One Day in Waitomo: Glow Worm Caves, Water Falls and a Hot Water Beach
Updated: Aug 18
A guide to the natural attractions of the Waitomo District. Our itinerary includes locations of glow worm caves, a spectacular waterfall and a hot water beach.
Planning Guide: Discuss the budget and time frames ~ Check tides for access to the hot water springs on the beach ~ Pack a picnic lunch including drinking water ~ Covered walking shoes as the black sand on the dunes is burning hot on summer afternoons ~ Book paid tours online
Transport: Private motor car
Accommodation: We day tripped returning to our Airbnb in Ngaruawahia. Ngaruawahia is centrally located, in the Waikato, one hour from the Waitomo Caves and one hour from Auckland Airport. The Hakarimata reserve hosts nighttime Glow Worm displays.
$30 for running the car plus entry to attractions
Pack a picnic lunch or allow $8 - 20 per person for a bought lunch
Waitomo Cave Tours - See source full list and T&C's
$55 per head
Glow Worm Cave - Child
$25 per head
Glow Worm Cave - Family Pass
$140 2xad 2xch
$55 per head
Aranui Cave - Child
$25 per head
Aranui Cave - Family Pass
$140 2xad 2xCh
$89 per head
Cave Combo - Child
$40 per head
Cave Combo Family pass
$210 2xad 2xch
Overview of the Waitomo District
Mapped below is our route through the Waikato and Waitomo areas. The main attraction is the Waitomo Caves which are rated as a top New Zealand tourist destination.
The route follows a popular path, travelling through the fertile farmlands of the Waikato, into limestone country. Initially, the roads are typical backcountry New Zealand roads with sweeping curves. The trip features iconic green pastures and forest-clad mountain ranges. The towns along the way add interest to the journey. The driving requires attention as there are some sharp corners and intersections.
Moving west into the Waitomo Region the landscape becomes rugged. This region is made of water warn limestone. Limestone rock is susceptible to erosion so the sparkling waterways have carved dozens of caves, arches and gorges. The sound of water tumbling over falls and gushing through rapids is the background to many walks in the area.
The road is sealed and in good condition. However, heading west past the caves, it twists and turns its way to the coast and requires a fair amount of attention to stay on track.
Route and Featured Attractions
This is a mix-and-match itinerary with the Waitomo caves system offering a variety of free and paid attractions. The Department of Conservation (DOC) provides several well-maintained tracks freely available to the public. Depending on your budget, both time and money, just mix and match. By extending the route West access opens to further forest grottos, waterfalls and a hot water beach experience. As shown on the map above, driving time is roughly 4 hours, extending to 10 hours including visiting the 4 marked attractions.
1. Waitomo Caves
Pictured below are images of the world-renowned Waitomo Glow Worm Cave. This tour is one of many commercially operated tours in the region. I thoroughly enjoyed taking the Glow Worm Tour, I think it is a magical experience. To learn more about the life and times of glow worms check my Glow Worm information blog.
Photography is limited so these images are with the permission of Tourism New Zealand. As a point of interest, the caves have a wide range of attractions and cater to the elderly and less agile.
Pictured below, Reanne is taking DOC's, Ruakuri Walk. It's worth mentioning, that by night, the forest on this walk is alight with freely available glow worms.
2. Mangapohue Natural Bridge
The access is via an easy boardwalk with the bridge less than 10 mins. I love this natural cathedral and it is free for all to enjoy.
3. Marakopa Falls
Nothing like the roar of water crashing onto the rocks and the spray in your hair. Access is via a sloping track, 10 minutes each way.
4. Kawhia Hot Water Beach
Why not let thermal heat make your spa pool? An ancient inactive underwater volcano is responsible for at least two of the interesting features on this vast beach: the black sand and the heated seawater spring that provides a unique bathing experience.
For two hours, on either side of low tide, thermally heated seawater is exposed at the surface of the beach. The smell of sulphur is noticeable. Pictured below, beachgoers dig out impressions in the black iron sand to collect the warm water. Then relax and enjoy a soak in a thermal hot spa.
Access is somewhat challenging due to the climb over the dunes. I make it over quickly enough.