Introduction: Deep within New Zealand’s rural heartland, a subterranean labyrinth lies hidden. Travellers could pass by the unassuming settlement of Waitomo without ever knowing that the rolling hills of this region, pierced by water-carved tomo (sinkholes), shroud a secret wonderland. Below, a multi-level cave system echoes as water trickles through cracks in the karst limestone rock, infinitesimally expanding the stalactites and stalagmites before joining the underground streams which flow silently to the surface. The Caves and their sinuous time-sculpted adornments have long set the scene for concerts, underground adventures and sight-seeing delights. Star strewn galaxies of beautiful but ill-fated glow worms thrive in the vaulted caverns, reflected in the dark waters below. The delights of this region are not limited solely to tour expeditions. The 5km Waitomo Walkway passes typical limestone formations, caves and tomos, while outcrops of fossilized oyster shells at the beautiful Mangapohue Natural Bridge Scenic Reserve (Te Anga Rd) tell of the region’s turbulent geological past : 30 million years ago, this now luxuriant forest-covered land lay submerged beneath the sea. Deep within the recesses of the caves here, it’s not only glow worms that thrive. You can also find the less enchanting but harmless cave weta, whose long legs and waving antennae are dimly visible in the subdued light. If you’re out and about after dark, take a torch, and with a little luck and a soupçon of stealth, you’ll discover that the glow worms here love the damp banks and moss-encrusted trees as much as they do the caves below.
Waitomo horseman on the main road and the haunted? Waitomo Hotel on the hill.
Mangapohue Natural Bridge Scenic Reserve, west of Waitomo Caves.