Waitomo Caves or Glowworm Caves are a huge complex of limestone caves that can be visited. They are located on the North Island of New Zealand. They were formed about 30 million years ago as a result of karst erosion. Most of the caves are inhabited by the larva of an insect known as the glow-worm, Arachnocampa luminescent, like the firefly.
Millions of these small creatures irradiate the Waitomo caves with their bioluminescent light, creating a peculiar spectacle, similar to a starry sky. Te Araroa, a national long distance walkway, passes through Waitomo. The section from Mt Pirongia joins the Waitomo Walkway to enter the village.
The section to Te Kuiti goes over Mangapu River suspension bridge and through Pehitawa kahikatea forest. Caves of the area, from easily accessible areas with hundreds of tourists per hour in the peak season, to extreme sports, like crawls into cave systems, which are only seen by a few tourists each day.
The caves are noted for their stalactite and stalagmite displays, and for the presence of glowworms.
Waitomo Caves and their magic
At the reserve the Ruakuri Walk leads through short caves to the Ruakuri Natural Bridge. The Waitomo Walkway runs through the valley of the Waitomo Stream for 2.1 mi from the village to the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve.
A visit to Waitomo Caves made number 14 amongst a list of 101 Kiwi must-do's in a New Zealand Automobile Association poll of over 20,000 motorists published 2007, and in 2004, around 400,000 visitors entered caves in the area.
The Waitomo Caves Museum provides information about the karst landscape, caves and caving and the history of the area. The limestone landscape of the Waitomo District area has been the centre of increasingly popular commercial caving tourism since before 1900.
Initially mostly consisting of impromptu trips guided by local Maori, a large cave system near Waitomo Caves were nationalised by the Crown and managed as a tourism attraction from 1904 onwards.