I recently took a road trip from Auckland to New Plymouth and on the way down I stopped at Waitomo.
Here is the location of Waitomo…
It takes about 3 hours to drive here from Auckland and if you are coming from the North it’s just past the small town of Otorohanga.
There are a multitude of things to explore at Waitomo including “Black Water Rafting” and it’s close enough to some of The Hobbit filming locations that you can make a day of it.
There are three caves at Waitomo but I chose just to do one as I was under time (and budget) constraints. I did the Glowworm cave which is the most well known and common one of the three. I pre-booked my tour as I found a great school holiday price if I booked before a certain date. During the winter months it is probably not necessary to book as each tour can have up to 50 people and mine only had about 10. I do think this was also to do with the fact that I went on my tour at 10am. Most tour buses I believe arrive sometime after lunch.
Before the tour you are asked to wait in a little area behind the front entrance with a little cafe beside it. You can pre-order your meal to be ready when you come out. I ordered some pancakes and a hot chocolate as I hadn’t eaten yet that day (more on the food later). You can either wait outside as I did and enjoy the fresh air or there is a little room with some heaters and information to read about the cave before you go in.
The tour is 45 minutes long which seems rather short if you’ve come a long way just for the caves. If you have indeed travelled far I recommend doing more than one cave to make the most of your time there. I however was just passing through and 45 minutes was the perfect time allotment. Unfortunately there is no photography or videography allowed inside the caves as to keep it a surprise for tourists and anyone visiting. I was truly gutted although I understood the reasons behind it and it’s fare enough. You start by heading down a few stairs and you are told all about the rock formations and how old the caves are. You are then brought into the “cathedral” which is a beautiful large area in the middle of the caves where they actually hold a Christmas concert every year! It has some of the best acoustics in New Zealand so the tour guide often asks if anyone wants to take the opportunity to sing. I was too shy at first but once we had left the room I felt I had missed an opportunity. Luckily we pass through there on the way out so I said to the guide (the lovely Evelyne) “Um I’d actually really love to sing something now if that’s okay, but could you turn the lights out so it’s dark?”. I sung “Dream a Little Dream” as the Glowworms above and all around me had inspired it (“Stars shining right about you…”). The high ceiling made my voice sound amazing and I got a big round of applause from the guide and the rest of the group at the end.
The final part of the tour is a small boat ride through the cave where you are absolutely surrounded by Glowworms and let me tell you, it took my breath away. I was able to lie down across the front seat of the boat (another reason to go early and have a small group) and it was like looking up at a beautiful starry sky. It was such a great moment and I would recommend it to everyone!
After the tour you finish up by walking back through the cafe. My pancakes and hot chocolate were waiting for me and wow they were delicious! I’ve included a photo here as I couldn’t take any photos of the actual caves…
Overall it is a great wee place to visit and I would recommend this to any adult. The darkness may be scary for some younger children but the pay off is in the boat ride at the end.