A 3.5 hour drive from Mangere is Waitomo and everyone goes there for the glowworm caves. There’s a whole system of underground caves filled with limestone formations and twinkling glowworms. You can check out some trails at night to get a peek of the glowworms for free or you can book one of the many tours available. For the thrill seekers there are tours including flying fox (aka zip lining), abseiling, and waterfall jumps. If you’re looking for something calmer, shorter, or cheaper, there’s also the glowworm boat tours. We looked for something in the middle.
We booked the Tumu Tumu Toobing tour with Waitomo Adventures. The tour was about 4 hours long and you’re in the caves for approximately 2 hours.
Arriving just in time from Mangere, we checked in and hopped in the van with our tour guide to drive to the cave entrance. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the base where we changed into wetsuits, boots, and helmets. All this gear is going to come in really handy against cuts, bumps, and bruises. It also keeps you super buoyant in the water. I don’t know how to swim and with the suit on, I was able to just lie back and float through the caves.
A 10-15 minute walk through the countryside brought us to the entrance of the caves. The tour guide showed us a giant hole in the ground and told us to climb down it.
Unfortunately, you can’t take any cameras or gopros with you on this tour. They DO take pictures throughout but definitely not as many as I would have liked.
The tour starts out pretty tame. You learn about how the caves formed and the early explorers who found it as you walk through the caves. A few times the tour guide will lead you to what looks like the darkest narrowest opening and tell you to get down and crawl through. You wonder if you’ll make it and then laugh at yourself for worrying when you get out the other side.
Eventually you reach water and collect your tubes. You’re given two options: get in the water and hop into your tube or climb up the rocks and jump backwards into the water onto your tube. Obviously we had to do the jump. After we all congratulated each other on our jumps, we floated down Glowworm Grotto. It got darker and everyone fell silent as we leaned back on our tubes looking up and admiring the star-like glowworms as we peacefully float. Our tour guide sang a beautiful Maori song and taught us about the glowworms – their life cycle and how they glow. I’ve already forgotten all the info :\
By now we’re halfway through the tour. We stopped for some chocolate and a hot drink while our tour guide takes the tubes back.
The second half of the tour consists of swimming and rock scrambling. It gets pretty slippery so this is when all that padding and gear comes in handy. I got a few small bruises on my legs and can only imagine how much worse it would have been without the wetsuit. At one point the tour guide gave us the option of crawling through a narrow tunnel. KT wanted to do it so of course I had to too to show I aint afraid. I crawled in and immediately pictured myself getting stuck inside and they would have to come cut me out of this damned tunnel. KT was behind me so there was no turning back. I crawled and crawled for what felt like eternity. It was probably actually only 3 minutes. And it didn’t help that the girl in front of me kept yelling about a giant spider in the tunnel.
After more rock scrambling, you see sunlight and you think you’re at the end. But it’s not. It’s not much further though. you climb out and back into the humid forest.
A short hike takes you back to the base so you can change and shower.
REMINDER: Don’t forget to bring a change of clothes, underwear, and socks! Also don’t forget the shampoo, soap, and towel for the shower.
The Tumu Tumu Toobing tour was great. A good balance of fun, education, and sights. The tour guide was friendly and booking was easy.
Address: Waitomo Caves Road, Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
GPS Coordinates: -38.264024, 175.119154
Contact: 64 (7) 8787788; 0800 WAITOMO
Cost: $152 NZD per person