Discover the best Waitomo Caves tours in 2023, choosing from a variety of walking, rafting or caving options.
Waitomo Caves is one of New Zealand’s most famous natural attractions.
Filled with thousands of worms, these limestone caves offer a unique and fascinating experience for visitors of all ages.
The Waitomo Caves are located in the central Waikato region of the North Island, 1.5 hours south of Hamilton and 2.5 hours from Auckland.
The Waitomo area is very beautiful with lots of farmland and rolling green hills. Be sure to make time for other things to do in Waitomo before or after your cave tour.
Most visitors to Waitomo Caves choose one of the walking tours. This is a popular way to see the caves in a short amount of time and without getting wet, but much more can only be seen on more adventurous tours.
When visiting the caves, you will see limestone formations including stalactites and stalagmites, as well as worms. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for one of our native insects, the weta, which is essentially a giant cockroach, you won’t want to get too close.
However, what is the best way to see the Waitomo Caves? The answer to this depends entirely on your budget, time frame and personal preference.
Read on to compare the different Waitomo Caves tour options and help you choose the best option for you.
Waitomo Caves Boat and walking tours
Glowworm Caves Boat Tour
This tour is the most popular Waitomo Caves experience. It’s short and sweet and you don’t get dirty or wet, plus it’s easily accessible for most visitors.
If you don’t have a lot of time or don’t like adventurous experiences, this is the tour for you. You’ll still see stalactites, stalagmites, and worms, but stay on the groomed trails.
The best part is taking a boat ride through the worm cave and witnessing the thousands of tiny bioluminescent creatures that light up the surroundings. It’s like entering a magical fairyland. Be sure to look up and admire the starry sky created by these remarkable little creatures.
The tour lasts one hour and departs from the caves’ visitor center.
You will need warm clothing for this tour as it is particularly cold in the underground waterways.
Exploring Ruakuri Cave
Ruakuri Cave is the longest cave in Waitomo, but has the advantage of being slightly less crowded than Cathedral Cave. It’s a great option for those who want to be a little off the beaten track but aren’t up for a full-on caving adventure.
Known as the “Dog’s Den”, this cave boasts stunning limestone formations, hidden waterfalls and an underground river. Knowledgeable cave guides will accompany you, sharing the cave’s geology, history and significance to local Maori culture.
It’s a great experience to descend the spiral entrance in the dark and witness nature’s amazing handiwork, but the best part of this tour is the insight offered by the local guides, many of whom have family stories in the area going back generations.
The tour lasts 1.5 hours and departs from the Ruakuri Information Centre.
Glowworm Cave eco-tour
Glowworm Cave’s 3-hour guided eco-tour is the perfect balance of relaxed sightseeing and adventure. This is a small group trip with local experts so there are no crowds or mass tourism vibes.
There is no rafting or caving so you stay dry and it is suitable for almost all visitors. But you will be walking a bit, so bring some sturdy shoes.
The best part of this tour, and why I rated it number one, is that you can explore privately owned caves without other tourists or any artificial paths and lighting, which means you can see better. the worms.
This tour lasts 3 hours and departs from Down To Earth Tours headquarters outside Te Kuiti.
You don’t need to take any wet gear, but your clothes are likely to get dirty, so it’s worth changing. Afterwards, showers, tea, coffee and snacks are offered.
Waitomo Caves Rafting and caving Tour
Black Abyss the ultimate caving experience
For the ultimate adrenaline rush, embark on the Black Abyss Caving Tour. This tour isn’t cheap, but they’re not kidding when they say it’s the ultimate Waitomo experience. You can explore areas of the caves that are not accessible on any other tour.
This exciting expedition combines rafting, climbing and caving as you descend deep into the caves. Go through vertical shafts, witness underground waterfalls and immerse yourself in the magnificent scenery of nature.
You must be fully mobile and have a basic level of fitness for this tour, so it is not suitable for young children or older travelers or claustrophobics.
There is also a 35m bank on the ride so you should be fine with heights.
