Top 7 Things To Do in Waitomo, New Zealand

Black water rafting in the Waitomo Caves
Black water rafting in the Waitomo Caves | © Madeleine Deaton/Flickr
Glistening glowworms, epic underground adventures and lush, forested trails – if you love nature, Waitomo is sure keep you captivated. If you’ve got your sights set on this popular New Zealand destination, here are seven attractions and activities that should definitely be added to your must-dos.

See the glowworms on an underground cave cruise

An effortless way to view New Zealand’s unique Aranocampa luminosa glowworm as they light up the Waitomo Caves’ limestone walls. Cruises depart to the Glowworm Grotto every 15 minutes (such is their popularity) and include some commentary of the culture and history of these underground passages as the boat meanders across the Waitomo River to unveil its much sought-after luminescent showcase.

Glowworms inside the Waitomo Caves © Kristina D. C. Hoeppner/Flickr

Alternatively, do a spelunking tour

If you’re feeling more adventurous, a caving tour is the ultimate go-to. There are quite a few options around, each challenging its visitors to abseil to depths of the different caves before crawling into their underground passages. If you like ziplining, the Lost World and St Benedict Caverns tours will be right up your alley; if you don’t mind getting wet and muddy, the Black Abyss tour combines spelunking and abseiling with an epic tubing (i.e. black water rafting) expedition.

Try your hand at black water rafting

The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. was the first company in New Zealand to offer guided tours of this kind in 1987, and continues to be Waitomo’s main black water rafting tour operator to this day. The Ruakuri Cave is their playground of choice; along with the aforementioned Black Abyss experience, the company also offers its original Black Labyrinth rafting tour, which allows beginner and experienced adventurers alike to float underground in the rubber tubes and leap into the cavernous cascades as they bask at the natural galaxy of glowworms all around them.

Black water rafting in the Waitomo Caves © Madeleine Deaton/Flickr

Hike the surrounding forests

Waitomo’s appeal goes well beyond its subterranean gems. There’s an assortment of easy walks and challenging treks that hikers of all abilities can tap into; along with showcasing the area’s lush, native forestry, these also provide plenty of opportunities to see some epic bridges, beautiful waterfalls and view the iconic caves from higher ground. Short walks in the area include the Marokopa Falls Walk and the Mangapohue Bridge Walk, both of which take around 20 minutes to complete. For a longer alternative, try the Waitomo Great Walk, a guided two- to three-day journey that begins in Tawarau Forest and traverses the Tawarau Falls, Marokopa Falls and Waipuna Bridge before contouring the Waitomo Stream and descending into Waitomo Village.

Marokopa Falls, New Zealand ©

Museum of Caves - Waitomo

Natural History Museum
Outside the Museum of Caves, Waitomo, New Zealand | © ActiveSteve/Flickr
If you’re curious about the culture, history and geological make-up of Waitomo’s wonderful limestone caverns, a visit to the local museum is an absolute must. Operated by the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre, the Museum of Caves features an array of interactive displays that allow visitors of all ages to experience the evolution of the caves for themselves, including cave crawls and multimedia displays about the area’s famous Arachnocampa luminosa glowworms. Fossils, photographic archives and historic exhibits dedicated to cave exploration are few other highlights to look forward to.
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Cycle the Pureora Timber Trail

If you like the idea of pedalling across 85 kilometres (52.8 miles) of ancient forests, grab your bike and venture southeast of Waitomo to ride the Pureora Timber Trail. As it makes its way across Pureora Forest Park, the route unveils New Zealand’s longest suspension bridges, as well as the key historical sites and ancestral Maori land that make this area so special. The full ride takes approximately two to three days to complete but can be broken down into various beginner-intermediate sections.

Swing bridge!

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Venture into New Zealand’s longest underground cave tour

Along with being a prime spot for black water rafting, the Ruakuri Cave is home to New Zealand’s longest underground cave tour. The cave is also unique in that it is entirely wheelchair-friendly; tours descend down a spiralling pathway as they meander past the crystal tapestries and limestone formations that embellish this natural wonder. The sound of the rumbling waterfalls can also be heard from afar as you delve deeper into your surroundings.

Ruakuri Cave's spiral walkway © Kristina D. C. Hoeppner/Flickr
These recommendations were updated on June 11, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.