There’s so much more to Waitomo than its iconic glowworm caves. If you love hiking and have an affinity for the great New Zealand outdoors, you’ll have your pick of some great short walks and longer-haul routes to explore. Here are some of the best of them.
This is one Waitomo’s most popular day walks and only takes around 45 minutes to complete. If you can, try to walk it at night: a blanket of glowworms will guide you along the way. During the day forested gorges, naturally carved cliffs, and low limestone arches will emerge as the track contours a stream and meanders into the Ruakuri Bridge platform; enter the cavernous tunnel near the platform to catch a glimpse of the imposing stalagmites and stalactites, as well as the stunning waterways flowing down below.
A medium-grade hiking route that, in a span of six hours, passes through a mix of farmland and forestry to unveil some of the best natural sights in the vicinity. The 17.5-kilometre (10.9-mile) journey begins just outside of Waitomo Village and finishes near the town of Te Kuiti. Your adrenaline levels will be kept in check throughout the trek: highlights include various steep climbs, sharp descents and a suspension bridge crossing that is sure to keep things interesting.
The 3.3-kilometre (2.1-mile) Waitomo Walkway is relatively easy to navigate. There are some small inclines to take into consideration, but for the most part the trail ambles across the shaded forests and exposed farmlands to get up close to some of the area’s finest natural wonders. The track starts in Waitomo Village, swerves past the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and contours the Waitomo Stream as it finally reaches the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve.
Venture 31 kilometres (19.3 miles) outside of Waitomo to bask in the beauty of the Marokopa Falls. This short trail only takes around 20 minutes to complete and goes through some lush native tawa and nikau forests as it leads visitors to a viewing platform where they can admire the 30-metre (98.4-foot) cascade in all its glory.
Tawarau Forest lies west of Waitomo Caves. There are three distinctive tracks that advanced trekkers should put on their must-dos – you can either walk these in separate sections or combine them for a full day’s worth of forest exploration. The shortest of these is the three-hour Tawarau Falls Loop Track, which begins with a short climb before dropping down to the Tawarau River and traversing the native bush and several river crossings.
Some might catch a glimpse of the Mangapohue Natural Bridge on a scenic drive from Waitomo Village to Marokopa, but nothing beats getting up close to this beauty and its surrounding natural gems. The boarded loop track is actually pushchair friendly and only takes 20 minutes to walk. A spectacular limestone gorge will lead walkers underneath a natural bridge, where they’ll come face-to-face with a stunning 17-metre (55.8-foot) tall limestone arch that lines the Mangapohue Stream. The track then continues through to some farmland where you can sight some ancient fossils before the entire loop is complete.
This might not be a New Zealand Great Walk by definition, but it is an epic journey nonetheless. The Waitomo Great Walk is a guided trip that can be done in two or three days, depending on how much ground you want to cover. In its entirety, the trek boasts a good 40 kilometres (24.9 miles) in distance, but many of its pathways are simple enough that you could break the entire trip down into various manageable sections. If you opt for the full three-day experience, you’ll depart from the entrance of the Tawarau Falls Loop Track before making your way across the forest towards Waitomo Village.
As you walk through Waitomo’s surrounding native forests, a historic Māori defensive site (a pā) comes to the fore. The area was occupied by the Ngāti Hia people in the 1700s and still has some remnants of the trenches and defensive structures used to protect it during warfare. The walk itself begins just a couple of kilometres before the Waitomo Caves, heads through the forests and towards a fence line that provides access to the steep rural trail that will take you directly to the culturally significant landmarks you’re there to see.