hang from the ceiling, appearing to be surreal.
The lower level of Waitomo Glowworm is the largest cavern. The place is famous for its acoustics and due to that many famous singers and choirs have performed here. The caves are almost 30 million years old.
It is a 16 meter vertical limestone shaft, which is one of the attractions at the caves. It makes the part of the waterfall which flows during heavy rains. It was the last feature of the cave to be formed and links Waitomo River to the upper level of the caves.
- Visitors are advised to come in walking shoes and a warm jacket for the journey.
- Visitors are told not to touch the formations. They are fragile and take a long time to form. The y get easily discolored if being touched and can even break.
- Photography is strictly prohibited; this even includes non-flash photography and video.
- To keep the atmospheric and air temperatures under control, smoking is not allowed inside the caves.
- It is also advised to keep silent all the time, especially in the boat.
Those who seek adventure can even look for roping down dark tunnels, climbing narrow ledges, river rafting down the rapids and even swimming through the river. The Waitomo Caves are an hour drive from Hamilton and the tours are run regularly. To visit more than one cave, one can purchase the ‘Cave Combo ticket’ from the center for discounts.
Auckland International Airport, New Zealand is nearest airport to Waitomo Caves at a distance of 141 km. Around 40 airlines operate out of the airport at a time and it offers non-stop flights to 53 cities.One can book the accommodation and activities through The Waitomo Education Service. The Marie or the Lodge are clean and tidy. Few of the good lodges are Kaputhi Marie located before Kiwi Cave rafting on the Waitomo Ceves Road whereas Tokikapu Marie is 2 kilometers west of Waitomo Caves Village on Te Anga Rd.
The Caves offer a memorable experience, specially the silent boat ride through pitch darkness, while looking at the stunning glowworms hanging from the ceiling. The echo of once voice across the limestone caves at the Cathedral, stretches far and wide, giving goosebumps to the visitors. An utterly different and breathtaking experience, the Waitomo Caves are a magnet to the tourists from all over the world and a must-visit while in New Zealand