The main caves in the area are the Waitomo Glowworm Cave, Ruakuri Cave and the Aranui Caves. They are all noted for their stalactite and stalagmite displays, and for the presence of glowworms.
Today, a number of companies, large and small, specialise in leading tourists through the caves of the area. A visit to the caves has been made Number 14 amongst a list of 101 "Kiwi must-do" activities in a New Zealand publication in 2007.
As you explore the two levels of the caves, your Waitomo Caves tour guide will outline the history of the caves. You will learn how formations like the Catacombs, the Pipe Organ and the Banquet Chamber got their names. Stand in the Cathedral, the largest of the caverns with excellent acoustics, and look into the Tomo – a 16-metre vertical shaft created by an ancient waterfall – to see the Waitomo River far below.
The highlight of the tour is a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto. This cavern is illuminated by thousands of tiny glowworms, their twinkling lights creating a breathtakingly beautiful effect as you glide along the underground river below.
Waitomo Cave tours operate throughout the day and take approximately 45 minutes. Cost: Adult $48.00 / Child $21.00, or you can join a full day Waitomo Caves Tour from Auckland or Rotorua from $95.00
Ruakuri Caves offer New Zealand's longest guided underground walking tour with around 1.6 kilometres of cave passages open for you to explore. The caves are fully accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users. Enter through the spectacular spiral walkway and explore the cave’s corridors and caverns, which contain stunning ‘shawl’ formations, glowworms and fossilised seashells.
You can take a guided tour on foot, or opt for a black water rafting adventure on the underground river below. Ruakuri Cave tours depart daily, although they must be prebooked and take approximately 2 hours (1 hour 30 minutes underground). Cost: Adult $67.00 / Child $26.00
Situated within Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, Aranui Cave is the smallest of the area’s three main cave systems. It was discovered by and named after Ruruku Aranui, a local Māori man, in 1910. Unlike the Waitomo and Ruakuri caves, it has no water running through it. At the mouth of the cave is a colony of native New Zealand cave wetas, large insects similar to the cricket and locust.
Aranui is the most intricately decorated of the caves, with stalactites, stalagmites and colourful decorative formations covering the roof and walls. Aranui Cave tours take approximately 45 minutes. Cost: Adult $46.00 / Child $21.00.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can choose to explore Waitomo’s caves with a range of caving and black water rafting tours.
Descend into the depths of Ruakuri Cave and try your hand at everything from abseiling, rock climbing, cave tubing and spider walking. Zip down flying foxes or spider walk above sheer cliffs and leap off waterfalls, then float through the darkness as glowworms twinkle overhead.
Choose to stay dry or make a splash, challenge yourself with tight squeezes and impressive heights in this amazing subterranean playground. Discover the range of activities on offer here.