When we were floating through the glowworm caves in Waitomo, I felt like I had been placed into another world. Suddenly I had “Pure Imagination” in my head and I was hanging out with Willy Wonka. The glowworms weren’t like anything I’d ever seen before.
Waitomo, on the northern island of New Zealand, has an abundance of glowworms, due to its hospitable cave conditions; but these little insects actually exist a lot of places. Glowworms need a damp environment, making forests, caves, and really any bank or stream an ideal location.
Glowworms, also known as arachnocampa luminosa, aren’t actually worms at all, but instead fly larvae. And the nice light that comes from the glowworm? That’s the equivalent of our kidneys. So really, not that cute at all. Just a maggot with a glowing butt. The glowworm uses their light to attract food. The “worms” have silk threads that hang beneath them and they catch their prey in a sticky mucus attached to the thread.
The silk threads with sticky mucus that the glowworms use to catch their food
We booked our tour with Spellbound and it was great. There are a lot of different tour options in Waitomo for the caves and glowworms, but Spellbound fit our timeline and budget best. There were some tours that offered cave diving, abseiling, and tubing options. They looked awesome, but we weren’t able to make the timeline work this time. If we end up back in Waitomo again, you can bet that I’ll be on one of the adventerous tours.
To get to Waitomo, we took a 7am bus through NakedBus from Auckland. We had a bus change in Hamilton, New Zealand and all in all it took about 3 hours to get from Auckland to Waitomo. There weren’t a lot of accommodation options in Waitomo, so after our tour we took another bus back to Hamilton to stay the night.
Posing with our guide!
I’m in New Zealand!
To get to the caves we drove in a minibus about 20 minutes through the winding hills of Waitomo. The ride was gorgeous. New Zealand is so green and lush. Spellbound took us to private caves, so we didn’t end up in a crowded cave with a lot of other tourists. We were in a small group of about 12 people and everything felt personalized.
On the tour we walked through the first cave while learning more about the glowworms and their life cycle, had a nice break in the hills with coffee and biscuits/cookies, and then took a gentle boat ride through the second cave. While we were in the second cave we turned off all lights and just floated through the water. After about 10 minutes of floating in the water, our eyes started to adjust and we were really able to make out the curves and crevices of the cave that we couldn’t see when we first entered.
Moa bones – the Moa is an extinct bird native to New Zealand. Moas resembled large chickens – some moas would grow to be 3 meters tall
One of the many sinkholes we could peek out of in the caves. There were often animal bones near these openings where farm animals would fall into the hole and then die trapped in the cave.
I really did try to take pictures of the glowworms, but nothing matched seeing it in person. Without a long exposure and nice camera, it’s difficult to capture the glowworms. I even accidentally deleted a few pictures on my phone because I thought it was just a black screen – I couldn’t make out the glowworms!
Glowworms were cooler in real life, I promise
It was really an incredible day. The glowworms were magical to see, but it was also fantastic to tour the caves and learn more about Waitomo’s history. Spellbound was a great company to book with and I’m so happy we opted for the smaller personalized tour.
Hiking around Waitomo, New Zealand