Waitomo is famous for its bountiful caves which are covered in beautiful glowworms. I say “beautiful” loosely because the actual worm is not so hot looking, but its brilliantly bright tail is a spectacular thing to see when emersed inside a pitch black cave.
We arrive into Waitomo after a 2.5 hour drive from Auckland. The journey was uneventful and kept us on a beautiful, proper 4 lane highway (that even had a shoulder) for most of the trip. We did get a lot of fog, but once it cleared it was stunning, rolling, green hills and farm lands.
Waitomo means “water” “cave” (wai=water) and (tomo=cave). There are well over 300 caves that they know of – which means there are plenty more to be discovered.
Arriving in Waitomo
We make our first stop in Ortohanga, the neighboring town to Waitomo, to have lunch at the Thirsty Weta. We enjoyed some cold beer and pretty tasty food. Then we headed to the Waitomo Caves Museum and Discovery Center. Super informative, interactive, and informational museum where we learned all about the glowworm.
- A glowworm is not actually a worm
- It lives as a maggot or larvae for the first 6-9 months, then builds a cocoon where it then turns into a fly with no mouth!
- The fly only lives for 3 days and their primary goal is to mate.
- The larvae, which is about as long as a match stick, will build a small hammock that can slide front to back.
- They drop between 30-40 sticky, silk threads that are used to catch their prey.
- Their tails light up attracting moths, mosquitos, and other insects which then get stuck in their silk threads.
- Females lay about 200-300 eggs in 20-30 clusters (all within the 3 days she has to live as a fly, find a mate, mate, lay, and distribute the eggs).
- The first larvae to hatch will eat its siblings to get strength to build its hammock and drop its threads (charming).
- The glowworms tail will brighten and dim in 24hr cycles with the other glowworms in its cluster (they are in sync) and will provide an endless luminescence.
The museum also had bones from a really large and rare bird, called the moa.
Waitomo is famous for its caves which is their primary tourist attraction. Unfortunately, they do not allow any photography inside the cave.
We start our tour out by descending 13 meters into the cave. We are surrounded by stunning stalactites and stalagmites that are thousands and thousands of years old. They have a strict no touch policy so we keep our hands to ourselves. Tons of curtains, candles, and mounds hanging from the ceiling and slowly reaching for its partner on the ground.
After a 20-25 minute walk along these beautiful structures, we quietly board a small boat in the dark. This is the part we’ve all been waiting for – the glowworms. We silently glide in the water as the guide uses a pull rope to maneuver the boat. It is breathtaking to see these bright blue lights dotted all over the ceiling and cavern walls. The top left photo was taken in slow-mo by someone else, but it gives you an idea of what it looked like.
They did have a fun green screen for photos – we got suckered into the purchase since we couldn’t take any photos on the tour.
And us in the caves…Matt and Wayne with a lion, oh wait, that is me with crazy hair!
After our leisurely stroll through the museum we decide to follow one of the trails that leads to another trail called Ruakuri Bushwalk. We were not really prepared for this long walk as we did not have any water, but the path was pretty flat and well marked.
The first trail started at the Waitomo Caves, connected to Johnston Memorial trail then to Waitomo Walkway before it connected us with the Ruakuri loop. But the long walk was worth it as the Ruakuri trail was fabulous!
We followed the river and discovered loads of caves! The trail even took us through several caves or tunnels.
We crossed over a questionable bridge, trespassed on a few farms, and climbed over fences.
The river was at times gushing and other times tranquil.
Even if you skip the original walk that brought us to the Ruakuri Bush Walk, we highly recommend the Ruakiru Bush walk – it was absolutely fantastic.
The Woodlyn Park Lodge
We took the whimsical route when we decided to stay at the Woodlyn Park Lodge. You have a choice of staying in a train, a freighter Bristol airplane, a hobbit cabin, or an old war ship (ML430).
We opted to stay in the Oceanic “suite” in the stern of the ship (primarily because everything else was sold out!). As it turned out, it was super fun with a large outdoor deck overlooking the river.
Upstairs is the living area, deck, and kitchen area. Downstairs is the bathroom, master bed room (thru the small door) and an additional room with 3 single beds.
It certainly was fun and a novelty for us all. Stay tuned tomorrow as we go 100 meters into the center of the earth on the Lost World tour.
- Hotel: The Woodlyn Park Lodge
- Kilometers: 185
- Travel Time: 3hrs15min
- Kilometers Walked: 9.8km on 22 Feb and 8.7km on 23 Feb
Events from this blog occurred in late February, Our blog runs 10-12 weeks behind actual events. Did you catch our last blog where we visit the City of Sails?