the best free glowworm cave in the north island new zealand - waipu caves - wild lovely world
New Zealand,  North Island,  Northland

Waipu Caves: The Best FREE Glowworm Cave In New Zealand

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Last Updated On 6th February 2024 By Lauren | Wild Lovely World

Home » Blog » Oceania » New Zealand » North Island » Northland » Waipu Caves: The Best FREE Glowworm Cave In New Zealand

Waipu Caves is the best FREE place to see glowworms inside a cave in New Zealand. In this guide, learn all about the Waipu Caves in the North Island and how to see New Zealand’s magical glowworms in their natural environment.

There are many places where you can see glowworms for FREE in the North Island. But if you want to see New Zealand’s glowworms inside a cave, you usually have to join a paid tour. The most famous are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Ruakuri Caves and Te Anau Glowworm Caves (all available to book via Get Your Guide). I have done all three of these tours, and they are well worth the cost. However, there is something really special about seeing the wonderful glowworm creature in its natural environment, and without spending a penny.

The Waipu Caves are the second place that I saw glowworms in New Zealand (after visiting the McLaren Falls Glowworm Walk – another amazing free glowworm location on the North Island). Since seeing glowworms for the first time, I have been captivated by them ever since and always seek out the top locations to see glowworms in New Zealand.

Waipu Caves are the first cave that I saw glowworms inside of in New Zealand. It was a cool experience to be able to go inside a cave, but to see glowworms in there too was amazing. There are not many locations in New Zealand where you can see glowworms inside a cave for free. Many of the glowworm caves have become commercialised and to enter them you have to join a paid tour. So the fact that the Waipu Caves are FREE makes them special. I would say that the Waipu Caves are the best free glowworm caves in New Zealand.

During your trip to New Zealand, you are likely to want to visit the world-famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves. But if you want to see glowworms inside a cave in New Zealand and do not want to pay the costs of a tour, then the Waipu Caves are a great alternative. Heading into the caves without being on a tour also gives you an awesome chance to explore and enjoy the glowworms at your own pace. Let’s hope that the Waipu Caves continue to be a beautiful free attraction for many years to come!

This post will tell you everything you need to know about how to find and explore the Waipu Caves, including how to see the beautiful Waipu Caves glowworms.

Important Note: Entrance to the Waipu Caves is not regulated and is a self-guided adventure so you need to be responsible for your safety. Make sure to check the weather before going and do not enter after heavy rain. The inner caves are suitable for experienced cavers only. It is muddy and slippery inside the cave so wear good footwear. Respect the cave, wildlife and local environment – do not touch the formations or disturb the glowworms. Enjoy!

lauren at waipu caves north island new zealand free glowworm caves
Lauren at Waipu Caves, New Zealand – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

Waipu Caves Glowworms: Free Glowworm Viewing In Northland, New Zealand 🪱💡

North Island Travel Inspiration – Recommended Reading:

Read my 🇳🇿 New Zealand Travel Guide 🇳🇿 here.

What You Can See At The Waipu Caves

The Waipu Caves are an incredible self-guided caving and glowworm-finding adventure.

There are beautiful formations in the cave, as you can see in the photograph I have taken below.

You can walk quite deep inside the cave and explore different areas of it.

There are so many glowworms that call this cave their home. You can see glowworms there during the day and at night!

inside waipu cave northland new zealand
Inside Waipu Cave, New Zealand – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

Where Are The Waipu Caves? How To Get To The Waipu Caves From Whangarei Or Auckland By Car

The best way to get to Waipu Caves is by self-driving in a car because it is in a very remote location.

The closest major town to the Waipu Caves is Whangarei in Northland. It takes about 35 minutes to get to the Waipu Caves from Whangarei on SH1.

You could also drive to the Waipu Caves from Auckland, and it will take about 2 hours. Just follow the SH1 north.

To get to the Waipu Caves from the SH1 highway, turn off the highway in the village of Waipu. Follow Shoemaker Road until you read the turn-off for Waipu Caves Road. The Waipu Glowworm Caves are signposted the whole way so you shouldn’t get lost.

A few of the roads are sealed but then the last section is an unsealed road. Follow the gravel road for about 5km to get to the car park. The journey on the gravel road isn’t too long and the road is not too bad, so I think it is worth it.

Once you arrive at the Waipu Caves, you will see a large gravel parking area. There is plenty of parking space so you shouldn’t need to worry.

