New Zealand & Australian Glow Worms: A Natural Wonder

Updated: Apr 18

Glow worm biology and habitat explained

Meeting glow worms is a must-do while travelling in New Zealand and Australia!  I like to think about viewing glow worms in two ways. Inside or outside. However, these glow worm experiences range in price, venture and impact. Following is my take on the what, why, how and where of the "little blue lights that mimic the night sky".   

The insect responsible, Arachnocampa Luminosa,  lives throughout New Zealand and in damper areas in Australia.  To view outside find a damp forest grotto with running water nearby, just wait until the sun goes down, and if the conditions are right the worms (lava) will light up their tails.   Arachnocampa Luminosa is a type of gnat fly that has four distinct stages in his or her life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult.  It is the larvae's bio-luminescent glow that gives rise to the commonly known 'glow worm' name.  Derek's capture below shows the silk threads known as snares, with the worms blue light attracting winged insects, to be captured for a meal.

Derek's capture of Glowworms in the Hakarimata Scenic reserve

The fact that glow worms are troglodytes gives us the inside option. They make their homes in caves, shining day and night. Commercial tours through caves receive exceptional ratings.  I certainly rate my own experiences highly in New Zealand's Waitomo Caves and Queensland's Glow Worm Caves Tamborine Mountains. It is worth noting that the cave colonies reliably provide displays during business hours and tour operators provide well-managed access.  Choose your level of adventure (photo credit to Tourism New Zealand).

However, with a little planning, visiting forest colonies is kinder on the pocket and provides its own magic.  My hint is to book your accommodation near to walkable forest colony of glow worms. The Hakarimata Scenic Reserve colonies (map below) is a fine example of a publicly available colony.

There is a Department of Conservation (DOC)  track provides free public access to a night time glow worm spectacular. I literally have walked the track at night hundreds of times with no negative issues. The local town of Ngaruawahia offers the budget accommodation options of freedom camping, listings on home host sites such as Airbnb and a motel as accommodation options. It's worth noting Ngauawahia is located within New Zealand's golden triangle so is central to top attractions and the Auckland International Airport. Also, see my one-day itinerary using this location as a base.