However, with skilled guides, you’ll overcome your fears, push your limits, and create memories that will last a lifetime. I did this tour for a birthday and absolutely loved every moment.
The tour starts at Waitomo Homestead, outside the village and lasts 5 hours.
You’ll need to bring kicks (for Kiwi swimwear), a towel and warm clothing, while torches, wetsuits, helmets and shoes are provided. The tour company then provides a hot lunch of soup and biscuits to warm up.
Labyrinth Black Water Rafting Experience
For thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, the Waitomo Black Water Rafting Adventure is a must-try. Equipped with wet suits, helmets and tubes, you will jump into underground rivers and embark on a unique water adventure.
This tour explores Ruakuri Cave on an exciting underground adventure that includes climbing, black water pipes, swimming and jumping over cascading underground waterfalls.
Get ready to see the caves from a whole new perspective.
The tour starts at Waitomo Homestead, outside the village and lasts 3 hours.
You should bring bags (for Kiwi swimwear), a towel and warm clothes, while wet suits, helmets and shoes are provided. The tour company also has hot showers and snacks to help you after you warm up, you can even get Milo.
Waitomo Caves Tours from Auckland
If you’re short on time, you can visit the Waitomo Caves on a day trip from Auckland. The trip only takes 2-2.5 hours so it’s very doable, some tours even combine the caves with other Waikato attractions such as Hobbiton.
Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves Day Trip with Lunch
See two of New Zealand’s most popular attractions in one day on this tour from Auckland.
You’ll explore the Glowworm and Cathedral Caves in Waitomo, including a boat cruise with a local guide covering that part of the journey.
Also included is an official tour of Hobbiton and a drink in the hobbit pub. Although lunch (which is included) is at The Homestead in Waitomo.
This trip is great for enjoying all the beautiful Waikato scenery as you drive along the Waikato River past the sacred mountain of Taupiri.
While I would always recommend spending a few days staying and exploring the Waikato, this tour is a great option if your itinerary doesn’t allow for it. Also, if you don’t have your own transport, getting to the Waitomo Caves can be tricky, and this bus tour will solve that problem for you.
The tour lasts 11 hours and includes pick-up and drop-off at Auckland hotels.
Hobbiton, Rotorua and Waitomo Caves Day Trip
This tour is insanely packed, which makes for a long day, but if you’re really pressed for time, this might be a good option for you.
It covers all the great attractions of the upper North Island, as well as Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton and the geothermal geysers of Rotorua. Expect to spend a lot of time on the bus getting from A to B. However, each location has some free time for you to explore.
The Waitomo part of the tour covers essentially all the same things as the first tour on this list, with a short walk through the caves and a boat ride to see the worms.
The tour lasts 13 hours and includes hotel pickup and drop-off in central Auckland.
You don’t need to bring anything special for this trip, just have decent walking shoes that you don’t mind getting wet in the caves. Lunch is included, but morning and afternoon tea are not.
Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Waitomo Caves
It is possible to visit a small section of the Waitomo Caves on your own, but most of the caves are only accessible on guided tours.
Wear comfortable clothing and proper walking shoes and be aware that anything you wear can get a little wet, especially your shoes. It’s a good idea to bring a jacket as it gets cold underground in the caves.
Absolutely! Waitomo Caves is surrounded by beautiful countryside, cute little towns like Cambridge and other attractions like the Otorohanga Kiwi Sanctuary.
In one word. Choosing a Waitomo Caves Tour
The Waitomo Caves are like this whole separate underground world, full of amazing phenomena like limestone carvings and worms.
Whether you’re admiring ethereal boatworms, exploring stunning limestone formations on foot, or pushing your limits on thrilling inner tube expeditions, the Waitomo Caves promise an unforgettable experience.
More North Island travel guides.
If you’re planning a trip to the Waitomo Caves, you may also be interested in these guides to the surrounding area:
New Zealand Travel Resources
- Find the best prices for flexible cancellation hotels on Booking.com
- Book your tickets to attractions in advance on Klook
- Find great day trips on Viator
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- Sort your New Zealand dollars with the Wise Currency Card