Glowworms can be found throughout New Zealand, and are often spotted in damp, overgrown places – the banks of lakes, rivers and forest undergrowth are prime places to spot their glowing blue-green lights. Guided night time kayaking, hiking or boating trips are great ways to get to the right places to see them.
If you’re traveling to New Zealand, you absolutely can’t miss out on seeing the glowworm caves!
There are a handful of options on where to see them, and unfortunately because it’s such a must-see, many companies will rob you blind.
For example, Waitamo Glowworm Caves are probably the most popular caves in New Zealand. They offer a few different options for you to see the glowworms, and with their cheapest option being only $40; you feel like you’re coming out on top.
However – this tour only lasts 30 minutes. You are funneled in and out of the cave in a little boat (where you’re unable to take photos), and the tour is done in the blink of an eye. I suppose it’s a good option for those on the road who are looking for that quick experience, but what I found as an alternative is something that I will never forget.
Getting to Rotorua
If you’re coming from Taupo, absolutely drive to see Huka Falls and Spa Thermal Park; a free, natural hot spring at the edge of the river where you can soak for hours, flowing between the hot and brisk water. Take a walk through the forest and end up at Huka Falls. The walk takes about one hour roundtrip out and back at a brisk pace.
Visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – a series of brightly coloured geothermal pools, stinky sulphur mud baths and explosive geysers. Named as “One of the 20 Most Surreal Places in the World”, and rightly so.
Wai-O-Tapu’s features the world famous Champagne Pool – naturally coloured springs, bubbling mud, and steaming ground, as well as The Devil’s Bathtub – a deep crater created from an eruption deep underground. The iridescent lime color comes from the sulphur floating on the surface.
And no- contrary to the name “thermal wonderland” you can NOT go swimming in these geothermal pools.
Just down the road, be sure to out the Redwood Forest where you’ll have the chance to see some of the biggest Redwoods in the world, brought over from California. Take a walking tour through the trees walking along rope bridges through the forest for just $18.
Finally, I recommend in my Ultimate Guide to New Zealand to stay in the town of Rotorua for 1 night specifically to do this tour. You can easily drive through Rotorua, see the Redwood Forest and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park and call it a day. But you shouldn’t miss out on this magical experience.
Twilight Paddleboard on Lake Rotorua
Imagine floating through a dark abyss of silence and looking up to see hundreds of tiny bright lights above you. Here’s the main highlight. Have dinner in town, pack your backpack, meet the group at your assigned location, and set off on a two- hour journey to Lake Rotorua where you’ll hop on a stand up paddleboard (SUP) and paddle into the darkness.
You’ll be provided with the paddleboard, a life vest, and a headlamp. The headlamp wasn’t necessary as it was just turning dusk so you can still see by the light of the moon.
Our guide took 6 of us through the lake into three different caves. Unlike bigger, more touristy companies that pile you into a boat, you have the chance to see the caves at your own pace. You’ll be instructed to sit down on your bum or on your heels before entering the caves, and to keep your paddle next to you on your board.
The cave is only about 4 feet tall, and 3 feet across, so you’re floating within close quarters of the cave walls. If you’re claustrophobic this may not sound too ideal, but the following two caves we went into with groups of 2-3 people so it was easy to get in and out.
Of course you can’t bring your phone out on the lake, and you’re not allowed to take any flash photos anyways, but you can take your GoPro to film the paddle experience.
Floating out on the lake in the dark with only the brightness of the moon to guide our group as we silently paddled back to shore is a memory that will be with me forever. That is why I highly recommend to do this tour through Rotorua Jetboard Tours and to spend the time and a few extra bucks to have this unforgettable experience.
How to Prepare
The tour company will send you an e-mail on where to meet (we met at I-site which was just central downtown Rotorua), or they offer the option for hotel pick-up and drop-off. You’ll meet at I-site at 7:30 pm promptly, and immediately load in the van towards the lake.
You can leave your belongings in the van, but I don’t advise bringing anything valuable. We all left our sandals, coats, towels, water bottles, etc in the van. Wear bug spray before starting the tour.
Depending on the season, wear a swimsuit under some clothes that you don’t care much about getting wet. The guide offers wetsuits, but I went in the middle of summer so I was fine wearing shorts and a tank top.
The tour itself lasted about 75 – 90 minutes before arriving back to shore. You’ll be returned to your hotel or I-site by 9:30 – 10 pm. Happy travels!
The Traveling Yogi