If you have never experienced the wonder of glowworm caves, you really ought to add it to your bucket list. When my husband told me it was on the list of things for us to do while in New Zealand, I was pretty excited about experiencing something completely new.
But there is just something about New Zealand that made this excursion a bit more magical. I’m sure it was just in my head, but I’m very glad we went while we were there.
There are quite a few Glowworm Caves in New Zealand but we only ventured into one of them: the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. It’s a pretty well-known attraction so if you are visiting New Zealand, Waitomo Glowworm Caves would be a good one to choose.
History of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
I thought it was pretty interesting that this cave has been in the same family for over a hundred years and has been giving tours since the late 1800s. I’m a lover of history and listening to the guide talk about who else has visited this cave over the years made it even better.
We learned our guide is a descendant of the original owners and that most of the employees are family. This means, this family-run business has been around for quite a while and they are very knowledgeable about their piece of land and its “occupants”.
Everything in New Zealand is on the pricier side but this attraction wasn’t badly priced.
If you are traveling through New Zealand by bus, you will probably make this stop as part of a tour package and may receive a discount, depending on what that particular tour company has pre-arranged.
The prices at the door vary only a little bit, I’m talking a dollar or so.
Adults (15+): $32 USD
Children (4-14): $15 USD
Extra Child: $12 USD
Infants (0-3): Free (with adult) USD
(You can go to their website to check current prices.)
What to expect
When you arrive, you will pay or check in, then line up according to which tour time they put you in. You should have time to use the restrooms which are conveniently located at the entrance.
When your tour begins, you will walk a little way along a boardwalk until you reach the cave. Your tour guide will usually stop here to allow your group to catch up and to introduce themselves.
From this point on, there are no electronics allowed. Nothing. They are very strict about this. Even if you do not have a flash, you are not allowed to take pictures or videos. You are not even allowed to use your phone to light your path. (The path is decently lit, but takes time for your eyes to adjust.)
Most of your tour will be spent in the cave. You will learn about glowworms, their life cycle, etc. It’s an interesting biology lesson, at the very least.
You will also learn some history of the caves and the family who owns them. I’m sure your guide will even tell you of a few famous people who have visited there.
There is one neat room called the Cathedral Cave where you can sing and the acoustics are pretty incredible. No, I did not sing, but someone else graced us with their voice and I agree, the cave is accurately named.
Just off the Cathedral Cave you will start to hear the water and can even catch glimpses of the glowworms under some of the large rock faces.
Your path will finally end at a small dock with a boat where you will squeeze in with your fellow tour mates and the guide will turn out her light. After a brief few moments of complete darkness, you will feel the boat push away from the dock and will float its way into an adjoining room.
Just as you realize your guide is pulling your boat along by ropes strung along just below the ceiling, (kudos to the upper body strength of those guides!) you become instantly mesmerized by the little galaxy above your head as you enter the habitat of the glowworms.
Now, I had seen pictures ahead of time and those were impressive. But actually being there in the pitch black and staring up at this otherworldly wonder above you are two totally different things. It’s really quite breathtaking! You feel totally transported for the brief time you are there.
And I do mean brief. This is where I felt the website was a bit misleading.
You are with the glowworms literally five minutes, if that. The tour guide pulls you through a tunnel, do a little pirouette with the boat, and then out you go into the light to disembark.
This is the only time they let you take out your camera. By the time to frantically try to get a quick snapshot of the tiny fading lights, it’s too late. Oh, well. There really is no forgetting what you saw, I just wish I had a really good picture to show everyone else.
(To be fair, it is stated on their website that they do not allow video and photography inside the cave, but I guess I missed that bit.)
The gift shop is nice with plenty of options for your list of people you want to bring something home for. You will probably want to buy a postcard as it is the only photo of the caves you will walk away with unless you buy one of their souvenir photos which we didn’t. It was much cheaper to just get a postcard.
If you toured with a bus, you will most likely have a boxed meal waiting for you. Or you can purchase food at the cafe. But I have to say, the sandwich that came with our boxed meal was SO good! I would never have combined all those ingredients together in a sandwich before but I’m so glad they did!
I was pretty disappointed that we weren’t allowed to document the trip inside the caves and that the main event was only minutes long. But overall, it was a truly neat experience, one I’m so glad we took the time to do.
For the price, as a first-timer through the cave, it was worth the money for the experience. They also have other caves you can explore and they allow electronics in those. So if we had arrived in our own vehicle we would definitely have explored all the caves. (The Ruakuri Cave has glowworms, so on our return trip we will definitely be heading into that cave with our camera!)
Would I pay the same price again? Probably not, unless we had more time under the “stars” or I was going through one of the caves that I could capture on film.
Unless, of course, we are returning with our children; they have been dying to see the glowworms for themselves and I definitely want to be there when they do!