When visiting New Zealand, The Waitomo glow worm caves often comes up as a must see on any itinerary and that’s because it is! There are many different types of tours to see the caves, but if you are looking for something a bit more adventurous than the standard river tour, the Lost World Adventure can’t be missed. I have been to New Zealand a couple of times now, and this is by far the best way to see the caves!
This excursion can be done in a 7 or 4 hour day. I’d picked the 4 hour only because it was cold and rainy when I was there--despite the summer season in January, and I didn’t want to get super wet. The 4 hour ensures you stay out of the water and with travel and prep time to the cave, you are really only inside it for just under 3 hours. People afraid of heights or falling might be intimidated by this but if you want to conquer that fear, what you will see and do while hiking through this cave makes it all worthwhile! The guides that take you down here are really helpful and encouraging along the way. Not to mention they continually have safety ropes and clips that help ease any apprehensions.
The day starts off with a quick safety lesson and then you’re equipped up and ready to absail 100 meters (328 feet) down into the entrance of the cave.
The descent takes about 20-30 minutes. It is nothing like a bungy cord, it is tough and quite strenuous giving you a great arm workout! Once you land at the bottom, the hike begins through the mist and up into the rocks. The scenery is quite epic and this is just the beginning of the trek. Definitely felt that I was in a lost world!
The hike takes you up and over some wet rocks and a few steep switch backs. This is not a trek you want to be taking as a beginner hiker/adventurer especially if you don’t like heights or enclosed spaces. Most of the hike is done with rock climber type ropes and clips to avoid slips and to provide extra security.
Making your way through rocks and tight spaces, the descent continues where sunlight is practically gone. Thoughts of how am I going to get out of here continually crossed my mind! Headlamps were a necessity at this stage of the cave. No glow worms yet! Eventually you arrive to a place where some would consider a highlight of the cave tour, but for me this came second to the physical part of the trek. I forgot about the glow worms because of the intensity and rigorousness or the terrain, and my focus to complete the adventure.
Our guide took us to the perfect place to rest, just under the glow worm ceiling! The worms were pretty here, but if you really are just looking to see them, this isn’t the best place. There are main glow worm caves that are much easier to get to and have way more viewing options. This particular excursion is a true cave adventure, and the worms are just a bonus.
Here marks about the 2 hour point, and by now I’m continually thinking how I am going to get out of here and what I am going to eat! The 7 hour tour includes lunch, but with this one only water is provided and not that much as you can’t bring anything of your own into the cave. As our guide had told us from the beginning, the hardest and most challenging part of the cave is climbing out. I was dreading this- a 50 meter (164ft) ladder climb up the rocks!
The ladder climb to get outside of the cave was seriously one of the hardest challenges I’ve had in my life! I do not have a lot of upper body strength and that combined with the cold, slippery wetness of the metal made it extremely difficult for me. The good thing about this though is your guide goes up first and throws down a rope that you clip onto yourself so in the event you really can’t make it, you will get pulled up.
I however was not about to give up! The thought of falling or being pulled up by the rope freaked me out enough (not to mention the claustrophobia kicking in from being underground so long) that I became super motivated to power through this.
And I did it! Completely shaking and exhilarated, I practically collapsed at the top of the ladder. But, I look back down and am proud of myself for pushing my limits. As I mentioned, the glow worms were just a plus on this adventure. For me, pushing myself to take a more extreme view of the caves was the best part of this tour.
Upon exit of the cave, you are greeted by a heart shaped opening and beautiful warm sunlight! An adventure for the risky, daring and those who want to be physically challenged. I recommend to anyone headed to New Zealand and looking for a less touristy and unconventional way to see the caves!
Info on this tour can be found here: Waitomo Adventures