Seeing Glow worms in New Zealand
One of the highlights of New Zealand is admiring glow worms, but did you know they aren’t actually worms at all? They are larvae from flying insects. These larvae make a web out of glowing threads to attract insects, which is how they get their food. These larvae live in dark, damp caves on both the North and South Islands (but only in New Zealand). The mating season is between December and March and then you will have the highest chance of seeing them, but it is possible all year round. For convenience, I will continue to refer to these larvae as glow worms in this blog. But now you want to know where you can admire these glow worms in New Zealand. There are a number of paid tours on both the North and South Islands, of which The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves is the most famous, but there are also a number of places where you can admire them for free. Find out more below.
Map glow worm locations New Zealand
The Waitomo Glow worm Caves
In the Waitomo caves you will not only see the glow worms, but also spectacular formations of stalactites and stalagmites. You will first go through the caves on foot while the guide tells about the history of the caves. Then you will slowly and silently (the glow worms don’t like noise) sail through the cave, admiring the thousands of glow worms.
Would you like to see the glow worms, but prefer a more active way, that is also possible! During the Black Abyss experience, you rappel into the Ruakuri cave and then go deeper into the cave by zipline. While ziplining you can see the glow worms, stalactites and stalagmites. If that’s not enough adventure, you can climb waterfalls and go rafting in the dark! Of course it won’t be completely dark, because the glow worms will light up the cave.
Te Anau Glowworm Caves
The caves where you can see the glow worms in Te Anau are on the other side of the lake, so you will first cross Lake Te Anau by boat. Once you arrive on the other side you will enter the cave. In this cave the water flows very fast, there is even an underground waterfall. Due to the flow of the water, special rock formations have been formed, these are still constantly changing. You will continue through the cave, to a place where the water flow is calmer, there you will be able to admire the glow worms by boat. Of course you’ll also have a guide with this tour to give you information about what you are seeing.
Lake McLaren kayak tour
Lake McLaren is located near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. During this tour you will set out towards the lake, in the early evening. You will enjoy a local tasting at the beautiful lake and at dusk take the kayaks out on the lake in search of the glow worms. These glow worms can be found in a canyon at the top of the lake.
Kawiti Glow worm caves & Opua Kauri Forest Walk
This tour departs from Waitangi, which is located near Pahia in the Bay of Islands. During this tour you will visit the Kawiti Caves, also known as Waiomio Caves. This cave system also attracts many visitors with its special cave formations, stalactites and spectacular glow worm display. You will first walk through the cave, while receiving information from the guide. After that you will visit the Opua Kauri forest, here you can see the Kauri trees. These trees can become very tall and wide, very impressive to see.
Free glow worm locations
If you prefer to look for the glow worms yourself, you also have many options in both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. If you go into the caves yourself, always make sure you bring a flashlight with enough batteries, wear good shoes that can get wet and also wear clothes that can get dirty. It is also important to keep an eye on the weather as some caves cannot be visited during or after heavy rainfall. Don’t go into the caves alone, always go with at least two people.
Clifden Limestone Caves
These caves are located on the South Island of New Zealand near Invercargill. Click here for the location on Google Maps. These caves are a real challenge, at some points you’ll have to crawl, climb and walk on narrow ledges. A moderate fitness level is required for these caves. Almost the entire time going through the caves you can see the glow worms. I myself turned off the flashlights in the large room where you will arrive towards the end, to see the glow worms even better. If you wait a while you will see them everywhere! It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to walk/climb through these caves.
These caves are located on the North Island near Whangarei. Click here for the location on Google Maps. In these caves you can decide how far you want to go. At the start you can already see glow worms, but if you are well prepared with good shoes, a good flashlight and old clothes you can go much further and see many more glow worms. Here are also see beautiful rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites.
Mangapohue Natural Bridge
Near the paid Waitomo Caves on the North Island is where you will find this location. Click here for the location on Google Maps. This is one of the most accessible free places to see glow worms in New Zealand, you can even go there with a pushchair! Here you will not visit a cave, but a “natural bridge”, this is a large natural arch where you walk under. At night, thousands of glow worms will appear. If you visit during the day you can not see the glow worms, but you can go for a longer walk (not with the pushchair however) and enjoy the beautiful nature. If you are camping, there is also a camping site nearby from where you can walk to this location.
Hokitika Glow Worm Dell
As the name says, this place is located in Hokitika, in the West Coast of the South Island. Click here for the location on Google Maps. Like the previous one, this one is also very easily accessible. You can get there in no time from the parking lot and this place can also be visited with a pushchair. Here you will find the glow worms against a high rock wall. Since this place is in the open air, you should visit in the evening or at night to see the glow worms. The only drawback to this location is that it is very well known and therefore very touristy and it is unlikely you will have the place to yourself. The only tip I have, is: the later you go, the fewer people you will encounter.