16 epic things to do in Waitomo – Venture beyond the caves

Located in the Waikato and within easy reach of Hamilton, Auckland, Rotorua, Tauranga and Taupō, Waitomo is a must on any North Island itinerary.

This small town is most known for the Waitomo Caves, one of the most famous attractions in the whole country. When you head underground, you’ll find a labyrinth of caves and underground rivers, which are home to the magical glow worm.

Although this is the village’s most popular activity, there are plenty of other things to do in Waitomo, so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time.

Tourists black water rafting inside a cave filled with glow worms.
Black water rafting is just one of the amazing things to do in Waitomo.

Which is the Best Type of Cave to Tour in Waitomo?

Waitomo is famous for its cave tours so be prepared for unique rock formations, magical glow worms and plenty of history.

There are a number of different ways to see the caves.

First, you can join a traditional tour (these are what we would consider the more commercial options). These tours generally have the best accessibility, well-maintained pathways and incredible guides – they’re the most common way to see the different caves in Waitomo.

Or, if you’d prefer, you’re able to join a black water rafting tour (where you’ll jump in the water on a caving adventure), or you can hop on a family-run tour – these are a little more hands-on than the traditional tours and are run on private property.

Now that you know the differences, let us break down the different tours on offer at Waitomo.

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The Best Things to Do in Waitomo

Whether you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, to try your hand at caving, or you’re looking to take a relaxing stroll, this place has plenty to offer.

So, let’s take a look at the top things to do in Waitomo!

Join a Traditional Tour of the Waitomo Caves

1. Waitomo Glowworm Caves

This is one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions and, for good reason – this isn’t a place to be missed.

You’ll join a fully guided tour, initially walking through two different subterranean levels, before hopping on a boat ride through Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Throughout, you’ll get to marvel at the unique formations and of course the glow worms!

This is the original glowworm tour in New Zealand and it’s still going strong. We recommend it for families and people of all ages.

If you are travelling from Auckland, you can also visit the Hobbits and glowworms in one day. This tour departs from Auckland and includes a guided tour of the Hobbiton and stops by the Waitomo Caves to see the fascinating glowworms.

39 Waitomo Village Road, Waitomo Caves 3977

Did you know? Photography is not allowed on this particular tour.

People sitting on a rowboat, on a river in the Waitomo Caves. Blue glow worms cover the cave close above.
The Waitomo Caves are one of New Zealand’s most popular eco-activities.

2. Ruakuri Cave

If you’re looking to get up close to the glow worms within Waitomo, then we’d recommend heading to Ruakuri Cave.

You’ll get the chance to walk right past these intriguing creatures, which is a magical experience. Plus they allow photography on this tour, so you’ll have the chance to snap your very own glow worm photos.

Though there’s no boat ride on this trip, you will journey down through the incredible spiral entrance and check out features including the Drum Passage and the Ghost Passage.

This tour tends to be a bit quieter than the original tour, and it’s also wheelchair/pushchair accessible.

Ruakuri is special as you can take pictures and get up close to see the glowworms but the sheer number of glowworms in the original Waitomo Cave are just amazing!

Krystle Thomas, NZTT member.

Did you know? Many people choose to join the tour of both the Ruakuri and Waitomo Caves. They are each different enough to make both worthwhile.

A long and winding circular stair with lighted paths in Ruakuri Cave.

3. Aranui Cave

Although you won’t get to see glowworms within Aranui Cave it’s still a fascinating place to explore.

This cave is steeped in Maori myths and legends, and you’re allowed to take photographs here too. There’s also a colony of native New Zealand cave wētā just as you enter the cave!

You’ll walk along a series of boards as you make your way into the most intimate cave system offered (on the original tours). There, you’ll find high chambers, stunning limestone formations and massive brown, pink and white stalactites and stalagmites.

The tour lasts for an hour so make sure you bring comfortable shoes and a warm jacket.

39 Waitomo Caves Road, Waitomo Caves 3977

Young kids mesmerized with the amount of stalactites and stalagmites inside a cave.

Jump Into Some Black Water Rafting

Going black water rafting is one of the best ways to get your adrenaline pumping whilst seeing the glow worms. If you have an adventurous spirit, this should be top of your bucket list. You’ll be rafting (and tubing) through the caves in complete darkness, guided by your own torchlight (and that of the glow worms).

There are a number of options available in Waitomo, making it easy to find the right tour for you.

4. Black Labyrinth

This 3-hour black water rafting tour takes you through Ruakuri Cave where you’ll get to see the glow worms light up the darkness.

