This is where deep caverns, a million years in the making, snake their way through an underground world that has to be experienced to be believed.
By the late 1880s visitors were being guided through the caves to see the dramatic stalagmite and stalactite formations and admire the sparkling glowworms.
Today, with even more caves open for exploration, there is plenty of excitement here for adventurers who just want some hard-core thrills along with the natural scenic beauty of this underground world.
From plunging into the black depths on an abseil rope and rafting on rushing underground rivers, to ziplining through the darkness, to climbing and squeezing through tight spaces and leaping off waterfalls, thrill-seekers will be pumped - and have lots to tell friends and family when they get back to the surface (and the Insta-worthy photos to prove it).
Day 1: Hamilton to Waitomo
Depart Hamilton, driving south along SH3 towards Te Awamutu, followed by Ōtorohanga, to the Waitomo Caves district.
With so many caves to choose from, there is sure to be an adventure to suit your level of.
Black Water Rafting
- Black Labyrinth - this three-hour blackwater rafting buzz is in Ruakuri Cave. It involves racing down the rushing underground river, jumping off waterfalls and taking in the magic glowworm show as you go.
- Black Abyss - five hours underground, this blackwater adventure starts with abseiling to the depths, ziplining through a glowworm-studded cavern and tubing along the fast-flowing subterranean river.
- Blackwater Rafting TTT - explore the magic of Tumu Tumu Cave, combining the best elements of blackwater rafting with walking, climbing, swimming and tubing through these distinctive caves.
- Lost World Half Day - abseil 100 metres down into the Lost World, descending slowly as the mist-filled light gives surreal quality to the unusual plants and limestone formations you pass by on the way. Once down below, there’s the roaring underground river, glowworms, massive vaults and intriguing limestone formations as you climb back to the surface.
- Lost World All Day Epic - aptly named, this adventure is one of the best things you can do in New Zealand, says the Lonely Planet guide. It’s a big day out starting with that awesome abseil drop into the Lost World and doesn’t let up until you relax over a barbecue dinner. In between there’s all the underground magic as you walk, wade, swim and leap - rock formations, waterfalls, the rushing river, the galaxies of glowworms and more. You need to be at least moderately fit and minimum age 15 years.
Other Underground Adventures
- Haggas Honking Holes - check in here for exciting fast moving action. This is an adventure that crams a lot of action into four hours; unique formations and glowworms are part of the picture.
Stay overnight at a farmstay - an ideal way to experience the rural lifestyle and meet the people who farm the land in the Waitomo district. There are also other accommodation options in the area including guest lodges, camping and glamping.
Day 2: Waitomo to Hamilton
You might like to go for more thrills with another of the underground tour options, or check out some of the above ground experiences (see below), or simply chill out over a big breakfast/brunch before returning to Hamilton.
- Said to be one of the most beautiful in the country, the Marokopa Falls are a sight to be seen. An easy walk through nikau palms and towering tōtara trees takes you to a viewing platform; 20 minutes roundtrip from the carpark.
- There’s plenty of scenic interest on the Ruakuri Walk, an hour-long loop through a forested gorge, past sculpted bluffs and under low limestone arches. A highlight here is the Ruakuri Natural Bridge where the viewing platform extends out over a large cavernous tunnel. Take a torch to help negotiate the steps and rocky outcrops.
- If time allows before heading back to Hamilton, drive the short distance south to the ‘shearing capital’ of Te Kuiti, hometurf for world champion shearer David Fagan. A super-sized statue in the main street honour the hard workers who shear sheep and another celebrates legendary All Blacks rugby player, Sir Colin Meads, also a local. The town has shops to explore and cafés.
Return to Hamilton.