You can't visit the North Island of New Zealand without a trip to the Waitomo Caves. These caves were once all underwater, and now they're one of the biggest must-sees on a trip to New Zealand. You'll be surprised by how much there is to do here, so you may want to allocate more time than you think you'll need.
There are around 300 limestone caves in Waitomo, an underground labyrinth just waiting to be explored, and a plethora of tour companies available to help you do just that.
What to do in the Waitomo area
There are so many things to do in the Waitomo area and unsurprisingly most of them centre around the incredible Waitomo Caves. Make sure you check out the glowworm caves, although you'll have to leave the camera at home since there are no photos allowed. Take a trip through the cave, and imagine the amazement of the first Maori people to discover this spot in 1887.
These caves are ideal for thrill seekers, since there are so many different ways to explore them. One of the best ways is to go Blackwater Rafting, and there are a few different tours available.
Try the Black Labyrinth tour, which goes for three hours and includes an underground river as well as many waterfalls. Those who want to take it up a notch can try either the Black Abyss tour or the Black Odyseey tour. These involve abseiling, caving, flying foxes, ladder crossing and river tubing. The Black Odyseey tour is the hardest and you'll need to pass a fit test before you can go, but the Black Abyss is fine for beginners.
The three main caves are the Aranui, the Ruakari, and the Glowworm Cave and for the best experience you really want to visit at least two of these.
The Ruakari is the longest guided underground walking tour, and it's an incredible example of what nature has to offer. Here you'll see fossilized sea-shells, stalagmites and stalactites, and even glowworms, and it's also the only cave in the Southern Hemisphere that is wheelchair accessible.
The Aranui is the place to go if you like creepy crawlies, since here you'll be able to hang out with Cave Weta's, which are native to New Zealand.
The Glowworm Caves are famous around the world, so take a boat ride through these caves and marvel at the glowworms which light up like stars in a night sky. This is truly a magical experience, and not to be missed if you're in Waitomo. Prices for the 45-minute tour through the Glowworm Caves are: Adults $49 - Child $22 - Family Ticket - $121 (Prices 2015). More details here: Waitomo Glowworm Caves
You can buy a pass for all three caves for around $90 for an adult ticket, or for just two of them for between $70 and $80.
If you're done with the caves and have some spare time, take a trip to the Marokopa Falls which is located twenty minutes from the caves, and definitely worth the short drive. The falls are 30 meters high, and one of the most impressive waterfalls in New Zealand. There's a fifteen-minute walk from the parking lot to the falls, but it's easy and shouldn't deter you from visiting this brilliant photo opportunity.
Weather and When to Go
The best time to visit the caves is in summer (between November and April), as it can get quite cold in the actual caves themselves. Summer is likely to be both warm and humid, although the weather is relatively mild throughout the year, and rarely gets too hot or cold.
Where to Stay in Waitomo
Stay in the area at the Waitomo Caves Hotel, which was built in 1908. You'll need at least a few days in Waitomo to see everything, and this hotel is in a great location, close to the main Waitomo Caves. For those who are interested in the paranormal, this hotel is the most haunted hotel in New Zealand, so be prepared for cold spots and ghostly laughter.
Another option is the Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge, which is a bed and breakfast and is a little more budget friendly. The owners go out of the way to make sure you enjoy your experience, and the rooms have a lovely view of the countryside.
Backpackers may like to try the Kiwi Paka, which has dorm rooms starting from around $26 a night. It's also only a two-minute walk from the caves, and has a café onsite.
Food and Eating Out
On Waitomo Caves Road you'll find Huhu, which is one of the gems of Waitomo, and once you're there you'll see why. Huhu specializes in healthy, vegetarian options and you may want to book in advance since it's one of the more popular restaurants in Waitomo.
The Fat Pigeon Café is a community project, and with large portions and reasonable prices it's a good place to go for breakfast. Located on Moa Street, make sure you try a scone or muffin while you're there.
Head to Roselands Restaurant on Fullerton Road for a meal with a view, and make sure you take the kids since they have a petting farm onsite, and they often shear the Angora rabbits with the kids. Take a walk through the gardens, and then enjoy some great New Zealand comfort food.
Waitomo is not the place to go if you're looking for bustling nightlife and want to hit the shops. This place is all about nature, and if you want to experience the “real New Zealand” then take a few days to relax and explore the Waitomo Caves, and you'll soon see why it's one of the more famous attractions in New Zealand.
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