I’ve made it no secret, I love rural New Zealand.
Thriving pastoral scenes are abundant in this country, with little lambs frolicking on perfect green hills; idyllic farms disappearing into the distance. Honestly, is it surprising at all that Peter Jackson imagined the Hamilton Waikato region of New Zealand as the perfect place to film the Shire in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings?
With Hobbiton just up the road, perhaps the other most popular attraction in the area is Waitomo, home to the world famous glowworm caves.
For many, Waitomo is synonymous with glowworm caves.
Beneath the idyllic pastures and rolling green hills of rural Waikato, you’ll find a complex and elaborate system of caves, tunnels, sinkholes and underground rivers that have been drawing adventurers and explorers for more than a century to this part of the world.
A few hours from Auckland, this is the perfect area to escape to for a weekend getaway if you’re looking for a bit of relaxing fun in a beautiful setting. I could have stayed for a week!
While many tourists just pass through on a day trip, Waitomo is actually a great place to spend some time to get to know it better.
There are plenty of things to do in the area and it’s a great base for some epic North Island adventures. While it can be really touristy, it is definitely a very good taste of real rural New Zealand.
Waitomo is famous for their caves, especially their glowworm caves.
Pulling on a wetsuit, blackwater rafting is classic kiwi experience.
You’ll explore the caves by swimming, crawling and climbing through tunnels and caverns, and even floating beneath the twinkling glowworms on an inner tube, tourism has really grown in the area, making for a unique getaway.
The first time I saw glowworms in New Zealand was over 5 years ago on an action packed trip with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co in the Waitomo Caves. Gazing upwards, it felt like I was looking at a universe of blue stars, how divine, right?
As it turns out I was looking at a ceiling of bright shiny maggots! I love Mother Nature!
Māori call the glowworms here titiwai, which refers to lights reflected in water. Glowworms are carnivorous glowing larvae that drip down a long sticky thread in dark damp environments that entangle insects they attract with their glowing lights! Too cool!
This time around we skipped the wetsuits and opted to explore the stunning caves on the Waitomo Caves Tour first, the highlight is riding in a boat through a glowworm grotto, silently drifting in the dark beneath a sky teeming with blue starry-like glowworms.
The viewing in here is just epic, and definitely a must-do trip for anyone hoping for a taste of the Waitomo glowworm caves.
It’s such an incredible experience exploring the world beneath us in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.
There are many ways to experience the glowworm caves, there are options for everyone.
If I had to chose a favorite cave, it would probably be the Ruakuri Cave, where you can do a long walking tour and photos are allowed. The Ruakuri Cave is New Zealand’s longest guided underground walking tour in a cave.
Here you get to marvel at enormous caverns and take in the twinkling blue glowworms.
As you meander along you can hear thundering underground waterfalls and the soft drop drip from the incredible stalactite formations. After a long day of adventures in another world beneath the ground, you feel a great sense of wonder emerging back into the sunlight.
I definitely recommend sticking around the area; this part of New Zealand has a lot to offer.
We decided to stay the night near Waitomo at the Free Range Farmstay, a super cute Airbnb on a local family farm.
Staying on a small farm like this really gives you a taste for what rural life in New Zealand is like. You’ll wake up to the sounds of birdcalls and sheep baah-ing in the distance, and you can even go for walks around the property. It’s so peaceful, and of course Megan and Logan give you a great welcome plus cookies!
For me, the best time to visit is spring when the little lambs are frolicking and are out and about being adorable (spring in New Zealand is around October and November FYI).
The Free Range Farmstay is truly delightful, and the perfect spot in between popular tourist attractions on the North Island.
Trust me, if you’re doing a big road trip around New Zealand, you need a few chill days to unwind and this is the spot.
About half an hours drive from the caves, the farmstay is the perfect place to retire to for the night.
I also highly recommend staying on a farm as a couple because you might learn things about your partner you never knew. For example, I was with my ex, and while we were strolling around the land in the morning, I learned he is actually terrified of cows and refused to walk by a few that had slipped out of their paddock!
It was hilarious! I’m sure he’ll murder me if he ever reads this, but I couldn’t resist sharing.
Book in for a hearty dinner at Huhu Cafe nearby to soothe your appetite after a big day of caving, and don’t skip the pumpkin and cheddar risotto balls as a starter. OMG so good!
This place is super cute and a popular spot, and their food is divine, and if you’re like me, you’ll definitely be over-ordering. It’s a great place to indulge in some popular kiwi dishes, like slow-cooked lamb, salmon, and of course, fish and chips.
Perched above the town, you have great views of the rolling Waitomo hills, and it’s the perfect spot to sit back, relax, and chat about all of your incredible adventures.
Near Waitomo and the Free Range Farmstay, is one of my favorite modern kiwi cafes – What The Food that Megan recommended. I’ve become obsessed with modern, Australian style healthy and minimalist eateries, where the food looks amazing on Instagram.
The brainchild of Jorja Tarrant, a 25-year-old anorexia survivor, is a dream world of the most incredible unprocessed sweets, all of which are all gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free and vegan.
Presented beautifully and absolutely delicious (coming from someone who doesn’t love vegans all that much), what makes this space even more delightful is how the Te Awamutu community really rallied behind Jorja in making her dream come true. What a place! I definitely recommend getting at least one smoothie bowl here for breakfast.
Have you been to the Waitomo Caves? Is seeing glowworms on your bucketlist? Share!