Although this tour is two hours shorter than the ‘Black Abyss’ you’ll still spend plenty of time floating down the river, jumping off waterfalls and exploring the cave. In fact, it’s the perfect introduction to black water rafting.

584 State Highway 3, Waitomo Caves 3977

What is black water rafting? It is an exciting combination of caving and floating with a little swimming and climbing. We think it’s the best way to see the glow worms!

Three black water rafters, wearing wetsuits, hold on to their tubes in the river and they look up at glow worms.
Black water rafting is the best way to see glow worms! Photo: Liliane Kok, NZTT member.

5. Black Abyss

The Black Abyss rafting tour will take you on a 5-hour journey through the caves.

To start the tour you’ll abseil down into the caves, before taking a zip line through an area full of magical glow worms. From there, you’ll climb underground waterfalls and tube through the peaceful underground waters.

This tour is definitely a step up on the Black Labyrinth, but if you love an adventure, this is our top pick. It’s affordable whilst still being a great challenge.

584 State Highway 3, Waitomo Caves 3977

Pro Tip: The rivers running through the caves are always cold, so don’t let the season put you off black water rafting. You’ll be kitted up with a good wetsuit and be given snacks whilst underground.

A tourist riding a zip line inside a cave while glow-worms shine around her.

6. The Lost World Epic Tour

This 7-hour tour really is the ultimate black water rafting adventure.

You’ll start with a 100m (330ft) abseil into the cave (the largest of its kind in the world) before spending hours underground, exploring the depths of this caving system.

Lunch and a BBQ dinner is also included in this full-day tour.

1227 Waitomo Valley Road, Waitomo Caves 3977

Rappelling down a rocky cliff in leading down to a cave in Lost World Epic Tour.

Go on a Family-Run Cave Tour

If the original caving tours don’t sound exciting enough for you, and the black water rafting trips sound a bit too much, these family-run cave tours could be just what you’re after!

They’re closer to the traditional cave tours but more hands-on. This makes them perfect for people who want to interact a little more with their surroundings, whilst still staying fairly dry and clean.

7. Down to Earth

This off-the-beaten-track cave tour will take you through Mangapu Gorge and into the scenic Mangarongapu Cave.

You’ll get kitted up in thermals and gumboots as you enjoy hiking around boulders and through shallow streams, all the while, marvelling the glow worms.

We love that this tour is limited to six people as it gives you a more intimate experience. Plus you’ll get plenty of personal attention from your local guide.

1199 Oparure Road, Waitomo 3985

Did you know? Down to Earth used to be known as Glowing Adventures. If you see reviews for them, they are the same team in the same place – they’ve just rebranded.

A girl on a thumbs up photo while her colleagues on the background also takes pictures in near a river.

8. CaveWorld’s Footwhistle Cave Tour

CaveWorld’s Footwhistle Cave tour is another less-commercial option. It’s a family-run business that limits their tours to only eleven guests.

Your guide will take you past unique formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, before you reach a cavern full of glow worms. In addition, you’ll be able to see ancient moa bones on this tour.

637 Fullerton Road, Waitomo Caves 3981

Glow-worms on the ceiling of Cave World Waitmomo.

9. Spellbound

Spellbound is another family-run business in the area. They’ve been operating for 35 years so it’s safe to say, they know what they’re doing.

They operate an underground boat ride (like the original Waitomo Caves tour), making this a great option for people that want a more personal experience. With group sizes kept to 12, again, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact with your guide too.

334 Boddies Road, Waitomo Caves 3981

Tourists mesmerized on their boat ride inside a cave with glow worms in the ceiling of Spellbound.

10. Fly Down the Waitomo Caves Zipline Park

Waitomo is a place full of adventure, so it’s not entirely surprising to learn that there’s a zipline park there too!

With 10 ziplines at the Waitomo Caves Zipline Park, you’ll enjoy scenic views as you fly through the air.

You’ll start off on one of the lower elevation ziplines, before ending on the super-fast final zipline. With ziplines totalling 280m (919 ft) and speeds of up to 80 km/ph, this is family-friendly fun at its very best.

24 Te Anga Road, Waitomo Caves 3997

A tourist riding a zipline in Waitomo Caves Zipline Park.

11. Hike the Ruakuri Bush Walk

The Ruakuri Bush Walk is one of the best things to do in Waitomo, so be sure to include it on your itinerary.

It’s a 1km (0.6 miles) loop that takes you through a forested gorge, under limestone arches and past towering cliffs. You’ll follow the stream before skirting several outcrops, then winding back down to the Ruakuri Natural Bridge viewing platform. There are caves to walk through too, making this a real hit with kids.