Inside the car park, there is also a basic toilet block if you should need it, and it is open 24 hours a day.

What To Wear To Enter The Waipu Caves

lauren inside waipu cave
Lauren inside Waipu Cave – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

Waterproof Shoes

When accessing Waipu Caves, I advise you to wear wellies (gumboots) or water shoes. It’s very wet, slippery and muddy inside the caves, so be careful!

There is always water inside the caves but I think that it is usually quite shallow, depending on recent rain.

I visited the caves at the end of July 2020. It had not rained much recently so the water inside the cave was not very high.

I wore wellies and found that the water came up to around just above my ankles (I’m 167cm tall).

Fiachra wore flip-flops and just got his feet wet!

Warm Layers

Even though I visited in winter, the weather was mild and I wore just a couple of warm layers. Inside the cave, it will always be a little chilly inside so you should wear a warm jacket or jumper.

Head Protection

It’s important to bear in mind that you are going inside a cave so proceed with caution and wear a hard hat if you have one.

Torch/Flashlight Or Headlamp

It will be dark inside the cave during the day or at night, so remember to take a torch or headlamp with you. I recommend a headlamp because then you have both of your arms free while exploring. You may need them for your balance!

Protect The Glowworms By Turning Off Your Torch/Flashlight

It’s important to take a light but use it with caution! Try not to point your light directly at the glowworms, especially the white light.

Shining the light on the glowworms can stun them and it can cause them to turn off their blue glow in fright. This can be dangerous for the glowworms because their light is how they attract their food. Glowworms can keep their light off for many days if they feel threatened, so it can have a big impact on them.

If your headlamp has a red light setting then use that. You will still be able to see the blue light of the glowworms but you will not frighten the glowworms so much.

Discover more amazing locations in the North Island where you can see glowworms for free in this post.

How To Find The Waipu Caves Entrance

entrance to waipu caves northland new zealand free glowworm caves
Entrance to the Waipu Caves, Northland – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

From the car park, go through the gate and follow the path across the large flat grassed area towards the orange marker post and the trees. The orange post marks the start of the Waipu Caves Track.

The entrance of the Waipu Caves is just near the orange marker post. Just follow the path through the trees around to the cave entrance. It is quite easy to find your way there.

Waipu Caves Track

It might sound misleading, but the Waipu Caves Track is not going into the caves and it does not lead to any more caves.

Instead, the track goes from the cave entrance and crosses farmland and bush areas over the hills. The track leads to a viewpoint and you must return the same way.

It takes about 1.5 hours out and back.

If you are interested in doing this walk have a look at the DOC website here.

I did not do this walk as I only wanted to explore the caves!

How To See The Glowworms At The Waipu Caves

formations inside waipu cave northland new zealand
Formations inside Waipu Cave – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

The glowworms can be found just inside the entrance of the Waipu Caves on the cave roof. You may need to bend down while looking up to see them above the water.

You can see glowworms in the Waipu Caves during the day and at night.

At night they will be much more bright and visible, especially near the cave entrance. However, you can easily go in during the day and see the glowworms.

I visited during the day and because it is very dark inside the cave, the glowworms have their lights on!

You could stay just near the entrance of the Waipu Caves to see glowworms, but if you go deeper inside you’ll be rewarded with lots more glowworms.

Exploring Deeper Inside Waipu Caves

If you enter the cave, you’ll need to walk over exposed tree roots, climb down a steep bank and cross a small stream. The entrance to the caves can be a bit narrow and tricky to get inside. It is also quite wet and slippery on the rocks, so be careful. However, I do not think it is too difficult and most people could manage it.

Once you are inside the cave, you will see that the cavern is becoming much wider and taller, so you will have a lot of space to explore. You can easily stand up inside the cave because it is huge!

The water inside the cave also gets deeper the further you go inside. However, there are some banks where there is no water so you do not have to be standing in water the whole time.

Once your eyes adjust, you will see that there are amazing cave formations to explore deeper inside the cave. There are a lot of stalactites and stalagmites of varying sizes in the Waipu Caves.

Deeper inside the cave you will see many glowworms all over the walls and the roof of the cave. Turn off your torch and enjoy the glowworms in the darkness for the most magical experience!

The cave is quite big and you can go a fair way inside it. We explored far enough until we couldn’t go further due to the passage becoming too narrow.

