New Zealand’s native glow worm species, the Arachnocampa Luminosa, are found deep within the country’s limestone caverns, where they spin their silk nets and lower themselves to capture their unsuspecting prey. If you’re keen to get up close and personal with these remarkable creatures, these are some of the best places to do it.
Out of all of New Zealand’s glow worm grottos, the Waitomo Caves are the most accessible. They are located on the North Island, a short drive from major cities like Auckland and Hamilton. This is a place for all kinds of glow worm-loving explorers: you are able to go on guided caving tours, leisurely underground cruises, or you can get involved in an array of adrenaline-inducing activities like blackwater rafting and abseiling.
TE ANAU GLOWWORM CAVES
A cruise along the South Island’s Lake Te Anau will bring you up close and personal with a network of majestic glow worm-lit caves.
By geological standards, the area’s limestone caves are quite young – they’re believed to be around 12,000 years old – and they are still very much being melded by the waters that flow through them.
THE OPARARA BASIN, KAHURANGI NATIONAL PARK
There are a series of short, easy walks near the Oparara Basin in Kahurangi National Park that allow visitors to view some native glow worms at their own pace. One of the first bush tracks you’ll come across leads into the Crazy Paving Cave, which consists of an intriguingly patterned floor below – and natural light showing up in the ceiling.
LAKE MCLAREN – WAIMARINO ADVENTURE PARK
Lake McLaren has located just a 10-minute drive from the harbourside city of Tauranga. Head to Waimarino National Park at dusk to marvel at the glow worms that dazzle the lake’s tranquil waters. This is quite a hands-on experience: approximately an hour and half of your three-hour tour will be taken up by kayaking.
NILE RIVER GLOWWORM CAVES – UNDERWORLD ADVENTURE CENTRE
Venture into Paparoa National Park to discover the glowing beauty that hides within the stalactites of its Nile River Cave System. Guided tours of these caverns depart from the village of Charleston, on the West Coast of the South Island, where you’ll climb some 130 steps down the calcite formations as a galaxy of glow worms comes into full view.
An evening expedition of the Glowworm Dell, just outside of the West Coast town of Hokitika, is one of the easiest, most natural ways to catch a glimpse of some blue-lit larvae as they put on their starry-night show. These caves are completely free to access: you just need to make your way to the Kumara Junction Highway near Seaview and walk to the clearly-marked cave entrance.
KAWITI GLOWWORM CAVES
Nestled right at the heart of Waimio Valley, the Kawiti Caves is a place to learn not just about glow worms but also about the Maori heritage that encompassed this stretch of the North Island’s Northland region. A guided tour of these caves will expose visitors to a lush forested setting, before they meander underground to view thousands of star-like glow worms – in some sections you’ll be close enough to almost be able to touch them.
The Clifden Caves are located right at the bottom of the South Island, in the Southland region. This is a great option for a fit, agile adventurer: the limestone cave is free to access and will take you approximately 1.5 to two hours to explore. Choose between the upper or lower entrance points and head southwards – there are orange markers indicating the route throughout the way, though you will encounter some unmarked corridors, too.
The Okupata Caves have situated off a gravel road in Tongariro Forest Park. Fair warning: these underground passages are not for the inexperienced – the Department of Conservation even goes as far as recommending that visitors only enter these caves if they’re accompanied by someone who knows the area well. The caves are unmarked and subject to flooding during high rainfall; but if you’re up for the challenge, the lively glow worms will make the trip well and truly worth it.