More than 30 million years after Waitomo first rose from the ocean floor, its unique underground limestone formations stand out as one of New Zealand’s most inspiring and popular natural wonders. Visitors come here to explore the underground caves and see the famous glowworms (which aren’t really worms at all) as they float through underground rivers. I really liked the town — it was quiet, simple, and relaxing- but it’s small and the real draw here are the caves. You won’t need more than two days here unless you are going to use the town as a base to explore the region.
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms cost around 30 NZD per night while private rooms begin at 75 NZD. Your hostel options are limited here, so be sure to book in advance to secure a room. For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds in the area with a a basic plot without electricity around 13 NZD per night.
Budget hotel prices – Prices vary by season, but average around 110 NZD for a double room. Most budget hotels include free WiFi and some even include access to a kitchen. Very few offer free breakfast. Airbnb is limited here with a private room coasting around 55 NZD per night and an entire home or apartment around 90 NZD per night.
Average cost of food – There aren’t many high-end restaurants in the city, so eating in Waitomo is pretty inexpensive. A typical meal at one of the town pubs will cost you around 20 NZD. If you cook your own food, plan to spend about 65-80 NZD for a week’s supply of groceries. For a beer at the bar, expect to pay around 8 NZD.
Transportation costs – There are several bus options to take you between the various caves. Most organized tours will pick you up and return you to your hostel or hotel. If you want to arrange your own shuttle to the caves, expect to pay around 13 NZD each way. Bike rentals are available in the city, with full-day rentals costing around 40 NZD.
Suggested daily budget – 70 NZD / $50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Take the quick tour – You can take a guided walk through one of the smaller glowworm caves for around half the price of a full, multi-hour tour. The walk lasts an hour and, while not as exciting as the caving adventure, you’ll still see plenty of glowworms.
Top Things to See and Do in Waitomo
- See the glow worms – Definitely one of the coolest things to do while in New Zealand, the Waitomo glow worm cave is touristy but lives up to that hype. It’s amazing as you walk around, abseil down into darkness, or float down the river and stare up at caverns covered in the glow of the worms hanging from above. The three-hour rafting trip is long enough to enable you enjoy the caves but if you like to abseil, consider the five-hour trip. There are a number of companies offering tours. Prices will vary depending on what you do, but expect to pay between 55-250 NZD per person.
- Go to Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park – Oto’s main attraction is the kiwi house where you have the opportunity to see New Zealand’s national bird as well as other wildlife from the area. Admission is 24 NZD for adults and 8 NZD for children.
- Visit the Ruakuri Cave – Ruakuri was first discovered by the local Maori and takes its name from the wild dogs that made their home in the cave entrance. The cave entrance was used by Maori as a burial ground (wahi tapu). It has just reopened to the public after being closed for 18 years. Adult tickets are 72 NZD while children enter for 28 NZD.
- Learn something at the Museum of Caves – If you are interested in story behind all the caving and glowworms, this museum will teach you. Learn about the difference in ecosystems, how caves form and thrive, as well as about the local glowworms. Entry is free with most expeditions.
- Trek through Altura Gardens & Wildlife Park – This five-acre park is home to more than 85 species of birds, and a number of various animals, some of which you can touch or interact with. Consider taking the horse trek to cover more ground.
- Attend the Kiwi Culture Show – This countryside-style theater has a recurring, hour-long skit that showcases local culture, humor, and everything in between. There is also heavy audience participation. Tickets are 28 NZD for adults, and there are discounts available for students, seniors, and children.
- Watch animals being shaved at The Shearing Shed – This shed is home to a number of Angora rabbits. Every day, just after the lunch hour, you watch them get shaved so their fur can be used for wool products. I was a little uncomfortable watching this happen, but some people really enjoyed it. The gift store is full of Angora products. It’s located on the way into town.
- Explore Aranui Cave – This is one of the smaller caves in the system, and is often overlooked by travelers. Still, it has an impressive amount of limestone formations that make it unique. Tickets are 50 NZD for adults and 23 NZD for children.
- Rent a canoe – Once you’ve gotten your cave fix, consider seeing some of the surrounding rivers by renting a canoe. Another option is to go on a whitewater kayaking tour in the area. Expect to pay around 120 NZD for a rental and tour.