Sunday Drive: Waitomo

Waitomo is one of New Zealand's original tourist destinations. Photo / Discover Waitomo
Waitomo is one of New Zealand's original tourist destinations. Photo / Discover Waitomo

Where: Located in the heart of The King Country, the area is famous for its caves and makes a great day trip.

How to get there: Take the Southern Motorway south, then continue onto SH1 as far as the country town of Ngaruawahia. Turn right onto SH39 and follow the signs to Pirongia/Otorohanga.

At Whatawhata, just north of Pirongia village, continue on SH31 to Otorohanga. At Otorohanga turn south onto SH3. The Waitomo Caves are located on Highway 37, off SH3.

How long: About two hours' drive from Auckland - but allow more time in case of heavy traffic.

What to do: Waitomo is a Maori word made up of two parts: "wai" means water and "tomo" hole or entrance. Waitomo is one of New Zealand's original tourist destinations attracting visitors for more than a century to its labyrinth of glow-worm caves.

Today the caves also attract black water rafters. The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co.

has been guiding people through magical Ruakuri Cave since 1987, either floating along the underground stream lit only by glow-worms or on guided walking tours. It is New Zealand's longest guided underground walking tour, continuing for 1.6km.

The Waitomo area also offers jet boating and quad bikes to tackle muddy tracks. There are Maori scenic cultural tours, horse trekking, a Kiwi culture show, Angora rabbit shearing, a wildlife park, private gardens, the Museum of Caves, a range of accommodation offerings, information centres, cafes and bars. Altura Wildlife Park is set among the limestone rocks of Waitomo and provides interaction with 85 different sorts of friendly birds and animals. You can explore Waitomo and still make it home to Auckland for dinner.

Hungry? Try lunch or afternoon tea in the dining room of the apparently haunted Waitomo Caves Hotel - an historic building located near the cave entrance.

Further information:

- Herald on Sunday

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