• Janice

A Guide to Australian Glow Worms and New Zealand Glow Worms

Updated: Aug 18


▪️Glow Worm Facts

▪️Glow Worm Caves, Free & Paid

▪️Forest Glow Worms: Free & Paid

Safety, Environmental Care and Photography

Glow Worms are a highly rated natural attraction in Aotearoa / New Zealand and Australia because of their spectacular light displays in damp and dark corners of the forest. As a New Zealander, I have fond memories from a lifetime of Glow Worms experiences but how has this insect gained worldwide renown?

Glow Worm Facts

Glow Worms are scientifically known as Arachnocampa and are a type of gnat fly rather than a worm. Glow Worms are found only in New Zealand and Australia with one distinct species throughout New Zealand and eight in parts of Australia. In Australia Glow Worms are found in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa / New Zealand designate many Glow Worm sites as tapu and pay homage to these sites.

So, why is a fly known as a worm? The Arachnocampa gnat fly has four stages in its life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult fly.  When referring to a 'Glow Worm' most people are referring to the Arachnocampa larva because it is the larva that is responsible for the awe-inspiring light displays.

Life Cycle Diagram Glow Worm Lights and Snares
Glow Worms and Snares Photo Derek

Interesting Facts About Glow Worm Lights: Glow Worms produce a blueish light through a chemical reaction in their tails known as bioluminescence. Glow Worm lights are predatory lights. They eat small winged insects that they attract with the bioluminescent lights and capture in their silk snares. Females also use their lights to attract mates. At the larvae stage, Glow Worms live closely in colonies of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, producing a spectacular display of lights. Derek's capture shows Glow Worms emitting blue bioluminescent lights and their silk threads known as snares.

Paid and Free Access: In both New Zealand and Australia, various tour operators host paid attractions and freely available colonies are on accessible public land.

How to See Glow Worms in Caves

The fact that glow worms are troglodytes provides a particularly moody setting. Colonies establish on the ceilings of damp caves, shining day and night. Limestone caves with clean running waterways host particularly large and bright colonies. Of course, in the darkness of the caves, these attractions feature magnificent bioluminescent displays. I am showcasing New Zealand's Waitomo Caves and Queensland's Glow Worm Caves Tambourine Mountains as paid Glow Worm cave attractions.

The Waitomo District hosts New Zealand's longest-standing Glow Worm tourist attraction, The Glow Worm Cave at 39 Waitomo Village Road, Waitomo, New Zealand has welcomed tourists for over 130 years. Before European commercialisation, Maori explored the caves, with some guides today descending from the original visitors. It is worth noting, that the Glow Worms in caves, reliably provide displays during business hours and tour operators provide well-managed access.

Discover Waitomo hosts tours through the Glow Worm Cave starting at $55 for an adult and $140 for a family of four. The tour includes a magical boat ride under a breathtaking spread of blue lights.

Waitomo Availability

Discover Waitomo also offers adventure tourism activities. These are also hosted in the system of caves within the Waitomo area. These activities include black water rafting and canyoning.

Adventure Waitomo Availability

Pictured below are experiences in the Waitomo Caves (photo credit to Tourism New Zealand).

The Tambourine Mountain Glow Worm Caves at located at Cedar Creek Estate, 104-144 Hartley Rd, Tambourine Mountain QLD, Australia. The experience is hosted in a purpose built exhibit where guests are guided through a Glow Worm tunnel. This attraction is a 40 min car ride from the Gold Coast and is educational fun for the family. Entry for an adult is $17 and for children, 4 - 12 yrs is $10.

Tambourine Mountain Availability

The Waipu Glow Worm Caves, located on Waipu Caves Road, Northland, New Zealand, are a free Glow Worm caves attraction. These caves are located on a public reserve that includes nature walks. At the entrance of the cave complex, there are Glow Worms and limestone formations with relatively easy access. I recommend good footwear and a red torch. I enjoyed a great Glow Worm experience in the Waipu Caves. We did not venture past the entrance cave as the inner caves are recommended for experienced cavers only.

How to See Glow Worms in the Forest

Damp bush/forest grottos, close to running water, host colonies of glow worms throughout New Zealand and in damper parts of Australia. They cluster on embankments next to waterways and footpaths. Glow Worm locations include lusher areas in the city through to wild areas of bush. Forest colonies only shine their lights during the night when it is dark. With a little planning, visiting forest colonies can be free and provide their own magic. The trick is to find a colony that is on land that has open access to the public. Please ensure that you check with the appropriate authorities before entering wild areas,

New Zealand's Hakarimata Scenic Reserve colonies, located on Brownlee Avenue Ngaruawahia, are a fine example of a free nighttime Glow Worm attraction. The Hakarimata Summit Track is a well-maintained Department of Conservation (DOC)  track that hosts a nighttime bioluminescent spectacular. The best display is right on the track, where a small waterfall tumbles over a granite rockface. The rockface glows with bioluminescence. The walk requires only basic fitness but care is required as the ground is uneven and subject to flooding. I literally have walked the track at night hundreds of times with no negative issues.

The local town of Ngaruawahia offers the budget accommodation options of freedom camping, listings on sites such as Airbnb and the River Bed motel. It's worth noting Ngaruawahia is located within New Zealand's golden triangle so is central to top attractions and only an hour from Auckland International Airport.

Springbrook National Park, located in Queensland, Au, hosts a spectacular nighttime display in a covered area of a natural bridge. The public can enter the area free of charge or take a Glow Worm tour leaving from the Gold Coast. This is a highly rated tourist activity within the National Park.

Waimarino Kayak Tours hosts paid Glow Worm attractions in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. The Glow Worm experiences are hosted from Kayaks. Guests enjoy kayaking adventures on lakes Rotoiti and on the Maclaren Falls Reserve. These lakes are surrounded by native bush just right for glow worms. Both these waterways and lakes are outstanding locations from my own experience. Equipment and a guide are provided as part of a package.

Safety, environment and Photography

Glow Worms are sensitive creatures. Please dispose of waste appropriately and take care with chemicals such as deodorant and sunblock. Use a red light as a torch and do not use flash photography. Glow Worm Colonies are located in wild areas please assess the conditions, obey all signage and instruction from authorities.

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Note: pricing is in NZ dollars and is indicative only.

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