Free Glow Worm Caves New Zealand – Waipu Caves
This is a complete guide to the best free glow worm caves in New Zealand…the Waipu Caves. These caves are not only free but also rival the more famous (and expensive) Waitomo Caves. Here’s everything you need to know about the Waipu Caves, New Zealand.
Free Glow Worm Caves New Zealand – Waipu Caves
Glow worms have become a big attraction in New Zealand and it seems almost everyone has them on their travel checklist. Across the country, there are many places you can see glow worms and they are, in fact not all that rare. However, it’s not just about seeing a glow worm, and instead, it’s more about the sheer number in one place that makes the experience so amazing. This greatly reduces the best places to see them.
By far the most popular place to see glow worms in New Zealand is in the Waitomo Caves. However, the most basic tour here will set you back over $50 NZD a person. So when I stumbled upon the Waipu caves in Northland, New Zealand I was ecstatic. Not only were these caves free but you were also allowed to take pictures of the worms!
After checking them out I was so happy I found them and actually enjoyed them much more than the Waitomo Caves.
In this guide, I explain everything you need to know about the best free Glow Worm caves in New Zealand – the Waipu Caves.
Where are the caves?
The Waipu Caves are located around 3 hours from Auckland by car, near the small town of Waipu in New Zealand’s Northland region.
To get to the caves head north on Highway 1 from Auckland and drive until you reach Shoemaker Road in the town of Waipu and turn left. Follow this road all the way to the end and then turn left onto Mountfield Road and then another quick left onto Waipu Caves Road. You then follow this road until you see the carpark on your right.
Waipu Caves Road is an unsealed gravel road. In parts, it is not that wide so we recommend driving carefully.
The easiest way to find them is using the apps Maps.Me, Google Maps or Campermate.
Freedom Camping at the Waipu Caves
The best thing about the Waipu Caves is that it’s also a freedom camping spot for BOTH self-contained and non-self-contained vehicles and tents. This means you can camp at the caves for free. There is a toilet in the carpark as well as a cold water shower (very rare in New Zealand!)
It is important to read the freedom camping sign in the carpark and park only in the designated area as only certain parking spaces are freedom camping friendly. Failure to do this could result in a $200 fine.
What you need to enter the Waipu Caves
There are no warning signs at the caves, however, it is important each person takes a good flashlight and never enters alone. This is largely due to the fact if your light breaks it is so dark in the caves you will not be able to see your hand in front of your face. This could make finding your way out impossible.
You also need to be prepared to get wet feet as parts of the cave are up to knee-high in water. Both Bailey and I actually took our boots off to enter the last part of the cave so they didn’t get wet.
How to find the glow worms
To find the glow worms you are going to need to enter the right cave, but don’t worry, it is easy. As you walk towards the caves from the carpark, enter the large cave on the right. Once in the cave, you need to cross the small stream in the cave (you can see rocks lined up people use to get across the water).
Follow this stream until you reach a part in the cave where the cave roof dips suddenly to about 1m high. This end section before the dip is the best place to view the glow worms and is where the majority of them are.
You can, however, enter the part where the cave dips to 1m and follow it around the corner till the cave opens up again. This section involves a lot of deeper water and there is no way around it. I also found it to have fewer glow worms and much preferred the other spot (although it was really cool to go exploring.) If you do decide to enter this part of the cave, stick to the right side as the water is shallowest here.
When to visit
It is best to visit the Waipu Caves in either the early morning or late afternoon. This is because during the day you get much larger crowds visiting the caves. Some of these visitors may forget that you see glow worms in the dark and leave there lights on the entire time. This happened to us and I spent 1.5 hours in the caves until I got a good amount of time without lights flashing everywhere.
Also, a worthy thing to note is some of the worms (or many) will turn there lights off from exposure to light. So visiting around a time others haven’t been in the cave will mean more glow worms to see!
The Waipu Caves trail
Also at the caves is a short 1.5-hour return walk. This does not lead to any more caves. The trail is not the greatest and I would only recommend doing this hike if you have plenty of time or just want the exercise.
The Waipu Caves is arguably the best free glow worm caves in New Zealand. The sheer amount of worms in such an easily accessible area makes it the perfect place to see these little guys. I highly recommend visiting the Waipu Caves – New Zealand’s best free glow worm caves.