The Waitomo Caves

I vividly remember a sense of entering another world of strange shapes and deep caverns. I remember the awed silence during the pitch black boat ride, and the tiny blue lights that twinkled above us. I was six years old the last time I visited the Waitomo Caves and it’s one of those family holidays that created memories that have stuck with me ever since, so I’ve long been keen to take my children there.

It’s always interesting introducing your children to something that meant a lot to you as a child. You can never be sure if your memories have become airbrushed over the passage of time, and – of course – the fact you enjoyed something is no guarantee your children will (in my own experience Star Wars has been a hit, but The Wombles a dismal failure).

But the caves were a hit with everyone in our family when we visited the King Country last week. There’s a little bit of everything involved – history, geology and biology. Whereas I may have been overawed by beauty of the twinkling lights as a child, my two kids loved the fact they were essentially looking at masses of glowworm poo (A glowworm uses its glow to attract food and to burn off its waste. Its tail glows because of bioluminescence, which is a reaction between the chemicals given off by the glowworm and the oxygen in the air.)

We chose the most popular combo ticket which included a 45 minute visit to the Glowworm Cave (it includes a boat ride and a visit to the 15 metre high natural ‘Cathedral’ where tour participants are invited to sing. No one in our party was brave enough to take up the offer but we were lucky enough to catch a spine-tingling version of the national anthem sung in Maori by someone in the tour ahead of us) and a two-hour visit to the Ruakuri Cave.

The Ruakuri Cave was wonderful and our guide pitched her commentary perfectly for the children in our group. They loved the chance to stride out into the darkness as leaders of the group, and whisper magic words to ‘open’ doors to hidden chambers. Everyone was impressed by the dramatic spiral pathway that takes you into the caves (specially built to protect a tapu area), and it’s impossible not to be awed by the cave formations that have been created over millions of years. The glowworms were as mesmerising here as in the main cave.

Our visit to the caves were a wonderful school holiday treat – find out more