A visit to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves is on top of lots of people’s New Zealand bucket list. A 45 minute boat ride through the Waitomo Caves, naturally lit by thousands of glowworms. What’s not to like? It will cost you NZ$50 per person. Not all glowworm caves are that expensive though. We found a free alternative to Waitomo in the NZ Frenzy guidebook: the Waipu Caves.
How to get to the Waipu Caves?
The Waipu Caves are situated about 130 km north of Auckland, along Waipu Caves Road. You can arrive from either side, but Springfield Road in the north is definitely the most scenic route of the two. When turning onto Waipu Caves Road from there, it’s another 4 km of gravel road before you’ll see the carpark on your left.
The carpark is actually a meadow, but there is a public toilet. When driving onto the meadow/carpark, the entrance to the Waipu Caves is straight ahead. An orange sign will point you to it. Note that you don’t have to cross the river before entering cave.
Inside the Waipu Caves: how to get to the glowworms?
Inside the Waipu Caves it’s dark and slippery, so be careful. Bring a flashlight and preferably wear water shoes as you’ll have to cross a small stream twice to get to the glowworms.
When entering the Waipu Caves you’ll see mainly darkness, but once you let your eyes adjust, you’ll see stalagmites, stalactites and a small stream appear. Before crossing the stream for the first time, we waited for almost 7 minutes at the giant stalagmite to the left of the stream, like described in the NZ Frenzy guidebook. That should be enough to activate your “night vision”.
To see the Waipu Caves glowworms, you need to find the glowworm room, that seemingly is a dead end. Cross the small stream of ankle deep water twice over a path of stones and stay close to the stream in between. You’ll know when you’ve found the glowworm room: there’s little lights all around you. You’ll have to take our word for it when we say it’s magical though, as our photos don’t come near to what you’ll see in real life.
Note that these were the conditions while we visited in May, they could be different when you visit.
For the real adventurers among you there’s a whole track taking you through the caves. We just marvelled at the glowworms we found at the first glowworm room though, for just under an hour. You can find more information on the rest of the track in the NZ Frenzy guidebook.
Are the Waipu Caves a worthy alternative to the Waitomo Caves?
We have no idea, as we didn’t pay NZ$50 per person to see the Waitomo Caves Glowworms. We do know that the Waipu Caves Glowworms are magical! We don’t feel like we missed out at all. On the contrary: we were alone in these caves and stood in awe watching the glowworms around us. It was pretty romantic!
Have you been to the Waipu Caves or Waitomo Caves? How did you like it? We’d love to read all about your experiences in the comments!
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