The spectacular Waitomo glowworm caves in New Zealand

Stef Zisovska
Glow worms in the Waitomo Caves - Author: Donnie Ray Jones - 
CC BY 2.0
Glow worms in the Waitomo Caves - Author: Donnie Ray Jones - CC BY 2.0

Waitomo Caves are one of the most spectacular in the world because of the lights that glowworms display on the caves’ ceilings and walls. Glowworms are bioluminescent insects that are able to produce light with their tails. It’s actually a chemical reaction between the chemicals they produce and oxygen. Glowworms spend most of their lives as larvae the size of a matchstick. Besides the luminescent creatures, the Waimoto Caves have been attracting people for the last 120 years also because of the stunning limestone formations.

Waimoto is located in the central part of the Northern Island in New Zealand, beneath a lush-green countryside. Here are some facts about Waitomo.

The Cathedral in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves – Author: Karora
The Cathedral in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves – Author: Karora
  • Waitomo name comes from the language of the Maori who are the indigenous people of the island. “Wai” means water, and “Tomo” means a hole in the ground.
  • Waitomo Caves are not the only amazing caves in the area. Nearby are another group of limestone caves known as Ruakuri Caves. The abundance of limestone formations at both locations dates from 30 million years ago. The limestone cave structures that we visit today were formed from bones and shells of ancient marine animals. Over the centuries the water flows widened the sedimentary rock little by little until the caverns were formed.
  • The caves are full of decorations of a different type including stalactites and stalagmites. They are limestone crystal deposits formed from constant water leaks from the roof of the cave. Touching them is strictly forbidden as they can be easily damaged. Don’t you even think of breaking one and bringing it back home as a souvenir! Natural souvenirs belong to Nature.
  • Identifying the cave decorations is easy following these simple explanations. Stalactites grow from the ceilings and they go towards the bottom. Stalagmites grow from the bottom and go upwards. If they meet in between they form columns which give the cavern even more spectacular look. The spiral formations are called Helictites.
  • The discovery of the caves happened in late 1800 by the Maori chief Tane Tinorau who was the first one to enter the underground marvels. The same entrance he found 200 years ago is the one that’s still used today. The caves are open for tourists since 1889. Nowadays, the people who work in the caves are direct descendants of chief Tane Tinorau after the government returned the caves and the land to their family in 1989.
Visitor Centre – Author: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner – CC BY-SA 2.0
Visitor Centre – Author: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner – CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Nevertheless, the biggest attraction in the caves are the glowworms that illuminate the deep darkness of Waitomo’s underground caverns. As explained before, the glowworms contain chemicals in their tales that start shining in reaction with oxygen. For the humans, the glowworms are an attraction and a beautiful surprise while for other creature the shiny glowworms mean death. They use the lights to attract other insects in their thread and then eat them for dinner.
  • The caves are a perfect habitat for the glowworms because they lake to live in dark and damp environment. Their thread never gets dry or damaged because of the high humidity inside the caves. The river that flows beneath the threads is the main food supplier for the glowworms. The caves are always monitored to make sure the shiny creatures have everything they need for their survival. After all, they are the reason that so many people visit Waitomo.
  • The caves can be visited on a 45-minute guided tour that will take you the see the Cathedral Caverns and the Glowworm Gotto. The second one you see gliding on a river which is an incredible experience that you can’t miss.

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stef-zisovska is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival