How to Plan the Best Trip to Waitomo
Millions of years in the making, the underground landscape of Waitomo is one of the most impressive in New Zealand. Under rolling farmland hides vast cave networks full of awe-inspiring limestone formations, but most famously, glowworms. Experiencing the caves, one way or the other, is a New Zealand must-do. It could be a gentle boat trip down an underground river or an adrenaline-fuelled adventure on a caving and tubing trip…
But there’s more to Waitomo than the caves. Travellers in the know will find themselves giving Waitomo for more than just a day, whether it’s to see a real-life kiwi bird at the nearby native bird park or take a half-day trip to the rugged coast off Waitomo to discover waterfalls, magnificent limestone arches and even New Zealand’s lesser-known “hot water beach”.
So, plan your getaway to one of the most unique destinations in New Zealand according to your unique travel style with this complete travel guide to Waitomo.
Common Questions About Waitomo
Let’s cut to the chase; what are the most common questions travellers have about visiting Waitomo?
Why is Waitomo Caves a Tourist Attraction?
Waitomo is famous for its extensive cave network awash in stalactites, stalagmites and glowworms. There are many tours to experience the caves, from sightseeing to adventure tours.
Where is Waitomo Located?
In the western Waikato region of the North Island of New Zealand.
What is the Weather Usually Like in Waitomo?
The daily average temperature is 13.8°C/56.8°F, while the yearly average rainfall is 1,496mm/58.9″. Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
How Do You Get to Waitomo?
Waitomo is well connected to the rest of New Zealand by road, within an hour’s drive of Hamilton, under two hours’ drive from Rotorua, and 2h15mins drive from Auckland. The closest international airport is Auckland Airport with plenty of car rental options available. Waitomo is also on the main national bus route, which you can find more information about in Bus Networks in New Zealand.
Are the Waitomo Caves Free?
While there are many different caves at Waitomo, none of them are free. There are, however, free walks with arches and glowworms, which we list in the 15 Free Things to Do in Waitomo.
Which Waitomo Cave Tour is Best?
There are cave tours with boats, tubing, walks, ones where you’ll get wet and ones where you’ll stay dry. Check out our full comparison in the 8 Best Waitomo Cave Tours.
Is Waitomo a Town?
Waitomo has a small village with a convenience store, an information centre (i-SITE), cafes and accommodations.
What to Do in Waitomo
Waitomo doesn’t look like much above ground – not taking anything away from its rolling green pastures. What many don’t realise, however, is that there are tens of underground experiences: tubing, abseiling, walking tours, boat tours, raft tours and more! Additionally, waterfalls and magnificent limestone arches can be found in the area.
The Top Experiences in Waitomo
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Waitomo highlights:
- See glowworms and limestone formations on the free Ruakuri Bushwalk
- Do a glowworm cave walking tour with Discover Waitomo (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) or Cave World Waitomo (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Go on a caving adventure with Waitomo Adventures, The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) or Cave World Waitomo (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Visit the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre
- Experience a boat tour of the glowworm caves on the Waitomo Glowworms Caves tour (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours
- Check out the Mangapohue Natural Bridge and Piripiri Cave
- Admire Marokopa Falls…
Where to Stay in Waitomo
Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to Waitomo (or at the bottom, if you’re reading this on mobile), we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is compiled by real writers; not some algorithm.
Waitomo for Budget Travellers
While we fully recommend Waitomo’s caving tours, they are, admittedly, on the pricey side. Those wanting to go underground on a budget might find better value in the walking and boat tours, as we explain in The Guide to Waitomo on a Budget. But there’s more to Waitomo than cave tours. In and around the village, you’ll find free walking trails with their own limestone formations and glowworms (seen after dark, of course). If you’re willing to spend the fuel, there are a couple of worthy road trips to see majestic waterfalls and even discover New Zealand’s less-visited sandy hot springs. Combine your stay with accommodation in one of the affordable hostels, B&Bs, holiday parks, motels and even farmstays and you have an epic budget trip to Waitomo.
Things to Do in Waitomo on a Budget
- Take a road trip to see free sights like Marokopa Falls, Mangapohue Natural Bridge and more
- Do the Ruakuri Bushwalk
- Learn something new at the Waitomo Museum of Caves
- Visit Otorohanga and do the Ed Hillary Walkway
- Dig your own hot pool at Kawhia Beach.
For more information and ideas, check out the 15 Free Things to Do in Waitomo.
Where to Stay in Waitomo on a Budget
Surrounding Waitomo is a selection of motels offering an affordable stay for those who want their own bathroom and kitchen. Those looking for something cheaper will find the odd hostel and holiday park nearby, while homestays and farmstays are other affordable options. Find out more in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Waitomo and the 10 Best Homestays in Waitomo.
