This region of many different caves waiting to be explored, along with above ground adventures, makes for a family weekend away that will be legend for all ages, and provide lots of photo opportunities.
From floating through the caves on a subterranean stream under a starry canopy of glowworms, to investigating the limestone stalagmites and stalactites - and knowing the difference (see tip below), to getting off the beaten track to see waterfalls and ancient fossils, the Waitomo is a favourite for families - and it’s just an hour’s drive south of Hamilton.
Tip: Stalagmites might reach the top of the cave, while stalactites, which form from the cave ceiling, need to hang on tight.
Day 1: Hamilton to Waitomo
Depart Hamilton, driving south along SH3 towards Te Awamutu, followed by Ōtorohanga, to the Waitomo Caves district.
Enroute to Waitomo, stop for coffee, or even for an early lunch in Ōtorohanga , Check out the quirky displays pay tribute to all things kiwi like the buzzy bee kids’ toy, paua, pavlova, hokey pokey ice cream, gumboots, the haka and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary as well as All Blacks’ legend Sir Colin Meads. Or continue on to Waitomo Caves Village with a number of foodie spots to try before your adventures begin.
- First off, visit the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre and i-SITE Visitor Information Centre to learn about the history of the area and wonders of the various caves. This is where you can find out about the various caves to visit and the different adventure tours, as well as make bookings.
- Take a tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, world famous since the late 1880s. This experience includes gliding on the underground stream in a boat with many thousands of glowworms sparkling overhead and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Other popular Waitomo cave experiences include nearby Ruakuri Cave where a two-hour guided tour showcases the ancient limestone rock formations. This tour is pushchair accessible.
- Try the excitement of blackwater rafting. Don a wetsuit and helmet and climb into your ‘raft’ - a buoyant inflated inner tube - to float, jump and climb your way through the cave streams. Note: There are age and weight requirements for blackwater rafting. Waitomo i-SITE can provide information.
- If you - are up for an adrenalin rush, tackle one of the abseiling and zip lining adventures that are part of several caving tours.
- If you’d like to visit a free cave, the Piripiri Caves are an easy walk suitable for children and families. A five-minute walk takes you through native forest and past limestone outcrops to stairs which lead to the opening of the caves where there’s a platform allowing you to look into the cavernous darkness. Take a torch.
Stay overnight at a B&B or 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, campgrounds and glamping.
Day 2: Waitomo to Hamilton
Above ground in the Waitomo region there is also plenty for families to see and be excited about.
- Explore Waitomo from above ground with one of the many spectacular walks in the area such as :
- The short walk (roundtrip 20 minutes from the carpark) to the Mangapohue Natural Bridge is family-suited with the track OK for pushchairs. You’ll walk under the 17-metre high natural bridge and discover the fossilised remains of oysters in the limestone outcrops.
- There’s plenty to keep the kids interested 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. Again, take a torch to help negotiate the steps and rocky outcrops.
- Take a short drive to Marokopa Falls - 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.
- For lunch there are plenty of places to stop off for a family picnic including the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve, and a number of local cafés.
- If time allows, head 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 - and more ice creams!
Return to Hamilton.