The subterranean Waitomo Caves are justifiably one of the most popular visitor attractions on the North Island. It’s believed that local Maori knew of the caves’ existence, although no one would dare venture inside for fear of what unknowns might potentially lie within. All of this changed, however, when a local Maori chief by the name of Tane Tinorau and the English surveyor Fred Mace ventured in to the caves in 1887. Once inside, the two explorers were greeted with a celestial scene of thousands of glowworms illuminating the ceiling and a navigable river meandering deeper into the unknown. Having made this discovery it didn’t take long for the caves system to be further explored, and in only a few years tourists were being led through the otherworldly caves in exchange for a very small fee.
Despite the fact that over a century has passed since its initial discovery, the area around Waitomo Caves remains refreshingly undeveloped. Given the relative lack of accommodations or services in the initial vicinity, many visitors choose to arrive as part of a day trip from Auckland. Regardless of where you begin the journey, however, the options for visitors to explore the caves range from a placid boat ride through a glowworm grotto to extreme black water rafting adventures which involve abseiling down waterfalls and floating along underground rivers. Although the two main caves of the Waitomo complex see the majority of those who visit, the entire Waitomo Caves area is an outdoor playground which is rife with waterfalls, ziplines, and subterranean exploration.
Given the popularity of the destination there are multiple tour opportunities to cater your visit to exactly whichever experience you’re looking for. If you want to do nothing more than cruise through a cave full of glow worms it can easily be arranged. If you want to strap on a headlamp and slog through deep tunnels while cliff jumping off of rushing waterfalls, that can usually be arranged as well. This is a surreal journey to a land of spelunking and spires which adds an enchanting element to any North Island itinerary, and Waitomo is an adventure which definitely shouldn’t be missed.