Waitomo for Luxury Travellers
Those looking for something exceptional in Waitomo will certainly find it thanks to the private glowworm cave tours available. Of course, those who are adventurous won’t mind the small-group caving and tubing tours, while those seeking relaxation will find it at the day spas, golf courses and the fishing rivers of the area. There are only a couple of luxury accommodation options near Waitomo, from a five-star boutique lodge among its own farm to the iconic historic hotel in the heart of Waitomo Village. Start planning your luxury getaway with The Luxury Guide to Waitomo.
Luxury Activities in Waitomo
- Delve on an exclusive private tour of Waitomo’s caves with Glowing Adventures (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Abseil, float and scramble through the caves with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Hike the uncrowded trails of the Waitomo Great Walk
- Relax with a spa treatment at Waitomo Adventures
- Fish for rainbow and brown trout with Waitomo Boutique Lodge.
For elaboration on each experience and more, see the 9 Best Luxury Experiences in Waitomo.
Luxury Stays in Waitomo
Waitomo for Families
There are ways to explore Waitomo’s subterranean landscape for all ages, from Ruakuri Cave suitable for strollers to the gentle boat trips drifting underneath the glowworms. The nearby kiwi house and native bird park is a must for families, while those looking for some Middle-earth magic will find it in the nearby farms of Piopio. As for accommodation, there’s plenty in Waitomo to satisfy most tastes, needs and budgets. Find out more in The Guide to Waitomo for Families.
Family-Friendly Activities in Waitomo
- Do a walking tour through Waitomo’s limestone and glowworm caves (on Viator or Tripadvisor)
- Or enjoy a gentle boat trip through the caves (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Figure out the puzzles of the Troll Cave
- See the filming locations of The Hobbit at Hairy Feet Waitomo
- Meet a kiwi bird and more at the Otorohanga Kiwi House.
For more details on each activity, take a look at the 10 Things to Do in Waitomo with Kids.
Child-Friendly Accommodation in Waitomo
Families have plenty of options for accommodation in and around Waitomo, from self-catering motels to the more lavish hotel in Waitomo Village with a restaurant. You’ll even find holiday parks should you be camping or want more facilities like a swimming pool and children’s playground. Check out some of the highlights in the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Waitomo.
Waitomo for Couples
Adventure, relax and simply enjoy being together in one of New Zealand’s most romantic settings. Any one of Waitomo’s cave tours could be argued as a romantic activity with stunning limestone formations decorated with the blue glow of thousands of glowworms. In between caving adventures, you might want to enjoy one of the surrounding walks or even tackle one of New Zealand’s top cycle trails, the Timber Trail, with a boutique lodge stay along the way. Start planning your romantic retreat with The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Waitomo.
Romantic Activities in Waitomo
- Delve into the candlelit caverns of the Footwhistle Cave with Cave World Waitomo (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Stroll hand-in-hand along Waitomo’s walking trails
- Take a road trip to waterfalls and the Middle-earth scenery of Piopio
- Cycle the Timber Trail together (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Book yourselves in for a romantic meal in Waitomo Village.
For more explanation, take a look at the 8 Most Romantic Things to Do in Waitomo for Couples.
Romantic Accommodation in Waitomo
There are a few special places in Waitomo that set the tone right for couples, from boutique lodges to quaint B&Bs. There’s even a Hobbit Hole for a truly memorable stay. Check out our top recommendations for couples in the 5 Best Romantic Accommodations in Waitomo.
Waitomo for Foodies
While the rest of New Zealand incorporates foodie experiences with ease, Waitomo is definitely limited in the food department. Most of the eateries you’ll find in the area are cafes, while evening meals are often cooked in self-catering accommodation or a fight to book into the one notable restaurant in the village. The nearby towns of Otorohanga and Te Kuiti also have some places for a bite to eat, but these are more for sustenance than “foodie” experience.
As for food tours, the closest you’ll get in Waitomo is the farm show. Waitomo Big Bird Farm Show showcases the New Zealand dairy industry with the making of cream, cheese and ice cream. However, Waitomo’s farm shows are only available on-demand meeting minimum numbers, so getting onto a tour requires a little luck.
Where to Eat in Waitomo
- Huhu Cafe (10 Waitomo Caves Road)
- Waitomo General Store (15 Waitomo Village Road)
- Waitomo Homestead (584 State Highway 3, Otorohanga).
More About Waitomo
That’s it for our complete travel guide to Waitomo but by no means the end of our Waitomo travel tips! Check out the following guides for more advice on what to do in the region:
- What is the Best Black Water Rafting Tour in New Zealand?
- 5 Best Things to Do in Otorohanga
- 5 Best Things to Do in Te Kuiti
- 10 Best Things to Do in Piopio
Finally, plan more of your North Island trip using the North Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary or North Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary. You’ll also find more advice for planning an epic NZ trip in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.