When you arrive, park up in the car park, or you can walk to Ruakuri from Waitomo (along the Waitomo Walkway). However, that adds about 3km (1.9 miles) to this walk.

Head across the road (from the Ruakuri Cave) for the bush walk. It is so cool and has remnants of old Caves you walk through. It’s very easy walking and spectacular.

Angela Babich, NZTT member.

205 Ruakuri Road, Waitomo Caves 3985

Young woman in the middle of a small tunnel of Ruakuri Bush walk.
Photo credit: WaikatoNZ.

12. Head to the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre

Make sure you visit Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre during your trip to Waitomo.

It’s the only speleological museum (relating to the study of caves) in New Zealand and is a must-visit. Plus it’s cheap as chips!

There, you’ll get to learn all about the formation of caves, the history of caving in the region, and the creatures that live underneath the Earth’s surface.

The displays at Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre are all ‘cave-themed’ and are very interactive. You’ll even be able to squeeze through the ‘cave crawl’, and other cracks throughout the museum which will give you a good idea of what it’s like to go caving!

21 Waitomo Village Road, Waitomo Caves 3977

13. Escape from Troll Cave

Troll Cave is an escape-room-style adventure, where you’ll have an hour to escape the ‘trolls lair’. It’s one of the best family-friendly activities in town.

It’s a great way to give kids a taste of Waitomo’s cave systems, as some of the other caving experiences can be quite scary for the little ones.

Many of the cave tours in the area also have age restrictions, whereas Troll Cave is suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities.

You’ll have to work as a team to solve Tom the troll’s riddles and escape his lair – making this quite the adventure!

1227 Waitomo Valley Road, Waitomo Caves 3977

Kids shining their flashlights inside the colorful Troll cave.

Things to Do Near Waitomo

14. Visit Nearby Ōtorohanga

The town of Ōtorohanga is located just 15km (9.3 miles) from Waitomo, making it an easy 15-minute drive away.

It’s the ‘Kiwiana capital of the country’ so you’ll learn plenty about New Zealand’s iconic culture whilst visiting. Plus, for such a small town, there’s a lot to do here. We recommend:

  • the Ed Hillary Walkway – an interesting collection of NZ history and kiwiana is free to view.
  • the Otorohanga Kiwi House – one of the most popular attractions in the area, it gives you a chance to see New Zealand’s national icon along with countless other native species.
  • mini-golf – family-friendly, affordable fun.
  • the Ōtorohanga Museum – learn about what makes this rural community so special. Plus, it’s free to visit!
A brown kiwi bird.
The North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli, is the most common kiwi in New Zealand.

15. Visit the Beautiful Marokopa Falls

One of the most popular attractions within Waitomo area is Marokopa Falls. This impressive waterfall is 35m (115 ft) and is just a 35-minute drive from Waitomo Caves.

It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, and once you see it you’ll understand why!

From the car park, it’s just a 10-minute walk through native forest to reach the viewing platform. Though if you want to extend your walk, you can combine it with the Mangopohue Nature Bridge Walk or Piripiri Cave Walk.

Either way, visiting this waterfall is without a doubt one of the best things to do in the region.

The raging Marokopa Falls surrounded by trees and a rocky river below it.
Photo credit: russellstreet.

16. Check Out the Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk

Whilst visiting the Marokopa Falls be sure to swing by the Mangopohue Nature Bridge Walk. It is widely considered one of the best hikes in the area, and at only 700m long it’s suitable for a wide range of people.

Make your way through a towering limestone gorge, walking underneath a natural arch that stands an impressive 17m (56 ft) high. The scenery along the Mangopohue Nature Bridge Walk is stunning but you’ll want to keep a special eye out for stalactite-like formations and fossilised oysters!

Taking about 20 minutes, this track is incredibly family-friendly (although dogs are not allowed). This loop walk does have a fair few steps though, so isn’t suitable for prams and people in wheelchairs.

Located around 25km (15 miles) outside of Waitomo, the journey to the trailhead takes about 30 minutes.

A wooden trail built on the side of a rocky cliff inside a cave that leads to a river.
Photo credit: WaikatoNZ.

As you can see there are plenty of fantastic things to do in Waitomo!

Whether you’re looking to go caving, take a hike along the surrounding trails, or visit Ōtorohanga, there’s something for everyone.

Have you ever been to Waitomo? If you have, what is your favourite activity and why? We’d love to know!

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