Updated: Apr 15
A guide to the natural attractions of the Waitomo District. As locals, we've followed this route many times. Our itinerary includes glow worm caves and a hot water beach.
Planning Guide: Discuss the budget and time frames ~ Check tides for access to the hot water springs on the beach ~ Pack a picnic lunch including drinking water ~ Covered walking shoes as the black sand on the dunes is burning hot on summer afternoons ~ Book paid tours online
Transport: Private motor car
Accommodation: We day tripped returning to our Airbnb in Ngaruawahia. Ngaruawahia is centrally located, in the Waikato, one hour from the Waitomo Caves and hosts glow worms in the local forest park.
Spend: $30 for running the car plus entry to attractions
Trip Rating: This is one of my all-time favourite day trips.
Overview of the Waitomo District
Mapped below is our route through the Waikato and Waitomo areas. The main attraction is the Waitomo Caves that are rated as a top New Zealand tourist destination.
The route follows a popular path, travelling through the fertile farmlands of the Waikato, into limestone country. Initially, the roads are typical backcountry New Zealand roads with sweeping curves. The trip features iconic green pastures and forest clad mountain ranges. The towns along the way add interest to the journey. The driving requires attention as there are some sharp corners and intersections.
Moving west into the Waitomo Region the landscape becomes rugged. This region is made of water warn limestone. Limestone rock is susceptible to erosion so the sparkling waterways have carved dozens of caves, arches and gorges. The sound of water tumbling over falls and gushing through rapids is the background to many walks in the area.
The road is sealed and in good condition. However, heading west past the caves, it twists and turns its way to the coast and requires a fair amount of attention to stay on track.
Route and Featured Attractions
This is a mix and match itinerary with the Waitomo caves system offering a variety of free and paid attractions. The Department of Conservation (DOC) provides a number of well-maintained tracks freely available to the public. Depending on your budget, both time and money, just mix and match. Extending the route West offers further forest grotto's, waterfalls and a hot water beach experience. As shown on the map above, driving time is roughly 4 hours, extending to 10 hours including visiting the 4 marked attractions.
1. Waitomo Caves
Pictured below are images of the world-renowned 'Waitomo Caves', Glow Worm Tour. This tour is one of many commercially operated tours in the region. I thoroughly enjoyed taking the Glow Worm Tour, I think it is a magical experience. To learn more about the life and times of glow worms check my Glow Worm information blog.
Photography is limited so these images are with the permission of Tourism New Zealand. As a point of interest, the caves have a wide range of attractions and cater to the elderly and less agile.
Pictured below, Reanne is taking DOC's, Ruakuri Walk. It's worth mentioning, by night, the forest on this walk is alight of freely available glow worms.
2. Mangapohue Natural Bridge
The access is via an easy boardwalk with the bridge less than 10 mins. I love this natural cathedral and it is free for all to enjoy.
3. Marakopa Falls
Nothing like the roar of water crashing onto the rocks and the spray in your hair. Access is via a sloping track, 10 minutes each way.
4. Kawhia Hot Water Beach
Why not let thermal heat make your spa pool? An ancient inactive underwater volcano is responsible for at least two of the interesting features on this vast beach; the black sand and the heated seawater spring that bathers utilise.
For an hour on either side of low tide, thermally heated seawater is exposed at the surface of the beach, with the smell of sulphur noticeable. Pictured below, beachgoers are digging out impressions, in the black iron sand, to collect the warm water.
Access is somewhat challenging due to the climb over the sand dunes. I make it over easily enough.