Waitomo, New Zealand

By Elizabeth New 30 April 2014
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Discover ancient natural wonders, explore limestone caves lit by glow-worms and go black-water rafting on underground rivers

Waitomo is a Maori word consisting of ‘wai’, meaning water, and ‘tomo’, meaning hole or entrance. It roughly translates as “stream which flows into the hole in the ground”.

The area is riddled with more than 300 limestone caves cut through by underground rivers.

Black-water rafting is popular and, although it sounds more ominous than its whitewater cousin, is relatively tranquil, as you float down underground streams in the dark.

Above ground, there is plenty to explore in Waitomo village and surrounding wilderness, including forest walking tracks, waterfalls and the local museum. Scenic drives take in farmland and geological marvels.


Caving: Waitomo’s limestone legacy includes the famous Glowworm Caves, lit up by thousands of glow-worms (arachnocampa luminosa) unique to NZ. Thrill-seekers can abseil, crawl, climb, flying fox and raft through ancient tunnels. The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company leads adventure tours.

Bushwalking: Scenic native forest reserves are home to many plants, animals and birds. Remarkable limestone features continue above ground, with the Waitomo Walkway winding through arches and tunnels, and around rivers, limestone outcrops and fossils. Wander down to the Marokopa Falls (30m) lookout.

The Essentials

Location: Two hours’ drive south of Auckland, one hour south of Hamilton, two hours west of Rotorua.

Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park has camp sites and cabins, Woodlyn Park has a hobbit motel and historic Waitomo Caves Hotel has views over the village. Caving Group, has a no-frills hut, with camping and dorm-style accommodation.

There is a small village store but self-caterers should bring their own supplies. Stop in at Curly’s Bar for NZ brews and pub fare. HUHU cafe serves local produce.

Points of interest:
25km west of Waitomo is the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a 17m-high limestone arch spanning the Mangapohue Stream. See fossils more than 30 million years old at the Caves Discovery Centre.

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