Waitomo Glowworm Caves are probably one of the most famous attractions in this part of New Zealand and it felt silly to miss out, since they were only 50 minutes away from where I’m staying.
We opted for the ‘most popular’ cave combo – the Waitomo Glowworm Cave itself and the Ruakuri Cave, and we arrived at 9am to start with a tour in the latter cave.
The Ruakuri Cave starts with a spiral staircase in an artificial cave entrance descending 16 metres quite spectacularly into the cave proper, which itself is up to 65 metres deep. Inside, it’s full of brilliant stalactite and stalactite formations, as well as odd spots lit up with lots of glowworms and their silk threads dangling down.
A highlight for me was seeing an area dubbed as Gollum’s Pool, where Andy Serkis sat for four to five hours to get in character. Audio for The Lord of the Rings was also recorded here. I also enjoyed a passageway dubbed the ghost walk, which is narrow and pretty dark, making it very atmospheric. The biology lesson on the glowworms and history lesson on the ownership of the cave land was also really interesting.
Although this cave ended up paling slightly in comparison to the next (read on to find out more…) it was a lengthy tour, spending around an hour and 15 minutes actually inside the caves, which meant you could engross yourself in that world for longer.
So, after coming up for air/sunlight and a quick pitstop for a brownie, we went underground again with a new tour guide into the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. In here, no photography is permitted at all and it’s all slightly more spacious where Ruakuri had some narrow and low cave passageways.
Both are good ways to experience the caves, but it just meant Waitomo had more room to breathe and appreciate the amazing formations around you, especially in the wide ‘cathedral’ area.
But the highlight of the day undoubtedly was the boat ride in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, when everyone goes silent, the lights are off and you simply glide under ceilings and walls covered in glowworm lights. It was something really special.
In the afternoon we went to Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park, about 20 minutes away. This was because we were keen to see kiwi and luckily we weren’t disappointed.
Although there were quite a few kiwi that we didn’t see because they’re nocturnal and even most of the ones in the first nocturnal house were impossible to spot in the dark, there were two in the other nocturnal enclosure which we saw in all their glory.
We unknowingly arrived just before the afternoon feeding time for a female great spotted kiwi, Tasman, and so we were able to see her running laps of her enclosure, getting aggressive with the keeper (she’s very territorial) and generally bumbling about with her huge long beak.
We also saw the only little spotted kiwi in captivity, Kapiti, next door – he was part of a huge breeding programme and now can’t be released as he’s really old (at least 40). We saw him both in the front corner of his enclosure and later just pecking about at the back and the keeper said we were really lucky to see him out as he often just stays in his burrows.
As I’m sure you can tell, we were thrilled by these sightings!
The rest of the park wasn’t so exciting, but did feature quite a lot of different native New Zealand bird species which was nice to see – a weird highlight was the HUGELY fat NZ pigeon. There were many different types of ducks, plus parakeets, herons and more.