The Fantastic Waitomo Caves

 Glowworm Tour times

What, where and how. All the key details about your Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour are here.


Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Guided Tour

Discover New Zealand's natural highlights

Your guided tour will take you through over 250 metres of stunning underground scenery commencing with the impressive Cathedral. The acoustics in this particular cavern are world-renowned.

Acclaimed New Zealand Diva, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, has sung here and was delighted with the purity of the sound. Your tour begins at the upper entrance of the cave and proceeds along a low narrow passage to the Tomo, a deep limestone shaft.

Your experienced tour guide will deliver a highly informative commentary about the formations and the history of the area. The highlight of your tour is an unrivalled boat trip through the spectacular Glowworm Grotto.


Marvel at Mother Nature's light display as you glide silently through the starry wonderland of the Glowworm Grotto. Meander underground along the Waitomo River and gaze in silence at the myriad of glow worm lights that make up the Glowworm Grotto. As you enter this galaxy of tiny living lights, you'll immediately experience a serene ambience and be fascinated and intrigued by tiny glowworms that light your way.


Departure Times:

  • Tours depart every half hour daily from 9am-5pm daily
  • Additional tours at 5.30pm from 31 October – Easter Monday
  • Additional tours at 6.30pm from 26 December (Boxing Day) - 28 February.
  • Tour is approx 45 minutes in duration
  • Cave Combo tours are available with the most popular Waitomo Glowworm Caves & Ruakuri Cave, or Waitomo Glowworm Caves & Aranui Cave, or the Triple Cave Combo.

Hours of Operation:

  • Open from 9am daily, 365 days a year.
  • Summer Hours: 9.00am - 5.30pm (End of October to Easter Monday)
  • Winter Hours: 9.00am - 5.00pm

Additional Tour Information:

  • Bring comfortable walking shoes and a warm jacket.
  • The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are accessible to those with reasonable mobility, with good handrails and paths.
  • Please note: the Waitomo Glowworm Caves do not have wheelchair access. However Ruakuri Cave is wheelchair friendly.
  • Ruakuri Cave

    Discover Waitomo's longest underground guided walking tour

    According to Maori legend, Ruakuri Cave (‘rua’ meaning den, and ‘kuri’ meaning dog) was first discovered 400-500 years ago by a young Maori hunting for birds. He was attacked by wild dogs just outside the original cave entrance. Re-opened in 2005, this cave is now an amazing example of engineering and natural cave structure.

    Ruakuri Cave offers a captivating blend of Waitomo's most compelling subterranean experiences. Journey down through the spectacular spiral entrance, and marvel at the softly folding shawl-like limestone formations and crystal tapestries. Hear the distant thunder of the subterranean waterfalls and get up close to the glowworms.

    Ruakuri Cave is New Zealand's longest guided underground walking tour and an experience that must be seen to be believed. It will leave you open-mouthed, awe-struck and humbled by the sheer majesty of nature.

    With clever and innovative design, Ruakuri Cave is the only wheelchair accessible cave in the Southern Hemisphere.

 Glowworm Caves History

The world famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves are one of New Zealands most celebrated tourist attractions. Find out about their colourful history and the tiny glow worms that have made the name synonymous with the region.


History of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Discover New Zealand's natural highlights

Chief Tane Tinorau

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves were first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau accompanied by an English surveyor Fred Mace. Local Maori people knew of the Caves existence, but the subterranean caverns had never been extensively explored until Fred and Tane went to investigate. They built a raft of flax stems and with candles as their only lighting, floated into the cave where the stream goes underground.

As they entered the caves, their first discovery was the Glowworm Grotto with its myriad of tiny bright lights dotting the cave ceiling. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they saw a multitude of lights reflecting off the water. Looking up, they discovered that the ceilings were dotted with the lights of thousands of glowworms. Debris and logs littered the waterway, but by poling themselves toward the embankment they were able to leave the raft and explore the lower levels of the cave. Here they found themselves surrounded by the glorious cave decorations.

Fred Mace

Jubilant at their discovery, they returned many times to explore further, and on an independent trip Chief Tane discovered the upper level of the cave and an easier access. Only after many subsequent visits did they discover an entry point on land. This is the same entry point used today by thousands of visitors annually. 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 government.

The Caves Today - 100 years later

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 Chief Tane Tinorau and his wife Huti.

 Glowworms Additional Information

What you need to know about the caves including the Tomo and Cathedral, our experienced guides, cave monitoring, and guidelines for your visit.


Additional Information

Discover more about Waitomo Glowworm Caves


Knowledgeable guides, many of whom are local people whose parents and grandparents have guided in the caves, lead each tour group.  Through their story telling the history, features and legends of the cave are brought to life.


The Cathedral,
Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Formed over 30 million years ago there are two levels to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves which are 16 metres apart. The upper level is dry and includes the entrance to the cave, and formations known as the Catacombs, the Pipe Organ and the Banquet Chamber. The lower level consists of stream passages and the Cathedral.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral is on the lower level of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and, at 18 metres in height, this is the largest cavern. It is world-renowned for its superb acoustics, which are due to the enclosed shape and rough surface. Many famous singers and choirs have performed here and have been delighted with the purity of the sound.

The Tomo

The Tomo is one of the wonders of Waitomo, it is a 16 metre vertical limestone shaft which marks the course of an ancient waterfall which today on flows during heavy rains. The dramatic vertical drop is carefully lighted to show the scalloped walls and the layers of limestone. The Tomo was the last feature of the cave to be formed and links the upper level to the Waitomo River below.


A special Scientific Advisory Group protects the many hundreds of thousands of little glowworms at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Sophisticated automated monitoring systems check air quality, rock and air temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide. Data is downloaded to a central computer, analysed by specialist staff throughout the day and then reviewed. Using this information, the advisory group determines the management of the cave environment including deciding when air flows should be altered and the number of people who can visit each day.


It is our aim to provide the best service possible to all cave visitors. We seek your co-operation fulfilling these aims and ask that you follow the guidelines listed below.

  • Please do not touch formations. Stalactites and stalagmites take a long time to form. They are easily discoloured by people touching them and the more fragile formations can break. Please help us protect the beauty of the cave.
  • To protect the cave atmosphere and for the enjoyment and consideration of others, we ask that you do not smoke in the cave.
  • All photography is strictly forbidden. This includes non-flash photography and video.
  • Keep quiet at all times, especially in the boat and on the jetties.
 Daily Photo

Do you want to share your Waitomo experience with friends and family. Or just want to keep a memento of your adventure?

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