What to do in Waitomo besides visiting the Waitomo Caves

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One of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand are the Waitomo Caves. However, this 45 minute boat ride beneath a sky of glowworms is pretty expensive. Luckily there are some other fun things to do in Waitomo. Here are a couple of great stops on a scenic drive from Waitomo to Marokopa!

Scenery Around WaitomoScenery Around Waitomo

Oh, and we found a free alternative to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, a couple of hours north of Auckland: the Waipu Caves. Read more about this small glowworm paradise here.

Still want to go for a Waitomo Glowworm Caves Tour?
Check out these options:

The Ruakuri Natural Tunnels

One of the short hikes we did in Waitomo is the  Ruakuri Walk. It’s a 35-45 minute loop walk, taking you through a maze of limestone formations. The path follows a stream, taking you into some caves, and through a couple of natural tunnels. (According to the map in the information shelter there are 3 tunnels, but we only seem to remember 2.) It was a fun walk through the forest, even though it was raining a little. There are quite some stairs to climb, but the sights are worth the effort! The caves were pretty cool and we even saw some glowworms.

Brecht inside of a Natural TunnelBrecht inside of a Natural Tunnel
Exploring the Ruakuri Natural TunnelsExploring the Ruakuri Natural Tunnels

We parked at the Ruakuri Bush Walk carpark, the one at the trailhead. To get there, drive down to the second carpark, instead of stopping at the first one right next to the main road. Under the motto “save the best for last” we recommend to do both loops (the path is in the shape of an 8) of the walk in clockwise direction. And a torch might come in handy when trying to navigate the darker parts of the walk.

The Mangapohue Natural Bridge

The Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk is another short loop track that’s worth a stop on your New Zealand road trip. A boardwalk takes you from the carpark to an impressive limestone gorge. What probably once were the sides of a cave are now steep walls of a gorge with only a small natural bridge linking them: the Mangapohue Natural Bridge. A neat sight, but it looks a bit dangerous as well, with trees and other vegetation looming over the edge of the bridge above your head.

The path continues away from the Mangapohue Natural Bridge into a meadow. There you’ll find rocks with 25 million year old fossilised oysters. From there the track isn’t clearly signposted anymore. What appeared to be the path looked like it was recently plowed by a herd of cattle on a rainy day, so we decided to turn back and keep our shoes more or less free of mud. The entire walk took us just under 30 minutes.

This was once a CaveThis was once a Cave
The Mangapohue Natural BridgeThe Mangapohue Natural Bridge

The Piripiri Caves Scenic Reserve

To get to the Piripiri Caves from the  carpark, you’ll have to conquer 3 minutes of steps taking you up and down, up and down. Don’t you just hate that? Anyway, a last short staircase takes you to a platform at the bottom of the cave, where you can take in the sheer size of the cave. The stalactites are pretty cool! All in all this stop took us about 15 minutes, including the search for a geocache near the cave’s entrance.

The Marokopa Falls

And last but not least, we pulled over at the Marokopa Falls. We could see why these 35m falls are often described as the most beautiful falls in New Zealand. It’s just an easy 6 minute walk from the carpark to the viewing platform, and definitely a must do in Waitomo!

The Marokopa FallsThe Marokopa Falls

Did we convince you there’s more to do in Waitomo than just the touristy Waitomo Glowworm Caves? In our opinion, all these stops on the scenic drive from Waitomo to Marokopa are worth a visit. However, if we do have to pick a favourite, we recommend the Marokopa Falls. One of the most beautiful waterfalls we’ve ever seen! The Mangapohue Natural Bridge comes in on a close second, but if you have the time, we recommend to do them all.

Have you been to one or more of these awesome stops along the scenic drive from Waitomo to Marokopa? How did you like them? We’d love to read about your experiences in the comments!

Tip: Find more information on these and other must-sees in New Zealand in the NZ Frenzy guidebook.


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What to do in Waitomo besides the Waitomo CavesWhat to do in Waitomo besides the Waitomo Caves