New Zealand’s native glow worm species, the Arachnocampa luminosa, are found deep within the country’s limestone caverns, where they spin their silk nets and lower themselves to capture their unsuspecting prey. If you’re keen to get up close and personal with these remarkable creatures, these are some of the best places to do it.
Out of all of New Zealand’s glow worm grottos, the Waitomo Caves are the most accessible. They are located on the North Island, a short drive from major cities like Auckland and Hamilton. This is a place for all kinds of glow worm-loving explorers: you are able to go on guided caving tours, leisurely underground cruises, or you can get involved in an array of adrenaline-inducing activities like blackwater rafting and abseiling.
A cruise along the South Island’s Lake Te Anau will bring you up close and personal with a network of majestic glow worm-lit caves. By geological standards, the area’s limestone caves are quite young – they’re believed to be around 12,000 years old – and they are still very much being melded by the waters that flow through them. A small boat will take you into the grotto where you’ll spend a couple of hours admiring the glistening critters.
There are a series of short, easy walks near the Oparara Basin in Kahurangi National Park that allow visitors to view some native glow worms at their own pace. One of the first bush tracks you’ll come across leads into the Crazy Paving Cave, which consists of an intriguingly patterned floor below – and natural light showing up in the ceiling. The nearby Box Canyon Cave is another highlight for glow worm lovers and fossil enthusiasts too: just head to the end of the main track to find the steps that lets you descend into them.
Venture into Paparoa National Park to discover the glowing beauty that hides within the stalactites of its Nile River Cave System. Guided tours of these caverns depart from the village of Charleston, on the West Coast of the South Island, where you’ll climb some 130 steps down the calcite formations as a galaxy of glow worms comes into full view.
An evening expedition of the Glowworm Dell, just outside of the West Coast town of Hokitika, is one of the easiest, most natural ways to catch a glimpse of some blue-lit larvae as they put on their starry-night show. These caves are completely free to access: you just need to make your way to the Kumara Junction Highway near Seaview and walk to the clearly-marked cave entrance.
Nestled right at the heart of Waimio Valley, the Kawiti Caves is a place to learn not just about glow worms but also about the Maori heritage that encompassed this stretch of the North Island’s Northland region. A guided tour of these caves will expose visitors to a lush forested setting, before they meander underground to view thousands of star-like glow worms – in some sections you’ll be close enough to almost be able to touch them.
The Clifden Caves are located right at the bottom of the South Island, in the Southland region. This is a great option for a fit, agile adventurer: the limestone cave is free to access and will take you approximately 1.5 to two hours to explore. Choose between the upper or lower entrance points and head southwards – there are orange markers indicating the route throughout the way, though you will encounter some unmarked corridors, too. The journey is not recommended after a heavy bout of rain as the cave system is subject to flooding.
The Okupata Caves are situated off a gravel road in Tongariro Forest Park. Fair warning: these underground passages are not for the inexperienced – the Department of Conservation even goes as far as recommending that visitors only enter these caves if they’re accompanied by someone who knows the area well. The caves are unmarked and subject to flooding during high rainfall; but if you’re up for the challenge, the lively glow worms will make the trip well and truly worth it.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.