lauren at waipu caves north island new zealand free glowworm caves
New Zealand,  North Island,  Northland

Waipu Caves Glowworms: The Best Free Glowworm Cave In New Zealand

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Last Updated On 11th July 2023 By Lauren | Wild Lovely World

Waipu Caves are an awesome place to see glowworms for FREE in the North Island.

The Waipu Caves are the second place I saw glowworms in New Zealand (after McLaren Falls – another amazing free glowworm location in the North Island). Waipu Caves is the first cave that I saw glowworms inside of in New Zealand. It was a really cool experience to be able to go inside a cave, but to see glowworms in there too was amazing.

Having seen so many glowworms since then (including paid tours such as the Waitomo Glowworm Caves*, Ruakuri Caves* and Te Anau Glowworm Caves*) I think that the Waipu Caves are one of the best free glowworm caves in New Zealand.

Going on a glowworm cave tour is still a really cool experience. But if you want to see glowworms inside a cave in New Zealand but do not want to pay, the Waipu Caves make a great alternative.

In fact, while I was exploring the Waipu Caves I couldn’t believe that someone hasn’t come along and commercialised it yet! But let’s hope that never happens and it continues to be a beautiful free attraction.

The Waipu Caves are an incredible adventure. There are beautiful formations in the cave and there are so many glowworms. You can walk quite deep inside the cave too.

The popular caves are free to explore and you can see glowworms there during the day and at night.

The Waipu Caves are located in Northland close to the city of Whangarei.

I recommend you go to explore Waipu Caves if you want to see glowworms inside a natural cave for free.

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.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about viewing glowworms in Waipu Caves.

Important Note: Entrance to the Waipu Caves is not regulated and is a self-guided adventure so you need to be responsible for your own 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!

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Waipu Caves Glowworms: Free Glowworm Viewing In Northland 🪱💡

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

inside waipu cave northland new zealand
Inside Waipu Cave, New Zealand

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 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, but 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 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.

What To Wear To Enter The Waipu Caves

lauren inside waipu cave
Lauren inside Waipu Cave

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 was 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 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!

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 to waipu caves northland new zealand free glowworm caves
Entrance to the Waipu Caves, Northland

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. This orange post marks the start of the Waipu Caves Track.

The entrance of the caves is just near this 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

The Waipu Caves Track is not going into the caves and it does not lead to anymore 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 back the same way.

It takes about 1.5 hours return.

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

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!

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 in order to see them above the water.

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.

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 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 you 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
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 wanted to do the Waipu Caves Track (it does not lead to anymore 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 own 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?

Yes, there are toilets available at the car parking area on Waipu Caves Road.

Can I Enter The Waipu Caves After Rain?

No, it is best to not enter the 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 here 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.

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

If you want to visit New Zealand and see glowworms then you may think that you need to spend money on a tour. However, there are in fact many places that you can see glowworms for free in New Zealand. Check out this post: 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 really 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 really educational too.

On a guided glowworm cave tour, you will be able to enter further into the cave and it is much safer.

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*.

Each cave is very unique in how it looks and how many glowworms it has. It was really great to see and I am glad that I went on them!

If you want more in-depth glowworm experiences in New Zealand, I recommend these tours:

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

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Thanks for reading! 🙂

Thanks so much for reading and best of luck finding glowworms! 😊🪱💡

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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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