New Zealand EN, Travel Blog

New Zealand Diary Day 10 & 11 – Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Day 10 was cave day! I had booked to visit Ruakuri and Waimoto caves on the same day. Fun fact I don’t like close spaces and yet I love caves! I found them fascinating!


The drive from Matamata to Waimoto was about 1,5 hours of nice landscapes.

The first cave we visited was Ruakuri since it was the one that would take longer.

As we waited for our guide to come I came across the very amazing fact about New Zealand. The only native mammals of this country are three species of bats! The long-tailed bat, the lesser short-tailed bat, and greater short-tailed bat. That’s it. Then the first Maori arrived on this land there where only birds and bats. Every other mammal was introduced either by the Maori or but the Europeans.

Anyways our guide arrived and we began our tour by travelling down through the spectacular, man-made spiral entrance.


As soon as we arrive at the bottom and entered the cave the view was breathtaking. Enjoy the views!

So photography is not allowed in the Waitomo Cave but it is allowed Ruakuri Cave. Of course, the number of glowworms in the Ruakuri cave is nowhere near the one in the Waimoto but it was nice to be able to take a couple of photos.

A little history about the caves:

Ruakuri Cave was discovered by Maori 400 to 500 years ago when a hunter travelling in a war party with Kawhia chief Tane Tinorau was attacked by a pack of dogs living in the cave entrance. The dogs were caught and eaten but the name Ruakuri (Den of Dogs) stuck. Shortly after, Tinorau moved his people into the area and the cave became a wahi tapu (sacred site), used for burials and for storing important taonga. By the 20th century, the land had passed into the hands of the Holden family, who own it to this day.

The Glow-worm Cave had long been known to local Maori but they had no desire to explore it. That changed in December 1887 when the local chief, another Tane Tinorau, headed into the cave system, taking English surveyor Fred Mace with him. Mace prepared an account of the expedition, a map was made, photographs given to the government, and before long Tane Tinorau was operating tours of the cave. The tours must have made an impression as the government nationalised the land 19 years later – depriving the local hapu (subtribe) of a nice little earner.  But in 1989 this injustice was corrected and the hapu now owns and leases back the land, gets a slice of admission charges and provides much of the workforce.


After 1,5 hours the tour ended and we made our way to our next guided tour.


Our tour was supposed to start at 5:30 but because of the pandemic the previous tour that started at 5:00 and 10 peoples out of a normal group of 40. So we were allowed to jump into this earlier tour and have the amazing opportunity to be so few people in our group and be able to hear clearly our guide a truly enjoy our tour.

We enter the cave and walk a little further down where the guide gave us some fact about the cave and since we were in a room with an amazing acoustic he also asked for a volunteer to sing but thank goodness no one in our group offered. Then we continued our walk until we arrived at the cave’s river and we embarked in a boat and our guide took us deeper into the cave. At this point, there was no artificial light and we could enjoy the mesmerizing view of the glowworms.

The tour lasted around 45 minutes with a good 20 on the boat enjoying the glowworms. As I mentioned before photographs are not allowed inside the Waimoto cave but I do have some photo from outside at the end to the tour and some glowworms fact and some history to share.


Glowworms are the larval stage in the life of an insect called the fungus gnat. Just as maggots grow into common houseflies, glowworms grow to become fungus gnats, which are similar to mosquitoes. Although they are most spectacular in caves, glowworms are also quite common outside – they can be found wherever conditions are damp, food is in good supply and there is an overhanging wall. Similar glowworms can also be found in the south-east of Australia. The scientific name of the New Zealand species is Arachnocampa luminosa.

The New Zealand glowworm is one of many creatures that naturally produce light (bioluminescence). The light of the glowworm larvae is given off by small tubes ending around the glowworms anus, as a byproduct of excretion. A reaction takes place between an enzyme called luciferase and other chemicals, with the blue-green light given off as a
result. The light is used to attract insects lost in the dark, which the glowworm catches and eats. If a glowworm is hungry its light will shine a little brighter and is even more effective! When the female glowworm becomes an adult the light is used to attract males for mating.

Waimoto History:

As with the Ruakuri Cave, the Waimoto caves were first explored in 1887 by local Māori chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mac.

By 1889 Tane Tinorau had opened the cave to tourists. Visitor numbers soared and chief Tane and his wife Huti escorted groups through the cave for a small fee. In 1906 the administration of the cave was taken over by the New Zealand government.

In 1989, almost 100 years later, the land and the cave was returned to the descendants of the original owners. Many staff employed at the caves today are direct descendants of Tane and Huti Tinora

The Future of the Cave:

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago a flood filled the cave killed almost half of the population of the glowworms, and to add to that the constant visit of tourist means that the worms struggle to repopulate. For this reason, the owners are considering closing the caves to the public to allow the cave to recover. It’s a sad fact but it’s nice to see that there are still people that care enough about nature and heritage that there are willing to put on hold a part of their earning to help nature.


Day 11 was the day we flew to the South Island. We drove in the morning back to Auckland where we let our rental car and the flew to Queenstown.

There we collected another car and we drove around 1.5hours to Te Anau. I have to say I’ve never had such a strong feeling that I’m as much on the other side of the world as possible and completely isolated from the rest of the world. Seriously Antarctica is no far away from this point! To add to that there was nearly any other car on our way!


Anyway, the drive alongside the Lake Wakatipu was again mesmerizing but we were in a hurry to arrive at our hotel so we didn’t stop for photos.

That’s is for day 10 and 11 of our beautiful journey!

4 thoughts on “New Zealand Diary Day 10 & 11 – Waitomo Glowworm Caves”

  1. I wish I got time to travel, I love visiting new places.
    Maybe after I finish medical school, I will have free time to travel 🙈

    1. I wish I had more time too. This was 2 years in the making and it was the first travel outside of “going back home for holidays” that doesn’t count! I hope you find the time to travel when you are do e with medical school!

  2. Merci pour ce superbe voyage et tes commentaires qui nous amènent au plus près des lieux , de l’histoire et de ce peuple Maori qui a su proteger sa culture respectueuse de l’environnement .
    Ça donne vraiment envie d’aller s’y ressourcer.

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