There is only one entrance/exit to the cave, so you will need to return the same way to get out!

For more information about glowworms in New Zealand, check out this post.

Waipu Caves Glowworms FAQ

fiachra inside waipu caves
Fiachra inside Waipu Caves – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

How Long Is The Waipu Cave Walk?

The walk to get to the Waipu Cave entrance from the Waipu Cave Road car park is about 5 minutes. Just follow the path across the grassy field towards the forest.

Once you are inside the caves, you can spend 5 minutes to 5 hours exploring – it’s up to you!

If you want to do the Waipu Caves Track (it does not lead to any more caves), follow the route description from DOC here. It takes 1.5 hours.

How Deep Are The Waipu Caves?

The Waipu Caves are quite deep and extend (I think) some 300 metres. How far you wish to explore is up to you! However, the inner chambers are suitable for experienced cavers only. You are responsible for your safety!

What Are The Waipu Caves?

The Waipu Caves area is made of a limestone landscape and weathered rocks.

Do The Waipu Caves Glowworms Glow During The Day?

Yes! The Waipu Cave glowworms glow during the day and at night. This is because inside the cave it is very dark, so they will have their lights turned on at night to attract food.

How Far Do You Need To Drive Down The Unsealed Road To Get To The Waipu Caves?

To get to the Waipu Caves you’ll need to drive down an unsealed road for the final section of the drive. The unsealed/gravel road section is about 5km long. The road is not too bad compared to other unsealed roads I have driven on in New Zealand. So I think it is worth driving it to see the Waipu Glowworm Caves.

Are The Waipu Glowworm Caves Accessible For Wheelchairs & Prams?

The track is accessible for wheelchairs and prams up to the entrance of the cave. From the entrance, the track descends over rocks and boulders and continues inside the cave, so perhaps you could not go any further.

Are There Toilets At The Waipu Caves?

There are toilets available in the car parking area of the Waipu Caves on Waipu Caves Road.

Can I Enter The Waipu Caves After Rain?

It is best to not enter the Waipu Caves after rain because the caves can flood and it can be dangerous. Always check the weather before making your journey.

Freedom Camping At Waipu Caves

You can stay overnight at the Waipu Caves car park which allows freedom camping. Freedom camping is permitted at the Waipu Caves car park for self-contained and non-self-contained vehicles as well as tents. You can stay for 1 night maximum. There is a toilet here too open 24/7.

I stayed overnight here in my campervan and it was a nice place to sleep overnight. If you stay at the Waipu Caves Freedom Camping then you will have the opportunity to revisit the glowworms as much as you like!

How To See More Glowworms For FREE In The North Island, New Zealand

If you want to visit the North Island of New Zealand and see glowworms then you may think that you need to spend money on a tour. However, there are many places where you can see glowworms for free in North Island. Check out this post for the 9 Best Places See Glowworms For Free In The North Island.

Guided Glowworm Cave Tours In New Zealand

Taking a tour inside a glowworm cave is a cool experience. You get to see thousands of glowworms and get right up close to them. The information provided about glowworms on a guided tour is educational too.

On a guided glowworm cave tour, you will be able to enter further into the cave and it is much safer as you are with an experienced and trained guide. A self-guided adventure of the Waipu Caves is not for everyone, so if you don’t feel comfortable I recommend a guided tour.

I’ve taken many paid tours in New Zealand to see glowworms such as the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Ruakuri Caves and Te Anau Glowworm Caves (all available to book via Get Your Guide). Each cave is very unique in how it looks and how many glowworms it has. It was great to see and I am glad that I went on these tours!

If you want more in-depth glowworm experiences in New Zealand, take a look at these tour options for ideas:

Waipu Caves: The Best FREE Glowworm Cave In New Zealand – Thanks For Reading!

The Waipu Caves are a wonderful FREE tourist attraction in New Zealand where you have the opportunity to see glowworms in their natural environment. In this post, we looked at the best way to enjoy this wonderful free attraction on your North Island adventure. I hope you have found this guide to the Waipu Caves useful. Thanks so much for reading and best of luck finding glowworms! 😊🪱💡- Lauren x

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Lauren is a coffee and cat obsessed travel writer from the U.K., specialising in solo female, couple travel and budget backpacking. She has previously lived in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, England and Scotland. Follow her adventures around the world on her blog


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