On the North Island of New Zealand you can find Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Waitomo is a small village, about two and half hours drive from Auckland.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The underground caves are located in an area of limestone rock. They were formed around 30 million years ago from the bones and shells of marine fossils.
‘Wai’ is the Māori word for ‘water’, while ‘tomo’ means a hole in the ground.
The limestone formations include stalactites (from the ceiling), stalagmites (from the floor) and huge caverns with thousands of glowworms that provide light for you to navigate by.
There are a couple of different ways you can venture into Waitomo caves. As part of your visit, you can walk underground and view all the fabulous rock formations or you can take a boat trip to see the glowworm caves. Alternatively, you can go black water rafting.
What is Black Water Rafting at Waitomo Caves?
This is the experience I’d recommend at Waitomo, I did this when I visited and it was fabulous!
You’ve heard of white water rafting right? Black water rafting is completely different! On arrival at the venue, I was kitted out in a wetsuit (complete with attractive booties!), hard helmet, headlamp and given a large black inner tube.
Now there is NO WAY in this world that I would ever go caving or potholing – the thought of being stuck underground and not being able to get out if it starts to rain is the stuff of nightmares in my humble opinion!
However, the guys at The Black Water Rafting Co convinced me that the caves we would be travelling through were enormous, with high ceilings, plenty of air and no chance of feeling claustrophobic at all.
Imagine my horror, when we started out and the guides took us through the living nightmare of a small, crawlspace – telling us that this was the “only way” to get to the caves! I nearly gave up there and then, and just as I was about to tell them where to stick their inner tube, we were guided back out into the daylight and the guides all fell about laughing! After seeing the pale, scared faces of some of the group, they quickly assured us that the trip was not like that at all and from now on we’d be in massive caverns!
The Adventure of Black Water Rafting at Waitomo
The group was told how, one by one, we would hold our inner tube as if sitting on it and then jump through a hole into the river below. One of the guides went first and made it look like great fun – so we all followed! This time she was right! If you are a bit of an exhilaration junkie like me, the jump was brilliant. The water was cold, but with wetsuits on, it was bearable.
Once we were on the river, lying back on our inner tubes, we let the current take us gently into the caves.
The geographical features of stalacties and stalagmites were amazing – the sort of things I’d learnt about in geography when I was at school, but never seen before in real-life.
The tour was advertised as lasting about three hours and that time seemed to stand still as we entered an underground world.
At one point we came to a small waterfall and all did the same sort of jump as we had done at the beginning of our trip – brilliant fun! As we got deeper underground, we suddenly came to the glowworm caves. Imagine lying back on your inner tube, looking up at the “sky” and seeing thousands of glowworms that looked like stars in an unknown galaxy. The experience was totally surreal and one that will stay with me forever.
All of us were quiet and completely amazed at the glowworm caves, there was around eight of us in my group, but it felt like I was on my own as I floated gently through the caves and was completely transported to another world.
Eventually, the darkness became less dense and the glowworms faded as we got closer to coming out of the caves into daylight. We all negotiated the final part of our journey to exit the caves and head back to base. The whole group was buzzing as we all had showers, a hot drink and a snack to end our out-of-this-world adventure.
Would I recommend black water rafting when you visit New Zealand? One hundred per cent yes! This was a special, totally different trip to remember.
Waitomo is easy to get to from Rotorua too – just under two hours away. Check out my article on Things To Do In Rotorua.