Out of This World: Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

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If you happen to be in Auckland, New Zealand and you fancy a natural experience unlike anything else you’ve seen before, I’d highly recommend checking out the Waitomo Caves experience. An amazing combination of outdoor activity and natural science wonder, the cave tubing experience is truly out of this world. Everything seems a bit alien and otherworldly when you’re floating through a network of caves looking up at thousands of glowworms lighting up the roof. I’m glad I made the trip to Waitomo to see it.

From Auckland, the caves are around a 3-hour drive away. The whole experience takes up about half a day. You can decide to head back to Auckland on the same day and make it a half day trip, or you can stay over at one of the local hostels in Waitomo and make it an overnight excursion. I chose to stay overnight, and it was nice to get a hot shower and be all freshened up after the tubing and explore somewhere new in New Zealand. I arranged the bus transfer, tour guide and host for the night at a backpacker’s travel agent in Auckland. This made it all work out nicely for me as a solo traveller.

I was hanging around in Auckland checking out a whole selection of tours so I could do something close by. This was a wonderful opportunity to do something a little bit different, and when you hear about what I got up to in the caves you’ll understand why.

Waitomo is a village on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s known for its extensive network of underground cave systems where thousands of glowworms light up the (aptly named) Glowworm Caves.

As if that wasn’t enough to feast your eyes on, the vast Ruakuri Cave features stunning waterfalls and interesting limestone formations. The Waitomo Caves can be explored by joining up with one of the daily tours that departs from the village throughout the day. I’d highly recommend this as you hear all sorts of interesting information about the formation and history of the caves from the tour guide.

When it comes to seeing the Glowworm Caves, the most common way to do it is by boat, but being up for an active adventure I opted for the tubing tour instead.

Just pop on your wet suit, blow up your inflatable tire, get your head torch, caving helmet and wellington boots on, and then it’s time to go tube caving.

As you walk down the ladder and into the cave, you already start to feel like you’re being transported to another world. The darkness kicks in and your head torch helps to light up your path. Just sit back and float around the caves in your tube through all the different sections of the cave.

What you’re about to see plenty of is illuminated glowworms – the common name for various groups of insect larvae and adult larviform females that glow through bioluminescence.

You can find them living amongst the caves of Waitomo, as the conditions down below are perfect for them to thrive, multiply, and light up at night.

Once you reach the main section of the cave, turn off your head torch, sit back and float along as you watch the thousands upon thousands of glowworms lighting up the roof of the cave.

It’s a truly magical experience and definitely one to tell people about back home. Looking up at the points of light all over the roof of the cave, you kind of feel like you’re gazing up at the Milky Way on a clear dark night, and feels like you’re floating in space as the rubber tube glides you gently through the cave.

I was definitely happy I’d opted for the tubing option, as you feel alone in your sole vessel to truly enjoy the experience in complete privacy, just gazing up and contemplating peacefully. The glowworms sort of blink in the light with a magical effect in numbers, as they twinkle above you like a canopy of stars.

After your magical experience with the wonders of nature, on your way out of the cave you come across some rapid water slides to enjoy going down before you reach the main exit. Finish your tubing tour of the caves with a bit of action and excitement – perfect for adventure seekers and nature lovers.

If you happen to be in New Zealand and have a free day to spare in Auckland, do something unique and special that really gives you a feel for this country’s incredible natural species. Combine the adventure of cave tubing with the magic of bioluminescence in nature, and enjoy an out of this world experience with the glowworms at Waitomo Caves.