For more than 100 years the Glowworm Cave of Waitomo has attracted millions of people from all over the world. A small glowing insect no bigger than an average mosquito has fascinated and intrigued people from all walks of life. In an average year, 400,000 people travel to Waitomo to experience the trip of a lifetime. Well laid out scenic tracks through beautiful native bush surround the Caves, offer pleasant walks of varying distances.

Discover the ancient underground labyrinth of limestone caves and grottos that are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Experience natural history in the making! Immediately, when you enter this mysterious underground world, you will marvel at the amazing 'decorations' created by Mother Nature.

These natural 'decorations', stalactites, stalagmites and sculptures have formed as a result of water dripping from the roof of the cave or flowing over the exposed limestone walls. As the water flows down through the earth towards the cave roof and walls, it dissolves limestone in its path. This limestone is then left as a crystalline deposit within the cave. These spectacular formations have developed over thousands of years and must be treated with respect. They are very delicate and can be severely damaged simply by the touch of a human hand.


The Waitomo Glowworm Cave was first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief, Tane Tinorau, accompanied by an English Surveyor, Fred Mace. Local Maori people who owned and populated the area knew of its existence, but chose not to disclose the fact. When information came to light, Fred Mace persuaded Tane to accompany him and together they entered the cave where the stream goes underground. Visitors now exit the Cave at this point.

As their eyes adjusted to the darkness they found their way lit by a myriad of lights reflecting off the water, looking up they discovered that the ceilings were dotted with thousands of lights. Closer examination revealed insects glittering and glimmering on the walls.

The Glowworm Discovery

As they entered the caves via the Waitomo stream, their first discovery was the Glowworm Grotto with its myriad of tiny bright lights dotting the cave ceiling.

Debris and logs littered the waterway but by poling themselves toward the embankment they were able to leave their raft and explore the lower level of the cave. Limestone formations of all shapes and sizes surrounded them. Jubilant at their discovery they returned many times for further exploration. On an independent trip, Tane discovered the upper level of the cave and an easier access. Only after further exploration and many subsequent visits did they discover an entry point on land, the same entry point used today by thousands of visitors annually.

The authorities were advised and the cave was mapped and surveyed. Visitor numbers soared and Tane and his wife Huti escorted groups through the cave for a small fee. Unfortunately vandalism escalated and administration of the cave was taken over by the government.

100 Years Later

In 1989, almost 100 years later, the land and the cave were returned to the descendants of the original owners who now receive a percentage of the cave's revenue and participate in the management and development of the cave. Many staff employed at the caves are direct descendants of Tane Tinorau and his wife Huti.