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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.
Glow worms have become a big attraction in New Zealand and it seems almost everyone has them on their New Zealand bucket list. 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 seeing a large number in one place that makes the experience so amazing. This greatly reduces the best places to see glow worms in New Zealand.
By far the most popular place to see glow worms in New Zealand is in the Waitomo Caves. I have seen the glow worms here and don’t get me wrong, they are amazing, however, the most basic tour here will set you back over $55 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 there were so many glow worms here!
After checking them out I was so happy I found them and actually enjoyed them much more than the Waitomo Caves for a few reasons including the fact you don’t need a tour to visit.
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 Waipu Caves?
The Waipu Caves are located around 3 hours from Auckland by car, near the small town of Waipu in Northland just south of the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Visiting the Waipu Caves is one of the best day trips you can do from Auckland.
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 parking lot on your right.
Waipu Caves Road is an unsealed gravel road. In parts, it is not that wide so we recommend driving carefully.
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What you need to enter the Waipu Caves
At the Waipu Caves, you can simply walk into the caves and explore, however, there are a few things you need to bring to enjoy the experience safely.
In the caves, 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 if no one else is around.
2. Good footwear or none at all
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. We just left them in the dry part of the cave.
3. Check the weather
The Waipu Caves can fill with water when it rains. For this reason, never enter the caves during heavy rain. If it is raining but the cave has very little water in it then only enter the first part of the cave. I’ll explain more about that below but this area is the first large cavern and the safest area to explore if it’s been raining.
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How to find the glow worms
When you first enter the Waipu Caves you’ll notice there are no glow worms around. So, you’ll instead need to walk in until you find them.
Once you enter the cave, you need to cross the small stream to your left (you can see rocks lined up that people use to get across the water). It’s very easy so long as you turn left not right.
Follow this stream until you reach the part in the cave where the cave roof dips suddenly to about 1m (3ft) high. This end section before the dip is one of the best places to view the glow worms and also a really easy area to reach that’s completely safe. Here you can turn off your lights and see thousands of glow worms shine bright like the night’s sky.
This area is also the busiest place in the Waipu Caves and you’ll be surprised by how many people keep their lights on and ruin the experience. So, if that’s the case for you, then you can go a little further into the net cavern.
To reach the next cavern you’ll need to get your feet wet and duck down along the section of the cave that dips to 1 meter (3 feet) high (see the above photo.) Walk along the caves rock to the next cavern which opens up to a huge cavern.
When entering this next section be sure to keep your kids close and walk along the rock floor that you can see when you get to the smallest part. As you can see in the photo above, you can see the rock on the floor to your left but the river gets deeper to the right.
Once in the cavern, there are even more areas to explore and from here you can see even more glow worms.
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When to visit the Waipu Caves
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 their 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 their 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 Track
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.
If you would like more info on the track click here to view to DOC website.
Freedom camping at the Waipu Caves
The best thing about the Waipu Caves is that it’s also a freedom camping spot for BOTH non-self-contained and self-contained vehicles and tents. This means you can camp in the caves for free. There is a toilet in the car park as well as a cold water shower (very rare in New Zealand)!
It is important to read the freedom camping sign in the car park 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.
Where to Stay near the Waipu Caves
For those who don’t have a campervan or tent, you cannot stay at the Waipu Caves. However, there are lots of great places to stay nearby! Below are a few great options that are close to the caves and suited to most travel budgets!
Harbourside Getaway – The Harbourside Getaway is a great choice located just north of the Waipu Caves along the coast. This beautiful house can sleep up to 4 people and comes with lots of extras such as a kayak, dingy, and a large outdoor bbq.
Camp Waipu Cove – This property is located on the coast in Waipu so it isn’t too far of a drive to the Waipu Caves and it’s practically beachfront, just a couple of minutes’ walk away. The standard bungalows are private rooms with full kitchens, however, they do have shared baths but they only start at $106 NZD a night! The space is clean, modern, and trendy!
TayFord Cottage – The TayFord Cottage is one of the closest accommodation options to the Waipu Caves and sleeps up to four people. The two-bedroom villa is beautiful and starts at $170 NZD per night for two people.
If the above suggestions are not in your price range then the best place to look is in the town of Whangarei. Here you can find lots of accommodation options for all budgets. In the town, there are also some cool things to do including visiting cool waterfalls and parks.
Thanks for reading!
The Waipu Caves are 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.
If you have any questions about the Waipu Caves please leave us a comment below! If not then be sure to jump over to our official New Zealand page to check out all our other New Zealand travel guides or these related articles below!