Our journey to Waitomo consisted of two wonderful stops - Karangahake Scenic Reserve in Waihi and Paeroa. You may want a torch for the first one, as this short walk takes you through the old mining tunnels! Hugging the edge of the gorge with a raging river below we followed the tracks over two swinging bridges until reaching the tunnels, all slowly creeping through the darkness until our eyes had adjusted. Looking up, the reason for our visit here became clear - as we walked very quietly, the roof of the tunnels started to light up turning into a sea of little illuminated dots. Hundreds of glow worms lit up to say hello and it is one of those moments that I won’t forget, and this was only a hint of what was to come with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company a few days later.
From here, we meandered along the road to the small town of Paeroa! This is where the New Zealand famed drink lemon and paeroa, also known as L&P, was ‘invented’. The locals from the town used to gather the naturally carbonated mineral water from a spring in the town, then mix it with lemon juice making a deliciously sweet beverage for hot days after work. Now owned by Coca Cola, it’s slogan of ‘World Famous in New Zealand’ is a slight inside joke that the Kiwi’s use to refer to anything that is renowned in the country, but less well known anywhere outside of the boarders. However, this has slightly changed in recent years with the brand being sold in certain Australian supermarkets and even in the Gourmet Burger Kitchen restaurant chain based in the UK. I absolutely love it so if you can give it a try, buy yourself a bottle here or just take a picture in front of the giant one!
After our stops along the way we made it past Mount Te Aroha, the mountain of love, and finally arriving in Waitomo,the next stop on this adventure. Waitomo is famed for it’s extensive cave systems in the north of the country and name literally translates to Water Cave. While there may not be a lot to do above ground, there sure are a huge range of adventure activities below it! The limestone caves are hidden below rolling hills and beautiful countryside, so if you hadn’t read up on the area you may not know the significance.
We stayed in a beautiful lodge / hostel called the Kiwi Paka and our base for a couple of days. It was probably one of favourite places to stay in the country simply because it was slightly different, being nestled into the one of the hills complete with a dorm lodge, massive kitchen and a lot of outdoor seating for warm summer days. There’s even a restaurant here which serves some fairly awesome mango smoothies if you’re a fan of the fruiter things in life like me.
Our first day here happened to be Pancake day so as you can imagine, a group of backpackers trying to make enough pancakes for everyone was a little messy! Safe to say the results were delicious and thoroughly enjoyed, getting us prepared for a nice walk in the countryside. This was much more relaxed than day two of course, which involved an exciting trip down the road and then underground…
Black Water Rafting was something I had never heard of before so of course something I had to try - it’s essentially heading underground to journey through cave river systems in rubber rings and heavy duty safety gear. For someone who doesn’t really like to spend extended time under the earth, it was something that made me a little wary but amazing fun nonetheless. All I can do is thank the team at the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and advise you guys to give it a try when you’re out there. Give this a read to find out more about my experience.
For a full list of activities I can recommend while staying in Waitomo to suit all budgets, have a little read below! Keep in mind that everything with a * are things you can only do here and no-where else on this trip (that I know of) so are must hit activites. You can also get a discount on most of these if travelling with Kiwi Experience too, just book through your driver!
Black Water Rafting*
Black Odyssey* - $175
Black Abyss* - $220
Black Labyrinth* - $119
Waitomo Glowworm Caves* - $48
Ruakuri Cave* - $67
Relax in the Countryside - Free!
Waitomo to Ruakuri Walk (2.5 hours)* - Free!
Ruakuri Reserve Loop Walk* - Free!
Waitomo Discovery Centre* - Range of Prices & Activities
Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park (See Kiwi Birds!) - $24
This is, to most people's surprise, one of my favourite places in the north island so I’d really recommend you visit. Even if the idea of diving deep under the ground into the cave systems of New Zealand isn’t quite your cup of tea, the scenery is perfect and a great break up stop before reaching Rotura. You can even visit Hobbiton on your way down there too!