6 Different Ways to See Glow Worms in New Zealand
New Zealand is full of fascinating and unique wildlife but it doesn’t get any more weird and wonderful as the shiny maggot known as the glow worm! Glow worms are native to New Zealand, creating enchanting glowing displays in New Zealand’s caves and forests. While many of you will have probably heard of the glow worms in Waitomo, there is, in fact, so many other places to see glow worms in New Zealand. Just check out the six different ways to see glow worms in the article below, along with the locations in New Zealand to have those experiences.
There are both commercial tours to see New Zealand glow worms, often to more dense and impressive displays, and public places where you can see glow worms for free. We’ll go through them all right here.
Fast Facts About Glow Worms
- Glow worms use bioluminescence to attract insects into long sticky lines that the glow worms produce
- Adult glow worms also glow to attract a mate
- Adult glow worms cannot eat as they have no mouth
- The glow worm is not a worm but a fly belonging to the gnat family
- Glow worms have four stages of their life cycle: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults
- After the pupae stage, the adult glow worm only lives for 2-3 days, mating and laying eggs.
Glow Worm Boat Tours
Damp environments make the perfect habitat for glowworms that feed on water-based insects like midges, mayflies, and caddisflies. With that in mind, some of the best glow worm displays are in dark and damp places like caves with water at its base. A few tour operators across the country have unique access to these caves where they will take you by boat to drift underneath the glow worm grotto. These tours are available in the following locations:
The small rural area of the North Island looks unsuspecting from above ground but under its rolling green hills lies a huge complex network of limestone caves. Two of these caves are open for glow worm boat tours. Find out more about Waitomo tours in 6 Ways to Take On the Waitomo Caves and The Complete Guide to Waitomo.
- Spellbound Glowworm & Cave Tours
- Waitomo Glowworm Caves (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
At the western end of Lake Te Anau hides a relatively young (in geological terms) cave of tumbling waterfalls and streams. In here lies a glow worm experience by boat. Check out our 5 Te Anau Must-Dos for more things to do in the area.
- Te Anau Glowworm Caves (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
Glow Worm Kayaking Tours
If you want a more hands-on experience when seeking out New Zealand’s glow worms, glow worm kayaking tours area fun and fantastic option on the North Island. Kayak at dusk on placid lakes and up hidden streams to intimate glow worm hideouts. Glow worm kayaking tours are available in the following locations:
Kayak along the tranquil Lake Karapiro and up the Pokaiwhenua Stream, a canyon formed over hundreds of years, draped in ferns, trees and glow worms. Check out the 10 Great Things to Do in Cambridge for more experiences.
- The Boatshed Kayaks
- Lake District Adventures (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
After a lakeshore picnic, kayak along Lake McLaren to one of its hidden streams lined with glow worms. Check out The Complete Guide to Tauranga for more activities in the area.
- Waimarino Kayak Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
A hidden glowworm cave only accessible by kayak or paddleboard awaits of Lake Rotoiti. Tours to Lake Rotoiti’s glowworm cave often include a stop to some natural hot pools. Learn more about Rotorua in The Complete Guide to Rotorua.
- River Rats Raft Kayak (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Paddle Board Rotorua (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
Glow Worm Tubing and Caving Tours
Mix the enchantment of seeing a galaxy of glow worms in the cave ceilings with a thrilling caving adventure tour. Abseil, climb and float on rubber tubes through the caves networks of New Zealand while spotting hundreds of blue shining lights of the glow worms. The locations for glow worm caving tours are as follows:
The most famous glow worm caving location in the country, Waitomo’s limestone cave networks are packed with tours to experience the excitement of this underground world.
- The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Waitomo Adventures
- Glowing Adventures (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
Delve into the Nile River cave system of the Paparoa National Park on an adventure involving a train, tubes, climbing and heaps of thrills!
- Norwest Underworld Adventures
Walking Glow Worm Cave Tours
Often a more affordable way to see some of the best glow worm displays of the country is to take a walking glow worm tour. This provides you access to ancient caves and a superb example of glow worms filling the cave ceilings. Popular walking cave tour locations include:
With Waitomo’s immense network of limestone caves, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of walking cave tours to choose from. Each tour has its unique quirks, but each cave is bound to take your breath away.
- Discover Waitomo (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Glowing Adventures (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Cave World Waitomo (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
Bay of Islands
On ancestral lands of the local Maori tribe, the Kawhiti Caves is an intimate glow worm cave experience. Hear local Maori legends and learn more about the lifecycle of the fascinating glow worms. See more things to do in the Bay of Island here.
- Kawhiti Caves
Free Glow Worm Caves
Glow worms are pretty common in New Zealand – not just in the caves and experiences you need to pay for. Some caves that are open to the public do have glow worms, however, the displays of glowworms are likely to be a little less dense therefore a little less spectacular than the commercial glow worm caves. Nevertheless, these free glow worm caves are great for independent travellers looking to feed their curiosity and going on their own little adventure. Here are some of the free glow worm cave locations:
North Island Glow Worm Caves
- Waipu Caves, Waipu, Northland
- Abbey Caves, Whangarei, Northland
- Okupata Caves, Tongariro Forest, Manawatu-Whanganui
South Island Glow Worm Caves
- Clifden Caves, Tuatapere, Southland
For a complete list of caves with descriptions, see 10 Free Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.
Glow Worms on Walking Trails
Glow worms don’t just live in caves, but dark and dense areas in forests, tunnels or canyons also make a good habitat for glow worms. For that reason, it’s also likely that you will find a few walking trails in New Zealand taking you through these types of environments that may hold a few glow worms. It goes without saying, but the best time to do these walks is at night to see the glow worms. A few walking trails with glow worms to try out are as follows:
North Island Glow Worm Walking Trails
- Trounson Kauri Park, Kaihu, Northland
- Hot Water Beach Access Track, Coromandel, Waikato
- Karangahake Gorge, Coromandel, Waikato
- Ruakuri Bush Walk, Waitomo, Waikato
- Kakhi Glowworms, Kakahi, Waikato
- Limestone Creek, Apiti, Manawatu-Whanganui
South Island Glow Worm Walking Trails
- Velenski Track, Moana, West Coast
- Hokitika Glow Worm Dell, Hokitika, West Coast