Waitomo is a tiny, fairly unpopulated area but is a tourist magnet due to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The drive to Waitomo is incredibly green and scenic, and the area offers some great bush walks through rainforest environments. We took a different approach to seeing the famous Glow Worms by taking a black water rafting tour through the caves. If you’re in the area also make sure to pop over to the Ortorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park to see the national bird!
How to Get There
Waitomo is on North Island near the west coast, about a 2.5 hour drive south of Aukland. The drive between Waitomo and Rotorua takes about 2-2.5 hours, depending on how many times you stop and take pictures (we stopped a lot!).
Where to Stay
- Otorohanga Holiday Park – There are places to stay in Waitomo near the caves, but the prices are a little steep due to the frequent tourist visits. We opted to stay 10 mins down the road at Otorohanga Holiday Park. There were cool metal pod rooms for $69 NZ that had bunk beds with a double sized bottom bunk and single top bunk. They also had a heater, fridge, the park offered free parking, an hour of free wifi, and bathroom and kitchen facilities. We were pretty happy with it. Just make sure to keep your heater on low overnight if it’s cold. We were there in December but the metal pods cool down very quickly overnight with the heater off. You can book a metal pod at the Otorohanga Holiday Park online here.
What to Do
- The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company – This was a super fun adventure and a more exciting way to check out the famous Waitomo Glow Worms. We booked this tour as a part of the Super Charged Trilogy Package (along with Hobbiton and Te Puia Geothermal Park) which costs
$289.68$302 NZ in total (updated as of 2018). We chose the Black Labyrinth tour ( $138$142 NZ (updated as of 2018) without the package). It includes tubing along a river in a subterranean cave as well as a few small waterfall jumps. You’re able to get close up views of the glow worms along the ceiling in pitch black while lazily floating along the stream in your tube. It was a very cool experience, and the guides we had were hilarious, informative and very helpful. We went early in the morning on a pretty cold day, but they deck you out in thick wet suits and booties and you don’t really notice the cold once you start floating along in the awesome underground world. Make sure to bring a change of clothes and a towel so that you can enjoy the free soup and bagels offered after in comfort! Check out their website for prices and to book.
- Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park – We were on the fence about going here because we knew there was a kiwi house at Te Puia which we were visiting later, but we ended up having some extra time so we went for it. We’re lucky we did, because this kiwi house offered a much better view of the kiwis; apparently the best in all of New Zealand. It housed four in total, and the great spotted kiwi they had was very active. We were even able to watch them be fed. Do not miss out on seeing these iconic New Zealand birds, as their numbers are dwindling in the wild and they are hilarious to watch. The small park is also home to many other native bird species, including kakariki, Kea, Kaka as well as some reptiles. A great place to spend an afternoon. Check out their website for feeding times etc. It costs $24 for an all day entry/exit pass.
Where to Eat
- Hot Roast Meals – There’s not much in Ortorohanga where we stayed, but Hot Roast Meals did the trick. Simple meals with veggies and potatoes served with your choice of meat. Not too expensive, and it was nice to have a cheap hot meal after eating constant Countdown (NZ’s grocery store) meals.
- Thirsty Weta – A fun little pub in town with good wifi. We hung out here for a couple drinks before our adventure into the caves the next day, where we actually saw wetas (cave spiders) on the cave ceiling!